According to a 2017 report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the gender pay gap in South Korea is the highest among its 37 member countries. Working women earn nearly 40 percent less than men, and many stop working when they have children, often pressured by their families and workplaces.
Other countries in the region, including Japan – which also has an aging population and low birth rate – have large gender differences, especially in terms of pregnancy. In Japan, the term “matahara” (abbreviation for maternity harassment) was caught when a woman’s allegations of bullying in the workplace after she gave birth were heard in the country̵
These declining populations pose a threat to countries’ economies, making it even more important that governments take cautious steps to encourage women to have children.
Last year, South Korea’s population fell for the first time on record, falling by nearly 21,000. Births fell by more than 10.5 percent, and deaths rose by 3 percent. The Ministry of Home Affairs and Security acknowledged the alarming consequences, saying that “in the midst of the rapidly declining birth rate, the government needs to make fundamental changes to its relevant policies.”
While the Seoul government may have fumbled in its council, proving setbacks, some said attitudes changed.
“This is just outdated advice,” said Adele Vitale, a native doula and Italian foreigner who has lived in Busan, a port city on the country’s southeast coast, for a decade.
Ms Vitale, who works primarily with foreign women married to Korean men, said that although Korean society had traditionally perceived pregnant women as “incapacitated,” she had increasingly seen their husbands adopt more egalitarian views on childbirth and childcare.
“Family dynamics have evolved,” she said. “Women are no longer willing to be treated this way.”