For Every Birth, a Korean Career Dies

pregnancy-means-being-fired-grazia-italian-womens-magazine-advertisement( Source: I Believe in Advertising )

Not technically Korean sorry, and surely the advertisement in Italian women’s magazine Grazia would have been much more effective in things both sexes read? Still, it’s definitely creative, and as you can see from this graph below (source), its message would be just as relevant to Korean readers:


Actually I’m surprised that that figure for Korea is so high, regularly hearing that Korea has the lowest rate in the OECD, and which given the high numbers of Koreans in tertiary education and the low wages in the types of jobs open to young women (and men), both of which will only be exacerbated by the current financial crisis, it may still well be if the age range is extended from 25-54 to 15-64. Regardless, it’s very low, and while I’ve written a great deal on the blog over the last two years as to the reasons why (see here and here for starters), a picture really does say a thousand words.

Or more graphs to be precise, the next one below (source) clearly showing Korea’s sharp “M-shaped curve” of women’s labor force participation, the result of women entering the labor force after finishing their schooling, then leaving in droves as they find it impossible to juggle children and work, then returning gradually once the children reach school age, finally to leave again as they retire. This is in contrast to the “upside-down U-curve”  of – let’s face it – more enlightened countries (at least when it comes to the position of women), and the “n-curve” for men, which is usefully included as a comparison:


Unfortunately I couldn’t find an online graph showing how Korea’s women’s labor force participation rate has changed over time, but I do have the figures below from page 24 of Working Korea 2007 published by the Korea Labor & Society Institute, which you can compare to the rates of some other countries through these graphs that I could find (source), luckily for the same age range of 15-64:

  • 1980: 38.2%
  • 1980-84: 38.6%
  • 1985-89: 40.0%
  • 1990-94: 40.%
  • 1995-99: 41.5%


In this case, Korea’s figures most resemble Mexico’s I guess. For the sake of future reference, here are some more recent, albeit depressingly similar figures:

  • 2005: 41.7%
  • 2006: 41.9%

Being so…er…ripe for it, then ideally this or a similar ad will also appear in Korea sometime soon; either way, I’m sorry if in the past I’ve sounded a little like a stuck record, so regularly lamenting the low position of women in Korea and all, but hopefully all of the above has provided a stark demonstration as to why I have the focus on the blog that I do!


14 thoughts on “For Every Birth, a Korean Career Dies

  1. it´s really a shame i think i would like that both will get the stability in economics, but i feel shame about the work of my country i am a worker woman , but is true is difficult to fit in a job because pregnancy an all the stuff of the men “world” some times is not fare never the less i think women can make it with a little more effort and they will be where they deserve to be. is difficult and maybe in some places we couldn´t be but give it a try.

  2. I don’t know why women that leave their jobs to raise their children should be seen as wrong?

    My mother quit her job to raise her 3 children (alone), and honestly I am eternally thankful to her. I mean what are we saying, women who concentrate their efforts on their career rather than on their children are better and more “enlightened”? Or maybe I misunderstood your statements?

    In my very humble opinion, children should be raised by their parents, not by strangers in a kindergarten! If a couple decide to have a baby, it is their responsability to ensure that their kids get proper education, and this starts by raising them themselves! I really do not see anything wrong in a mother that decides to quit her employment to become a full-time mother, all the opposite!

    Countless children go to some after-school kindegarten and summer camps during their whole childhood, to me it would have been unbearable! How can parents educate well their children if they are both working 40 to 50 hours a week? To me it doesn’t make sense. Of course this situation brings up the idea that the man gets the superior economic situation and everything, but to me if one wants children, concessions have to be made.

    If the father decides to stay home while the mother works full-time, why not? In this case would everyone criticize women because they get a superior economic situation? Not so sure. It’s a choice a couple have to make. But I really think at least the first 5 years or so of a child’s early development should be made with his mother or father, not with strangers or babysitters..

    • Sorry Sam, but you did indeed misunderstand my statements, as nowhere in the above post do I state that women leaving their jobs to raise children should be seen as wrong. Or ever have or ever will for that matter!^^

      The point about presenting these statistics then, is that they reflect a complete lack of choice for Korean women. Not mentioned in the post because I’ve already discussed them numerous times on the blog – although in hindsight perhaps I should have sorry – are such factoids as the fact that it is still the norm for Korean women to resign (or be fired from) their jobs upon marriage or her first pregnancy, that kindergarten standards are so inadequately monitored by the government that parents frequently give their children to their own parents in other cities to look after on weekdays, and that maternity leave (and paternity leave) laws are inadequate and usually broken. Lest all that sound like gross exaggeration, then see those links for yourself, and many others in my “Korean Demographics” category (especially this one). The result is that Korean women have less economic and political power than countries such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – no, really – and, Korea is the only country in the OECD where less female university graduates work than those with only high school diplomas.

      Finally, this is no abstract, ivory tower issue for me: my wife stopped working with the birth of the our first child 3 years ago (the second one is now 1), and while we both thought that was best for the children despite the loss of her income, now she is extremely frustrated and unhappy at how virtually impossible it is for her to return to the workforce, or at least for a salary that makes it worth her while (let alone hopes of career advancement).

      • Maybe most Korean women CHOOSE to stay at home vs. Western mothers. Just because statistics show that more Korean women stay home does not mean they had no choice. And to be frank, it sounds like you are equating working mothers with stay-at-home moms as a desirable option. Mothering is a full-time job and I think it should be applauded that more Korean mothers stay home than not. You can’t delegate child rearing like you can dry cleaning. Mothers aren’t simply around to make sure kids do not get in danger. They need to be home to instill the right morals/values in their children. The statistics reflect that Korean women choose to stay home for some reason and that could be because they value that more than Western moms. The Korean education system makes if difficult for women to work as well as manage their children’s education. That is another reason why Korean women stay home.

        • Yes, and also some readers CHOOSE to make unsubstantiated assumptions about Korean mothers, their working options, my personal opinions of stay-at-home mothers, and the greater benefits to children of stay-at-home mothers against working mothers…yet nevertheless present those assumptions as fact.

          I challenge you to provide evidence of my supposed disdain for stay-at-home mothers, which would be kind of ironic considering my wife happens to be one. Also, there’s abundant evidence that women do indeed have no choice (which I’ve written about repeatedly in the nearly 3 years since this post was written), frequently being forced to effectively retire upon pregnancy or their children’s birth, which suggests that you don’t have much actual knowledge of what it’s really like for Korean mothers that want to work. And as for mothers needing to be home to instill the right morals/values in their children…I think my own morals and values are just fine thank you, despite the terrible deprivation I suffered at the hands of my two working parents.

          Let me state this unequivocally now then, because I get an angry comment from stay-at-home mothers with a chip on their shoulder like you every other week: I have NOTHING against stay-at-home mothers. My concern is that Korean mothers who DO want to work are clearly and systematically being denied that CHOICE. If you want to continue to make absurd, apologist arguments to the contrary though, then by all means do so, but I insist you read things like this and this before you do (and those are just for starters).

          • “I challenge you to provide evidence of my supposed disdain for stay-at-home mothers, which would be kind of ironic considering my wife happens to be one.”

            You’re projecting. I never made that statement and it would do you well to read carefully as you admonish other readers to. I said that you were ASSUMING that the lack of mothers in the workforce was due to discrimination, NOTHING about disdain. I don’t care if you have written about this for ten years. You should provide evidence for every claim you make even if it means linking to those articles. So is every blog reader supposed to read your entire archive before questioning your articles?

            Stay at home moms provide more than just moral/values support. They are the psychological safety net for children to grow up in so that they can feel like they have someone that will be there for them when they need it. Children don’t just need parents from 6PM to the start of their school day and it is terribly naive to believe so. You said that you suffered “terrible deprivation. . . at the hands of [your] two working parents”. That proves my case.

            I don’t have kids, but have observed and grown up around those who did have working parents and found that many are lost as a result in comparison to kids who had good stay-at-home moms. Stay-at-home moms are there to provide moral support so that children can feel secure and I don’t know how you can argue against that.

            • “…it sounds like you are equating working mothers with stay-at-home moms as a desirable option”

              Sounds like disdain to me. Even if we say just for the sake of argument that I’m projecting though, yet again you accuse me of making unsubstantiated arguments while doing exactly the same yourself. Namely:

              1) Your whole 3rd paragraph. I was being sarcastic about the terrible deprivation I suffered by the way.

              2) What do you have to show that kids with working parents “are lost” compared to kids with stay-at-home moms? Nothing but your own personal, subjective, no doubt full of confirmation-bias observations? Call me unreasonable, but people need a bit more evidence than that (especially us oh-so-lost children of working parents).

              My opinions on child-rearing are not wrong simply because you say so. This discussion is over.

              • ““…it sounds like you are equating working mothers with stay-at-home moms as a desirable option”

                Sounds like disdain to me. Even if we say just for the sake of argument that I’m projecting though, yet again you accuse me of making unsubstantiated arguments while doing exactly the same yourself. Namely:”

                You said I accused YOU of disdaining stay-at-home moms.Don’t deflect. As far as the rest of your arguments, don’t put words in my mouth. All my arguments have been substantiated. Yours haven’t.

                • It also sounds like you are saying that it is ultimately the task of the woman to instill morals and such in her children. Why can’t a man do that?

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