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More women choosing work over marriage in South Korea

Cannel News Asia - October 25, 2011

Lim Yun Suk, Seoul South Koreans have for a long time believed that a woman's place is at home taking care of her husband and children.

In recent years, that belief has changed dramatically with more women working in various fields and many choosing their careers over marriage. But despite this, employment rates for women in South Korea are still one of the world's lowest.

Ms Na Kyong Won and Ms Park Geun Hye are the most talked-about female politicians in South Korea these days. Ms Na from the ruling party is running to be the Seoul Mayor on October 26, and Ms Park is the frontrunner in next year's presidential election

It would have been unthinkable even in the last few years for women to consider running for these posts. But much has changed. Especially with the abolition of the family registry system in 2008.

Under the old system, the wife was barred from being registered as the legitimate head of a family. Only the husband or the son could be recognised as the head.

South Korea has one of the world's lowest employment rates for women. In the 2010 Gender Gap Index report by the World Economic Forum, South Korea ranked 104th out of the 134 countries.

Kim Taehyun, professor at the Department of Social Welfare, said: "This is considered low. This is because women's economic activities are low and there is a large gap in wages between women and men."

Professor Kim said women enter the workforce equal to men, but the gap starts to widen as soon as women return from their maternity leave. And then it's usually the women who have to find ways to balance their work and family life.

The working culture is also an obstacle as Koreans work long hours and drinking with colleagues after work is encouraged. "Many of our Korean women tend to leave their jobs because of marriage, or their children... that's why our country has one of the biggest wage gaps between women and men."

And that's why many women are now choosing not to get married and have families.

Ahn Soo Hyun, a 32-year-old female worker said: "Things have changed a lot. I have more friends who are not married than who are married. I don't feel lonely. I have lots of friends to hang out with, and so I am not thinking about marrriage yet."

Twenty-eight-year-old Kim Hye Jin said: " I don't feel the need to get married. I am single and I am satisfied with my life now."

At the top level of business, just 4.7 per cent of executives at large companies are women, compared to 39.5 per cent in countries like Norway.

And it's not just in the business world. Inside the National Assembly, there are only 42 female lawmakers now, accounting for only 13.7 per cent of the 299-member parliament.

Experts said it's important that the government comes up with policies to help women stay in the workforce, and force companies if needed to hire them as women's role will be crucial to the development of the South Korean economy.

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