Korea needs to boost female employment

By Kim Kyung-ho

After spending more than two decades as a homemaker, 48-year-old housewife Kim, who has a master's degree in education, hopes to get a teaching or welfare consultant job after her son enters college next year.

Her husband, a doctor, also encourages her to find new meaning in her life.

Their daughter, who studies hospitality management at a university in Seoul, is determined to pursue career success, placing marriage at the bottom of her priority list.

"My daughter says I should have been more challenging rather than devoting my post-marriage life to domestic work," said Kim. "Now I think I am ready to be so."

Korea is likely to have to boost its low-level female employment as its potential labour force will begin to shrink in the not too distant future.

Though the number of women engaged in economic activity has continued to increase over the past years, the female employment rate remains low compared to other developed nations.

According to figures from Statistics Korea, about 10.25 million women were engaged in economic activity last year, accounting for 49.4 per cent of the female population aged 15-64, up 0.2 per cent from the previous year.

The ratio of economically active women, which stood at 47.1 per cent in 1998 when the country was hit by a foreign exchange crisis, increased to 49.3 per cent in 2001, 49.9 per cent in 2004 and 50.3 per cent in 2006 before sliding down again in 2008 amid the global economic recession. The figures were far lower than those for men, which have hovered above 70 per cent over the past years.

Based on calculations by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the ratio of Korean women engaged in economic activity was 53.9 per cent in 2009, compared to the OECD average of 61.5 per cent. The corresponding figures for Japan and the US reached 62.9 per cent and 69 per cent, respectively.

Labor experts note the country will face an increasingly urgent task of boosting female employment as its workforce is projected to begin shrinking in five years.

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