Childcare Remains Obstacle to Women's Careers

      July 18, 2011 08:35

      It has been 20 years since childcare became a major public concern and led to relevant laws being enacted in 1991. There are more daycare centers and facilities than ever, but many young parents are still having difficulties.

      As the number of double-income couples mushrooms, the childcare burden has been distributed among all family members, including grandparents, and concerns are growing that many young couples do not want children because they feel they cannot afford them and Korea is aging.

      ◆ Shortage of Daycare Centers

      About 30 percent of Korean babies are left in daycare centers, the world's highest percentage. Finding a place in public daycare centers that charge lower fees and have a better educational environment has become harder than winning the lottery.

      According to a recent survey, 324,000 infants are on waiting lists for public daycare facilities in Seoul alone, and women rush to district daycare centers to register as soon as they find out they are pregnant.

      Some 77.9 percent of women and 53.6 percent of men cited childcare as the biggest problem in maintaining the family-work balance, according to a survey of 1,500 dual-income couples with children under 12 by the Korean Women's Development Institute in March.

      Korean employers make little provision for childcare for their staff, although they have longer working hours than in other countries. Many women therefore leave their children in the care of grandparents, or babysitters on their way to work and pick them up on their way home.

      ◆ Pressure on Young Mothers

      It has been a long time since the childcare burden became a decisive factor in the low birthrate and falling employment rate among women, but little has changed.

      Dr. Yoo Hee-jung of the KWDI said, "Since the early 1990s, demand for childcare has risen sharply in proportion to rising employment among women, and despite the growing number of daycare facilities, they still fall far short of demand."

      The employment pattern for women in Korea shows a typical "M-curve" as the rate peaks when women are in their late 20s, drops in their early 30s, and recovers slowly in their early 40s. This contrasts with other OECD member states, where the average employment rate is consistently about 65 percent from their late 20s to their early 50s.

      According to analysis by the KWDI, employment among Korean women between 20 and 29 stands at 65.6 percent, higher than the OECD average of 63.8 percent, but between 30 and 34 it drops sharply to 50.1 percent, 13.3 percentage points less than the OECD average, because many women in their early 30s, the prime ages for childbirth and childcare, give up their jobs due to childcare issues such as lack of daycare centers or unhelpful husbands.

      The rate recovers again in their early 40s, by which time their children are older, but is still four to five percentage points less than the OECD average.

      "Once women take a career break in their early 30s, it becomes harder to find a job again later," said Chun Ki-taek of the KWDI said. "To increase a reliable female labor force, we have to come up with measures to deal with childcare issues."

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