Korea urgently needs to encourage more women, especially highly educated ones, to join the workforce to shore up its competitiveness and growth potential. Calls have mounted for stronger measures to keep female employees from quitting their job when they marry, get pregnant or give birth.
There have also been growing voices for the need to induce more housewives who left the workforce to return to the workplace. According to figures from Statistics Korea, more than one-third of married women in their 20s and 30s quit their job after getting married.
A debate has recently been heating up over a bill proposed by a female lawmaker that would give additional points to such women when they apply for jobs at public institutions and companies after nurturing children.
Proponents argue that the measure would not only enhance the employment of women but also help increase the low fertility rate. They say it would also contribute to promoting a social atmosphere favorable for women in making work compatible with family life.
Their arguments in themselves appear to make sense. The need to enhance female participation in economic activities and boost the low fertility rate cannot be overemphasized when the country’s potential growth rate is estimated to drop to around 1 percent in 2030 due mainly to a sharp reduction in the size of the workforce. The combination of the rapidly aging population with a low birthrate, which slipped to a record low of 1.08 per woman aged 15-49 in 2005 before edging up to 1.24 in 2011, could drag down the economy into irreversible sluggishness.
But the measure could cause some unintended problems. There is justification for the argument that it would lead to excessive discrimination against other people, particularly women with personal difficulties having children, in the competition to gain jobs. It should be remembered that a proposal for giving similar benefits to men who completed their military duties was found unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court because it discriminated against women and physically disabled males disproportionately.
It seems to be more practical and effective to focus on expanding support for female employees in balancing their jobs with household obligations so that they will remain in the workforce after giving birth to a child.