Korean Sociological Image #75: Gender Discrimination in Everyday Korean Language

Korean Gender Discrimination LanguageAs Noface-nameless explains:

Students at Sungkyunkwan University has created this poster, among many others to point out all the gender discrimination happening with common phrases said between friends and colleagues. The centered text in red reads “WHY do we have to listen to these things” / “WHY do we have to deal with these phrases” (translation open to interpretation)

some of the background text deals with homophobia, rape culture, negative gender stereotypes and heteropatriarchy.

Every time I the conversation of feminism or conversation of gender and sexuality in Korean, it makes me feel good. Because my Korean is very limited, I love adding new words to my dictionary, especially about these things.

Just recently I learned that the Korean translation of Women’s studies is 여성학.. I havent found the equivalent translation for Women’s and Gender studies but Im leaning towards something like 성(sexuality)과 여성학 .?

still learning….

Via: Tales of Wonderlost

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image series, see here)

Revealing the Korean Body Politic, Part 4: Girls are different from boys

Ha Ji-won Breast Size Korean Attitudes(Sources: left, right)

The JoongAng Ilbo reports that having a full rack is seen as a disadvantage for women in North Korea.

This is in marked contrast to the South, where a thin figure and big breasts have become symbols of beauty.

According to defectors, if a woman appears well-endowed in the North, people think she is intentionally and lewdly stressing her femininity, and she can easily come to be regarded as a slut. You have an atmosphere that doesn’t allow women to wear revealing clothing, and the North is still a male-dominated society.

One defector from Hoeryong said she had a work friend with large breasts who often ate chives because she’d heard they make your boobs smaller. She added that she was surprised upon learning that women in the South actually have operations to make their breasts bigger.

(The Marmot’s Hole)

Alas, The Joongang Ilbo provides nothing to verify those claims. But, I see no reason why the defectors would lie, and negative stereotypes of large-breasted women are by no means confined to North Korea. Also, who would ever question that “a thin figure and big breasts have become symbols of beauty” in the South?

Korean Women Revealing Clothing AttitudesFortunately though, Liminality did, who in a must-read response shows that however much the Korean beauty industries and media promote such an ideal, and however much East Asian-women may have a genetic predisposition towards small breasts, female cosmetic surgery patients at least hardly consider themselves lacking in that department. In fact, quite the opposite:

  • Per capita, far more breast surgery operations are performed in European and North and South American countries than in Korea (or Asia)
  • Despite having the highest per capita number of cosmetic surgery operations overall, Korea only came 22nd in the number of breast surgery operations performed per capita
  • Of those operations, Koreans had slightly less augmentation and lift operations than their counterparts in the US and Brazil, and slightly more reduction surgeries (source, above; reproduced with permission)

Similar attitudes may exist in Japan too, where even lingerie maker Wacoal was surprised by the number of women who told told them they wanted a bra that made their breasts look smaller, and then by the huge popularity of the — yes, really — ‘Bra That Makes Big Breasts Look Small’ design they developed in response. Also, Japanese mail order fashion magazine Bellemaison has developed a ‘Chest Line Cover’ (see second image below) that “promises to be a cool alternative to wearing a real camisole as Japan prepares for another hot summer made even hotter with another year of power rationing,” which I’m sure readers of both sexes can confirm would probably be just as big a hit in Korea.

Bra That Makes Big Breasts Look Small(Source)

But readers don’t need me to tell them that showing cleavage is still a big taboo in Korea, or that there’s a big disconnect between ordinary Koreans’ — and even models’ — attitudes to fashion, body image, and sexuality and what you may see on Korean TV. And I can’t claim any special expertise on ordinary North Koreans’ attitudes either.

Chest Line CoverHowever, when I read that original post at The Marmot’s Hole, by coincidence I’d also just finished The Home Front and Beyond: American Women in the 1940s by Susan M. Hartmann (1983), in which she explains that the massive social dislocations of that decade — in particular, women suddenly entering the workforce in large numbers — were responsible for big changes in women’s fashion there, as well as preferred breast sizes. And, as it happens, North Korea is also going through a very turbulent period at the moment, with power relations between the sexes undergoing especially dramatic change:

Imagine going to work every day and not getting paid. Then, one day, you’re told there’s no work to do — so you must pay the company for the privilege of not working.

This is the daily reality facing Mrs. Kim, a petite 52-year-old North Korean. Her husband’s job in a state-run steel factory requires him to build roads. She can’t remember the last time he received a monthly salary. When there are no roads to build, he has to pay his company around 20 times his paltry monthly salary, she says.

“He had to pay not to work for about six months of last year,” Mrs. Kim told NPR, sighing. “You have to pay, even if you can’t afford to eat. It’s mandatory.”

So she is the one who must keep the family alive, as her husband wrestles with this state-sanctioned extortion.

Welcome to the Orwellian world of work in North Korea. In this reclusive country, profound social change is happening beyond the view of the outside world. The demands of politics have dramatically redrawn gender roles, forcing women to become the breadwinners.

(National Public Radio, December 28; hat tip to Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling)
North Korean Women Bikes(Source)

The NPR goes on to mention that one major consequence of that emasculation is skyrocketing domestic violence, against which speculating about ensuing changes in fashions can admittedly sound frivolous. But those have changed regardless — indeed, by state decree. First, in July last year:

Supreme leader Kim Jong-un appears to be loosening the government’s grip on how women dress by allowing them to wear pants, platform shoes and earrings, ABC News reported.

Previously, pants were only permitted as uniforms for females in the factories or the fields — and not for making a fashion statement.

“If caught, sometimes they would cut your pants right there in public to make it into a skirt,” Park Ye-Kyong, who defected to South Korea in 2004, told ABC News.

That doesn’t mean North Korean women don’t enjoy preening, Park added.

“Yes, we were hungry but desire to look beautiful lies in any woman,” she said.

North Korean Female IdealIn addition, the next month a 20 year-ban on women riding bicycles was lifted. Ostensibly imposed for women’s safety, numerous sources also mention its supposed incompatibility with juche, related educational television promoting “the idea of a woman wearing a skirt while riding a bicycle [being] contrary to socialist custom.” (See NK News {source, right} for more on North Korean ideals of women). Moreover, in 2009 Human Rights Watch also noted that:

…the ban on pants and bicycles for women is symptomatic of a range of other, often-overlooked, problems.

Across North Korea’s conservative, male-dominated society, there is discrimination against women, a knowing disregard for the consequences of such policies, and an opportunistic manipulation of power by police officers trying to make easy money by preying on an undervalued and underprivileged population.

In light of that, most likely the lifting of the bans was mainly simple populism on the part of a new leader, as well as — despite those state gender ideologies described above — a reluctant concession to the new realities of female breadwinners. Sure enough, in typical North Korean fashion (pun intended), just 5 months later the ban on women riding bicycles would actually be reinstated. Also, while technically they can still keep their pants on, in practice opportunities for women to beautify themselves remain limited, with both sexes punished for straying from officially-sanctioned hairstyles; sharp divisions in what is permissible for married and unmarried women; and a general lack of (beauty-related) resources overall, including such simple things as hairdryers.

Perhaps, things are not changing in North Korea as much as they first appear?

One Million Yen Girl Part Time Woman(Sources: left, right)

Yet in South Korea at least, it’s true that the last 15 years have seen a vast increase in the numbers of women competing with — and increasingly displacing — men for irregular and part-time work, despite the (extremely low) overall female workforce participation rate remaining unchanged. This has spawned quite a backlash, and — à la The Beauty Myth (1991) — a rapid increase in (overwhelmingly female) objectification in popular culture. So, while again I stress my ignorance and lack of knowledge with anything North-Korea related, it’s not unreasonable to suppose that, surely, the sudden large influx of women into the workforce may also be having some sort of impact there.

The Home Front and BeyondEither way, reading about similar experiences elsewhere can inform an understanding of what’s happening in both countries. So, with the obvious — but still necessary — caveat that of course both countries are very different to the US in the 1940s, for the remainder of this post let me try to pass on some of what I’ve learned about what happened there.

First, it’s important to get a sense of the numbers (pp. 77-8):

  • The female labor force grew by 6.5 million during the war
  • In 1944, 37% of all adult women were reported in the labor force, but nearly 50% of all women were actually employed at some time during that year
  • The greatest changes took place among married women
  • 1 in 10 married women entered the work force during the war, representing over 3 million of those 6.5 million new female workers (3.7 million, according to Marilyn Yalom in A History of the Wife {2002; p. 320})
  • 2.89 million were single, the rest widowed or divorced
  • So, for the first time in US history there were more married women than single women in the workforce.
  • Note however, that the war resulted in many more marriages than there would have been normally — approximately 1 million more, according to Yalom. Moreover, wives of absentee husbands were twice as likely to seek jobs, with half of all servicemen’s wives being in the labor force
  • The percentage of wives that worked grew from 13.9 in 1940 to 22.5 in 1944 (Yalom says 15 in 1940 to over 24 in 1945)
  • The percentage of women with children that worked grew from 7.8 in 1940 to 12.1 in 1944
  • By 1945, half of all working women were over 35; slightly more than 1 in 4 were 45 or older
  • The typical female worker had shifted from younger and single to older and married, a pattern which was maintained in the postwar years

Should Your Wife Take a War JobAs Hartmann elaborates throughout her book, these figures represent an ensuing era of relative opportunity and freedom for many women (including sexual freedom; see Pin-Up Grrrls {2006} by Maria Busnek, pp. 213-224; see below also), even if it was usually simple economic necessity that compelled them to work in the first place (and usually at tedious, menial, and unfulfilling work at that). Accordingly, it definitely set the stage for second-wave feminism in the 1950s and ’60s, and deserves the place it’s gained in the Western historical imagination.

However, it’s also true that despite the huge public and private need for women to enter the workforce, that need was still considerably tempered by both sexes’ preexisting gender and racial ideologies, with both official propaganda and popular culture glamorizing women’s work and stressing its patriotic importance on the one hand, yet emphasizing its strictly temporary nature on the other. Not least, to nervous male workers and servicemen, who: lacked our knowledge that the war would lift the US out of the Depression (source, right); were very much judged by their ability to provide for their families, in an era where many simply couldn’t (note that one big difference between the Depression and the current financial crisis is that many people were literally starving during the former); and who sometimes had genuine difficulties with employment after demobilization, particularly in the shrinking war industries in which the women had been recruited (Hartmann, p. 63).

Buszek summarizes the contradictions of this era well (pp. 214-5):

Pin-up Grrrls pp. 214-5And in particular:

  • Despite the huge demand for workers, and the ultimate, relative flexibility both employers and male employees would demonstrate in incorporating Caucasian women into their midst, African-American women remained largely unwelcome (e.g., 10 months after Pearl Harbor, there were fewer than 100 out of 3000 women in Detroit war industries). So, while the numbers of them working did increase from 1.5 million in 1940 to 2.1 million in 1944, their share of the female labor force actually dipped from 13.8 to 12.5. By 1950, their employment patterns were very similar to those of 10 years earlier, albeit partially because by then their husbands were making more money. (Hartmann, pp. 60, 78-9)
  • Women of Britain Come into the factoriesPartially, the huge numbers of wives that entered the workforce is because there were previously bans against them by many companies, let alone being against social convention; even schools discriminated against them. It’s amazing how quickly bans were dropped once the need for labor arose though, with some previously hostile managers coming to express a “preference for married women as more stable and conscientious than their single sisters” (pp. 59-60). And this provides encouraging news for Korea, which unfortunately still largely retains those conventions, and where as recently as 2009 I was working for a company that — yes, really — fired women upon marriage (source, right).
  • Nevertheless, there remained extreme public and private ambivalence about working mothers. Officially seen as more of a social problem than something to be encouraged, officials did recognize “that financial need compelled some mothers to work and that in localities with severe labor shortages production goals would requite the employment of mothers,” and urged employers not to discriminate against them (p.58). But on the other hand, the government would also constantly remind them that homestay mothers were essential for children’s development; popular culture was full of stories of child neglect; and daycare provision, while expanded, was ultimately completely inadequate, paling behind that which was provided in the UK, and prompting frustrated managers of some defense plants to set up their own (Yalom, pp. 324-6).
Ellen DeGeneres, Portia de Rossi Check Out Katy Perry(Source)

But, lest we forget, this post is about breasts. And changes in women’s fashions which came with the contradictions involved with entering the workforce, with women having to confront rampant sexual harassment on the one hand, and often being blamed for the “distraction” they posed, but on the other relishing their newfound freedoms (Buszek, pp. 216-7):

Pin-up Grrrls p216-7However, the combination of war-time shortages and women’s entrance into the workforce meant that people suddenly became used to women in functional, masculine clothing and with more practical hairstyles, and that women’s fashions became more simplified, comfortable, less overtly sexual, and changed less frequently than before. So, when you learn that popular culture stressed the exact opposite, for example…

  • I pledge myself to guard every bit of beauty that he cherishes in meThat female workers were still “glamorous” and feminine despite their new roles (Hartmann, p. 199)
  • As were female sport stars, women’s sports enjoying a lot of popularity while their male counterparts were occupied (p. 194)
  • Lingerie manufacturers coped with wartime shortages and new demand by producing much practical bras, yet these coincided with pinup photographs that emphasized their subjects’ breasts (Jill Fields, An Intimate Affair: Women, Lingerie and Sexuality, 2007, p. 106). As explained in Part 3 of this series, this ultimately led to the fashion for large and uplifted breasts that remains to this day.

…then it is very easy and natural — indeed, this is my very strong impression from the books discussed here, although exact page references are suddenly proving maddeningly elusive(!) — to argue that this alternate ideal was imposed by, for want of a better word, the patriarchy, to encourage women to enter the workforce yet at the same time remind them that their place there was unnatural and temporary. And, to be clear, not for a moment am I arguing that this wasn’t very much the case (source, right).

However, as Hartmann explains on p. 198 below (echoed by the other sources), it’s also true that women themselves were just as passionate about preserving their femininity (indeed, they would understandably revel in impractical but much more feminine fashions once war rationing ended):

Hartmann, The Home Front, p.198In particular, and especially in light of the new opportunities open to them as mentioned, I think it’s both overly dogmatic and patronizing to dismiss choosing to use those feminine adornments as mere false consciousness and women’s own mindless incorporation of patriarchal values. Also, although it’s true that the period was rife with pop psychology theories (it was conveniently claimed that women like boring, monotonous work much more than men for instance) it’s very unlikely that men and women rationalized and articulated their choices and concerns in such patriarchal terms. Even if those did operate on a subconscious level, and patriarchy is still the only thread which can bring otherwise disparate developments in the period together, surely men did not think, for example, that if they saw more big-breasted women in popular culture, emphasizing the differences between the sexes as increased use of lipstick did in the workplace, that this would make them feel more secure in their jobs.

In addition, while changes in attitudes were certainly quick, they didn’t happen overnight, Jill Fields (p. 106) noting that “uplift” and “separation” trends in bras for instance, which accentuated the projection of the breast silhouette, had actually already started back in the 1930s. Finally, if you’re confused like I am, because I just noted above that bras actually became more practical during wartime, and am now stating that women could simultaneously be censured and praised for wearing distracting clothes, that’s because contradictory and competing trends coexisted simultaneously, the 1940s being just as messy, complicated, and contradictory as modern life.

Busty Girl Comics Double StandardAnd on that note, thank you very much for bearing with me in this admittedly equally messy, complicated, and contradictory post, the result of me personally trying to understand what patriarchy means in practice as well as theory. And, with the proviso that my relief — and frankly joy — at discovering historic parallels (and especially English-language historiography!) to modern North and South Korean developments should make me wary of projecting too much, and not blind me to the significant differences, I’m very happy to have pointers towards further study, and very much welcome readers’ own suggestions! (source, right)

The Revealing the Korean Body Politic Series:

Update: See Fit, Feminist, and (almost) Fifty for “the medical condemnations of women’s cycling [which are] fascinating for what they tell us about what people thought (and maybe still think?) about women’s athletic capabilities and potential.”

Update 2: “Saudi daily al-Yawm cited an unnamed official as saying women can now ride bikes in parks and recreational areas. According to the official, the ruling stipulated that women must wear a full-body abaya, be accompanied by a male relative, and stay within certain areas. They are allowed to bike for recreational purposes only, not as a primary mode of transportation.” (Aljazeera)

Quick Hit: Living as a female smoker in Korea

Coffee and Cigarettes 2003 Fume Cette Cigarette Korea(Sources: left, flygookee; right, Emmanuel Robert-Espalieu, auteur)

The other day Kim Young-hee (26) smoked in public instead of a cafe. She took out a cigarette impulsively while waiting for the bus home after a few drinks with her friends.

“I was a bit tipsy and felt like a puff. After I lit the cigarette, a random middle-aged man came up to me and started shouting as if I had done something very bad. He said, ‘I will slap your face if you don’t throw your cigarette away right now.’ He called me ‘dirty little woman.’”

She still thinks it was ridiculously unfair for him to reproach her because the man was also holding a cigarette…

See The Korea Times for more stories of similar incidents, and my The Gender Politics of Smoking in South Korea series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Newsflash, Part 4, Korea’s Hidden Smokers) for more context. As explained in the latter (see the article in the last link for a summary of the series), the stigma against women smoking leads to massive under-reporting by them, resulting in official figures of roughly 2-5% of Korean women smoking, against best estimates of roughly 20% (see here for a handy international comparison). What’s more, the previous government was accused of deliberately downplaying the figures to stress its success in lowering the (admittedly more pressing) high male smoking rate, and while technically I haven’t seen the same accusations leveled at the outgoing Lee Myung-bak Administration, I haven’t found any official acknowledgement of how problematic its figures are either.

Korean Woman Smoking SmallMeanwhile, since my last post in the series was published nearly a year ago, probably the biggest developments have been the Seoul City Council’s continuing efforts to implement its 2011 plans to increase the number of public areas being designated smoke-free to 1/5th of the city by 2014 (smoking on sidewalks was already banned in 2010); and also efforts by some companies, both public and private, that have gone so far as to make being a non-smoker a prerequisite for promotion. For more details on both of those, see “Getting Tough: Korean Smokers Passed Over for Job Promotions” by Bobby McGill at Busan Haps, who also notes that (source, right: sungjinism):

The central government is doing what it can while avoiding Korea’s third-rail of politics, the “sin tax”. Few things more quickly turn the public against you here than raising taxes on Korean’s beloved cigarettes and alcohol. And the evidence shows that aside of potentially costing elected officials their jobs, it does little to curb smoking anyway.

The last time the government raised taxes on cigarettes was in 2004 by 354 won (30 cents) when 52 percent of the male population was smoking. The rate dropped a paltry seven points to 45 percent by 2007, but then increased the three subsequent years hitting 48.3 percent in 2010 before leveling off back at the current 45 percent.

I’d agree that the government is avoiding the sin tax, but disagree that that 2004 tax hike constitutes evidence against its effectiveness: a raise of 354 won being moot when just last year, packs were still at “the very smoker-friendly price of 2,700 won each” (US$2.53 as I type this). Moreover, in November “The International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project’s team of some 100 health experts from around 20 countries” said that “it is imperative for South Korea to raise taxes on tobacco products,” and also 50% of respondents in a December 2010 survey by The Ministry of Health and Welfare “said that they would seriously consider quitting if the price was at least 8,000 won per pack.”

What do you think, about any of the above? Especially those among you that smoke yourselves? Personally, when I hear of women getting threatened, even slapped in the face for smoking in 2013, I’m very skeptical about news of improvements. But I realize that that is likely much more a manifestation of general misogyny than being anti-smoking per se, with Nathan McMurray of Korea Law Today, for instance, being much more optimistic about changing attitudes:

Reducing smoking is a process that will require the collective willpower of the entire country, because it is a habit so deeply ingrained in the culture. However, positive strides have been made to reduce the number of male smokers. In fact, since I have been in this country, I have noticed that the perception/acceptance of smoking has morphed into something different than it used to be.

Either way, let me conclude by passing on some further reading I’ve come across in the past year. First, Smoking Roomspecifically gender and smoking-related, which show that — of course — it’s by no means just Korea where the number of female smokers is soaring (source, right: Jude Lee; CC BY 2.0):

Empowered women smoke more (New Scientist)

Torches of Freedom: Women and Smoking Propaganda (Sociological Images)

Female smoking death risk ‘has soared’ (BBC)

Women who quit smoking before 30 cut risk of tobacco-related death by 97% (The Guardian)

Lung cancer in women ‘to soar’ by 2040 (BBC)

And finally, on some methods for curbing smoking in general:

In an unsurprising development, smoke-free laws have lead to fewer hospitalizations (io9)

Look what they’ve done to my brands: Cigarette-makers will weather the spread of plain-packaging laws (The Economist)

Why cigarette packs matter (Bad Science)

Producing Bodies in Anti-Smoking Campaigns (Sociological Images)

Smoked out: Can a film of a smoker trigger the act? (The Economist)

Quick Hit: Radio Interview Tomorrow


Tomorrow at about 8:30am, there’ll be a brief interview of me in the “Morning Coffee” section of the 7-9am Morning Wave program on Busan e-FM. More about me than than anything Korean feminism, sexuality, or pop-culture related sorry(!), if you’re still interested you can listen in at 90.5 FM or online here, or catch it later in the archives.

Also, before I forget, back in November I made a small contribution to James Pearson’s (of koreaBANG fame) article “‘Ladygate’ incidents point to misogyny on the Korean Internet” for Yonhap. Sorry for the long delay in passing that on, and please see my “Korean Sociological Image #73: The True Numbers of Korean Working Women” if you’d like more context.

Korean Sociological Image #73: The True Numbers of Korean Working Women

(Source; edited)

If recent BBC coverage is anything to go by, marriage in South Korea is like a business. It’s also becoming a bit of an explosive topic as social mobility slows down and the traditional image of the male breadwinner becomes eroded by the increasing participation of females in the labour market. Some of the most widely publicised scandals and controversies on the Korean internet seem to have been, in some way or another, due to this intensifying gender friction.

(KoreaBANG; my emphasis)

My apologies for singling out Justin at KoreaBANG, whose post is still excellent overall. And as you’ll soon see, I often make mistakes too.

But that comment I’ve highlighted? Frankly, it just infuriated me. Because even though it’s completely wrong, I seem to hear it all the time these days.

In reality, the Korean female workforce participation rate has stagnated at one of the lowest rates in the OECD ever since 1997-98, when women were overwhelmingly targeted for layoffs during the Asian Financial Crisis. Back then, the logic was that wives would be provided for by their husbands, and 20-something daughters by their fathers. And 10 years later, in the latest crisis, to a large extent this logic was reapplied, although on this occasion there was a clearer economic – not just patriarchal – logic in that women formed the bulk of irregular workers (see here, here, and here for much more information).

Or so I’ve often written. But naturally, it was difficult to find definitive statistics on that when I first reported on it three years ago. At that time, my most up to date source was my copy of Working Korea 2007, published by the Korea Labor & Society Institute. Here is my scan of page 19, which has a graph of the male and female workforce participation rate of 1970-2006:

In hindsight, although it does show a big drop in the female rate in 1997-98, it shows an equally large (even slightly larger?) drop in the male rate too. With my apologies, I’m very surprised I didn’t notice that earlier, and, although it does contradict most of the literature I’ve read about the Asian Financial Crisis, and is just from one source too, it still definitely bears further investigation.

That aside, a year later I found a source going up to 2008 (it shows a fall of 50.3% to 50.0% in 2006-2008; see below also). And today, spurred by Justin’s comment, I tried looking again, and found the following at the National Statistics Office’s website:


The blue bars represent the economically active female population, in thousands (i.e., the first figure is 10.75 million), the pink line the female workforce participation rate. Although the choice of right scale gives the false visual impression that the rate has changed a great deal, as you can see from the numbers it has remained within a narrow band of 49% to 50.5%, last year’s rate being just lower than that of 2002. Also, clearly a 0.9% drop between 2008 and 2009 isn’t quite as big as I’ve been making out, and again is something that bears further exploration.

But still, one thing is clear: the number — well, percentage — of Korean women working has little changed in the last 15 years, and remains very very low by the standards of other developed countries. So it can not be the cause of increasing gender friction.

The perception that Korean women are making significant inroads into the Korean economy though? That’s entirely possible, and indeed I highly recommend KoreaBANG for much more on that (indeed, especially the remainder of Justin’s post), as well as many posts by Gord Sellar too (source, right).

(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Image series, see here)

Which Korean Industries Have the Largest Gender Pay Gap?

(Source: unknown)

A long time ago, a Korean friend told me that banks were like a microcosm of all Korean workplaces — almost all the tellers were women, and seemed to do most of the actual work, but made the least money. In contrast, their male supervisors seemed to just sit at the back, occasionally approving a form the tellers would bring to them. But they’d probably be paid twice as much.

I don’t know how fair that portrayal was, and indeed later I befriended a Korean bank teller who didn’t think much of it, who loved her work at an all-female branch. Nevertheless, as the following The Joongang Ilbo report makes clear, the banking industry still has the largest gender pay gap, with women making an average of only 57% of what men make.

Undoubtedly, that is primarily because most of the women in banking, well, are tellers, as one banker explains below. On the other hand, it’s also true there are some deeply sexist attitudes within the industry — e.g., women lack a “competitive edge” — that underlie that gender division. For more on that, see this post on the 2009 commercial by Shinhan Bank above, which has a clear message that men should do the thinking while women should merely look good.

Also, after reading this post, compare my “University Graduates: One Woman Hired for every Four Men” one from November, where many commenters pointed out that the companies examined were most heavy industries, for which such a gender division was to be expected. This report sheds more light on that, including the surprising news that it’s actually the Hyundai Motor Group that gives the highest average salaries to women.


7100만원! 여성 연봉 1 기업은 금융권 아닌 / 71 Million Won! It’s not in banking that women have the highest average salary…

The Joongang Ilbo, May 25 2012

성별임금따져보니 / Let’s find out the sex difference in salaries

대기업 여성 연봉 순위는 남성 랭킹과 확연히 달랐다. 1위는 평균 7100만원을 주는 현대자동차였다. 남성 평균(9000만원)의 79% 선이다. 이 회사 남성 직원 평균 근무 연수가 17.8년으로 여성(12.2년)보다 고참이 많다는 점을 감안하면 사실상 남녀 간에 임금격차가 없는 셈이다. 현대차 허정환 이사는 “자동차 산업의 특성상 힘든 생산라인에는 여성이 거의 없고 대부분 상대적으로 연봉이 높은 사무직에서 근무하다 보니 여성의 평균 임금이 높다”고 설명했다. 현대차에서 일하는 여직원은 모두 2442명으로 이 중 생산·정비직은 184명뿐이다.

The order of companies that pay the highest average salaries to men and women are completely different. For women, Hyundai Motor Group is number one, which pays 71 million won a year. This is only 79% of men’s average of 90 million won, but when their level of seniority is taken into account (women’s average number of years worked is 12.2, men’s 17.8) then they’re not significantly different. Asked about this, CEO Heo Jeong-hwan explained: ” The car industry is unique — women do not have the strength to work on the production line, so most do office work, where they make more money than the men on the floor. Out of 2442 women working at Hyundai, only 184 work on the production line or in maintenance.”

현대차뿐 아니라 현대차그룹 계열사들은 대부분 여성의 급여가 높았다. 기아자동차(6400만원)가 88개 대기업 중 3위, 현대모비스(5700만원)가 6위였다. 삼성전자는 여성이 평균 5350만원(11위), 남성은 8860만원을 받았다. 삼성전자는 여성들이 생산 라인에서 많이 일하고 있다. 이 업체는 생산직 여성 수를 사업보고서에 기재하지 않았다.

It’s not just Hyundai Motor Group, but also in companies affiliated with the Hyundai Group in which women’s average salaries are high. Kia Motors comes in at number 3 of 88 large companies with an average of 64 million won, and Hyundai Mobis number 6 with 57 million won. At Samsung Electronics, number 11, women receive 53.5 million won and men 88.6 million won. Many women work on the production line at Samsung Electronics, although The Joongang Ilbo is unaware of exact numbers.


전체 88개 기업의 여성 평균 연봉은 4270만원으로 남성 평균 7002만원의 61%였다. 평균 근무 연수는 남성이 12년, 여성이 7.7년이었다. 대기업 남녀 간 임금 격차에는 이런 근무 기간의 차이 때문에 생긴 부분도 있다.

All together, out of 88 large companies the average women’s wage was 42.7 million won, 61% of the average men’s wage of 70.02 million won. Most of this can be attributed to the difference in the average number of years worked, which is 7.7 years for women and 12 years for men.

성별에 따른 차이는 유통업체가 제일 심했다. 여성 평균 임금(2090만원)이 남성(3191만원)의 43%에 불과했다. 매장에서 상품 진열 같은 시급제 아르바이트를 하는 여성이 많다 보니 생긴 일이다. 최근 들어서는 특히 대형마트나 수퍼마켓에서 아르바이트를 하는 중·장년 여성들이 늘고 있다. 남편은 은퇴하고 자녀들은 청년 취업난에 좀체 일자리를 구하지 못하자 주부들이 생활비를 벌려고 나서는 것이다.

(James — There must be a typo in one of the above figures: 20.9 million won is not 43% of 31.91 million won, but 65%; and this is higher than the 61% mentioned in the last paragraph, even though this paragraph is about the lowest comparative figures. Given that, and the mention of a lot of women working part time, then I’m going to assume that it’s the average women’s salary that is the incorrect one, and that it should be 43% of 31.91 million won, or 13.72 million won)

The highest gender gap was in the sales and distribution industry, with women’s average salary of 13.72 million won being only 43% of men’s 31.91 million. The reason is that most of the women are middle-aged and late middle-aged part-time workers in sales, compelled to work in large supermarkets to make a living because their husbands are retired and their adult children find it difficult to get work.


고액 연봉 직종의 대명사인 금융 쪽도 여성과 남성의 차이가 컸다. 평균적으로 여성(4800만원)이 남성(8460만원)의 57%를 받는 데 그쳤다. 남성 연봉 1위인 하나대투증권의 경우 여성 평균 연봉은 6200만원으로 남성의 절반이 채 되지 않았다. 성별 연봉 격차는 8200만원에 달했다. 한국스탠다드차타드은행 또한 남성은 8900만원으로 전체 순위 7위였지만 여성은 그보다 5300만원 적은 3600만원으로 51위에 그쳤다. 외환은행(차이 4500만원)과 삼성화재(4200만원)도 남성과 여성 간에 급여 차이가 많았다. 금융회사들이 남녀 임금 격차 상위를 줄줄이 차지한 것이다.

The largest gender gap is in the finance industry, with women making an average of 57% (48 million won) of what men make (84.6 million won). In the number 1 company for men, Hana Daetoo Securities, women make an average of 62 million won but men make 144 million, more than half as much again [James – That’s 43% of the men; maybe that figure got moved to the wrong paragraph?]. At Standard Chartered Korea, 7th best for men, they make 89 million won, but the company is only 51st best for women, who make 53 million (a difference of 36 million). At Korea Exchange Bank, the gender gap is again high at 45 million won, as it is at Samsung Fire and Marine Insurance. Across the board, the gender gap is very high in this industry.

이에 대해 스탠다드차타드은행 홍보실 정한용 부장은 “고액 연봉을 받는 사무직이나 영업직은 주로 남성이고 여성은 대부분 계약직 창구 직원(텔러)이기 때문”이라며 “여성의 근속 연수도 남성보다 짧다는 점 역시 작용했다”고 말했다. 통신업종은 남성에 대한 여성 임금 비율이 72%로 가장 격차가 적었다.
김영민 기자

Standard Chartered Korea PR Head Jeong Han-young explained: “The reason for the difference is because in our company, it is mostly men that are involved in business and commercial operations whereas most of the women are irregular workers, working as tellers.” Also, “the male workers have been working for the company for much longer.”

The smallest gender gap was in the telecommunications industry, with women making on average 72% of the men.

Reporter: Kim Yong-Min

Update — Thank you to Sky Kauweloa, who pointed out on the blog’s Facebook page that The Korea Times produced a similar, short report. Alas, it doesn’t help resolving those typos above, but it does have information about some more companies, and also the nice graphic I’ve added on the right:

How Many Teenage Girls Are Smoking?

(Source: Unknown)

If you’ve been following my The Gender Politics of Smoking in South Korea series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Newsflash, Part 4, Korea’s Hidden Smokers), you’ll know that there’s a huge stigma against women smoking here. This leads to chronic under-reporting by female smokers, which in turn leads to the government and media regularly giving female smoking rates as low as 2-4%. In reality though, best estimates put the rate amongst young women at roughly 20%, pointing to a looming health crisis.

Even if the coming presidential election brings more enlightened officials to the Ministry of Health and Welfare (보건복지부) however, which has previously overwhelmingly focused on — and been accused of exaggerating — reductions in the male smoking rate, there’ll still remain the problem of finding out how many young Korean women actually smoke.

Or will there? With my thanks, let me pass on a reader’s partial solution:

My coworker, the assistant haksaengbu (학생부) at my high school, made a list of students caught smoking. This is at a small-town girls high school, with 330 students age 15-18 in western years. So far this year (since 2 March) 14% of the students have been caught smoking, with 9.5% of the academic (moongwha; 문과) students caught and 25% of the vocational (sanggwha; 상과) students caught.

I would think that 14% would be the absolute minimum possible average in Korea, considering that we’re in a fairly conservative area and teachers can still punish students (though it’s pretty inconsistent and haphazard). Considering that those are only the ones who’ve been caught and there’s almost nothing in the way of lunchtime and after-school supervision, I’d guess that the amount who smoke on a daily basis is 50% higher and the ones who’ve tried it on occasion is double that.

In any event, if you wanted some incontrovertible statistics about teenage girls smoking in rural Korea based on a sample size in the hundreds there you go!

Later, they added:

If you’d like the breakdown it was 21 out of 226 moonghwa students and 26 out of 106 sangwha students. I believe a couple of the sangwha students have dropped out/gone awol/transferred.

What do you think? How does this compare to readers’ own schools?