This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Which Came First--Low Fertility or Women in the Labor Force?

This week's Economist has an interesting article that is of relevance to any and every modern society--getting women into the paid labor force as a way of generating additional economic productivity and a higher overall standard of living. As is true in most societies, gender equity still has a ways to go in South Korea, and women routinely earn less than men and there are very few women in senior level positions. However, the educational system is based on merit, not gender, so the level of education among women equals that of men, leading to a situation in which foreign companies are reportedly recruiting educated Korean women who cannot find a job in their own country. Up to this point, the story makes sense. Then, the Economist concludes with the following set of observations:
Only 60% of female South Korean graduates aged between 25 and 64 are in work—making educated South Korean women the most underemployed in OECD countries. That may change, however. Marriage and fertility rates have plunged. There were 10.6 marriages per 1,000 people in 1980, but only 6.2 last year. South Korean women have an average of only 1.15 children, one of the lowest rates anywhere. That has troubling implications for the country, but should help women in the workplace. Firms will have to use all the talent they can find. If they don’t, their rivals will.
The story clearly implies that having low fertility will free up women to work--either in Korea or elsewhere. The reality, though, is that Korean women are delaying marriage and having only one child for precisely the same reasons that women in Southern and Eastern Europe are doing the same--traditional family values dictate that when a woman marries and has a child she is expected to leave the labor force and stay home. While it may be true that some women want to work, but can't find a job, it is more likely the case that women want to work, but can't find good day care.

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