OECD: South Korea needs flexible working hours to address low birthrate

South Korea flag. Image: www.worldatlas.com

SEOUL, Oct. 28 (UPI) — South Korea needs to take firm steps to adopt flexible working hours, promote gender equality and increase benefits for childcare if the country wants to tackle its low birthrate, an official with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Monday.

Stefano Scarpetta, director for Employment, Labor and Social Affairs at the OECD, said that in 2045 a family made up of parents and children will only make up 16 percent of all households, with the labor force shrinking by 2.5 million in the next 20 years.

South Korea’s total fertility rate — the average number of children a woman bears in her lifetime — hit a record low of 0.98 in 2018, much lower than the replacement level of 2.1 that would keep South Korea’s population stable at 51 million.

In comparison, the OECD average stood at around 1.65.

Some young South Koreans are opting to distance themselves from life’s three major milestones — dating, marriage and children — because they cannot find decent jobs amid a prolonged economic slowdown.

Speaking in an international population conference in Seoul, Scarpetta said that the OECD thinks Seoul’s problems center on its long work hours, not enough part-time employment opportunities and women forced to leave work to take care of children. He said that progress is still not sufficient, though there has been a positive shift in the perception of female workers and their social roles.

The OECD official said that government policies need to be tailored to make it easier for a work-life balance, with flexible working hours and corresponding pay systems needing to be created.

This, he said, can allow women to work, while meeting their family-related responsibilities.

The official said South Korean policymakers need to raise childcare leave allowances and increase cash payments for children and families, along with offering more tax breaks. He called for more investment in public education to reduce the need for private tutoring.

The director said companies need to resolve their male-oriented work cultures that put women at a disadvantage in terms of promotions and pay.


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