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Evolution of women's employment and gender discrimination in Korea

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  • Evolution of women's employment and gender discrimination in Korea
  • Lee, Kye Woo
  • Korea Foundation
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Title Evolution of women's employment and gender discrimination in Korea
Similar Titles
Material Type Reports
Author(English)

Lee, Kye Woo

Publisher

Korea Foundation

Date 2005
Journal Title; Vol./Issue Korea Focus:2005 Sep-Oct
Subject Country South Korea(Asia and Pacific)
Language English
File Type Link
Subject Economy < Trade
Holding Korea Foundation

Abstract

In parallel with Korea's "economic miracle" since the 1960s, the participation of Korean women in the labor force has expanded sharply. Moreover, Korean society has made notable strides in achieving gender equality in many areas of economic activities. But female workers have not yet attained full equality in several areas, especially in regard to professional and managerial occupations as well as regular employment status. What factors are behind this inability to realize gender equality? And what measures need to be undertaken by the government, NGOs, and society as a whole to address this situation?
Since the early 1960s, the Korean economy has enjoyed miraculous success. Following a period of stagnancy at the time of the nation's founding in 1948 and the extensive devastation of the Korean War (1950-53), Korea's economy started to gain momentum from the 1960s, with the implementation of successive five-year industrialization and modernization plans under the military regimes. Then, after the first oil shock of 1973-74, the Korean economy began to take off in earnest. Per capita income in 1960 was a mere $80; however, annual growth of 8.65 percent on average was recorded during the period 1960 to 1970, and then even more impressive growth of 9.5 percent from 1970 to 1980.
Thanks to the government's export-oriented development strategy, Korea's exports grew by leaps and bounds from about $33 million in the 1960s to $835 million in the 1970s, and then $17.5 billion in 1980. After the second oil shock, the rapidly growing economy staggered somewhat during the early 1980s due to a worldwide debt crisis, but then recovered through the structural adjustments called for by international financial institutions.
The Korean economy then registered annual growth of 9.6 percent on average from 1980 to 1991. Exports also expanded dramatically to $65.01 billion by 1990, resulting in the first-ever surplus in Korea's current account in 1987. Thereafter, the first civilian government in 30 years was inaugurated in 1993, enabling economic prosperity and liberalization to flow into all sectors of politics, society, and culture. By 1997, exports reached $164.92 billion, and per capita income stood at $10,550, based on the calculation methods of the World Bank.
When the Asian financial crisis emerged in 1997, the vigor of the Korean economy seemed to instantly dissipate, as GDP growth contracted by 5 percent in 1998. Though the economy recovered its robust rate of growth in short order, it still does not seem to have fully recovered from this shock, as evidenced by the relatively high unemployment rate (above 4 percent in 2004) and moderate growth rate (below 5 percent in 2004).