Most debates over family policy in the U.S. focus on comparisons with Europe, Canada, or Australia. But so much is happening in East Asia! The rapidity of fertility decline in Korea –combined with the mobilization of women’s groups there–has led to major new government initiatives.
I had the opportunity to learn more when I participated in a Women’s World Conference in Seoul in 2005, but I’m no expert on this area of the world. I asked one of my Korean graduate students, Jayoung Yoon, to tell me more.
Jayoung will soon be returning to Seoul to begin working for the Korea Labor Institute, taking her 17-month old son Justin (pictured here) with her. How will child care there compare with what has been available here at UMass Amherst? Our University Child Care Center doesn’t accept babies under 15 months of age, and has a long waiting list, so Jayoung has relied on informal assistance–the elderly parents of another foreign student are looking after Justin during the day while she works on her dissertation. She may also rely on informal assistance in Seoul, where many Korean Chinese (known as Chosun-jok) are willing to work as live-in nannies. However, the Korean government now provides generous subsidies for child care, with fees based on a sliding scale. A large percentage (80%) of all children are subsidized. The policies have a pronatalist structure, with lower fees for second and third children. Families with more than 3 children also enjoy priorities when they apply for housing.
Perhaps Justin will report back on his experiences. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Gender Equality in Korea, recently merged with the Ministry of Health and Welfare in Korea maintains an English-language website with some interesting details about evolving policies. New parents in Korea currently enjoy 90 days of paid maternity leave at about $500 per month financed through employment insurance. National health insurance covers every citizen in principle, but may not be completely universal in practice, as some cannot afford to pay the required contributions. Yeong-Ran Pak of the Department of Social Welfare at Kangman University has written an interesting article titled “Gender Dimensions of Family Policy in Korea.”
Jayoung herself has been exploring both time allocation in Korea (using the Korean Time Use Survey) and the relationship between gender norms and the distribution of housework. Korea has recently agreed to contribute national survey data to the Luxembourg Income Study (LIS) Wave 6, which should provide new opportunities for comparative international analysis.