The income gap in Korea is not as bad as in some major industrialized countries and may be showing signs of easing as household incomes, employment and job availability improve.
According to Statistics Korea on Monday, the Gini coefficient, which is used to measure income distribution, has started to ease after peaking at 0.296 in 2008. A Gini coefficient of 1 indicates that all income has been pooled in one group, while 0 signals perfectly equal income distribution.
This means that income equality in Korea is better than the U.S., U.K., Australia, Japan, Italy and Canada, all of which have more advanced public welfare than Korea.
The state-run Korea Development Institute in a recent report said Korea ranked in the middle of the OECD in terms of the level of income disparity. The KDI claimed that Korea has a higher proportion of households earning at least 50 percent of the median income and that wealth is less concentrated in the high-wage group compared to other OECD nations.
The gap in profit between big and small businesses, which was cited as the main reason behind income disparity, is also improving slightly. According to the BOK, the operating ratio of small and mid-sized companies -- the relationship between sales and operating profit -- has increased since 2008. Their average operating ratio stood at 5.44 percent last year, which was in fact higher than the average among big businesses of 5.38 percent.
One reason for the comparatively positive figures is that the wealth gap increased even more dramatically in some other countries due to the global financial crisis. "Various economic indicators show that Korea went through a milder economic slump and recovered faster," said Lee Seung-chul of the Federation of Korean Industries.
But experts say the income gap has not improved to the point where ordinary people feel any benefit.