Gender wage gap narrows slowly in South Korea

South Korea faces a 70% gender wage gap with barriers like childcare and career breaks impeding equality progress.
By: | December 29, 2023

While progress continues in closing the gender wage gap in South Korea, significant disparities persist, particularly when it comes to childcare and career interruptions.

According to the Women’s Economic Activity White Paper 2023 report released by the Korean Minister of Gender Equality and Family and the Ministry of Employment and Labour, the average hourly wage for female employees in 2022 was 18,113 won (US$14), compared to 25,886 won (US$20.08) for their male counterparts, representing a 70% wage gap. While gradual improvement is evident, with the gap down from 64.8% in 2012, the pace of progress remains a concern.

The report outlined the complex picture of the country’s female workforce. On the one hand, employment rates are rising, reaching 52.9% in 2022 for women aged 15 and above. This signifies an increase from 48.6% in 2012. Additionally, the number of women in the workforce has reached 12.1 million, marking another positive trend.

However, challenges remain. The employment gap between men and women is particularly pronounced in the 35-39 age group, followed by the 40-44 and 45-49 groups. Childcare emerges as a key factor, with 42.7% of career breaks among women attributed to this responsibility. While interruptions due to marriage have decreased since 2014, childcare represents a growing obstacle to career progression for many women in South Korea.

Further disparities exist within the female workforce. Women in permanent positions earned an hourly wage of 19,549 won (US$15.17) last year, 1.3 times higher than their counterparts in temporary roles.

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Lee Jung-sik, Minister of Employment and Labour of South Korea, acknowledged the need for further progress, saying that “the situation still falls short compared to advanced economies in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.” He further emphasised the government’s commitment to policies that support work-life balance and facilitate female participation in the economy, reported The Korea Times.