The Korea Herald


Daddies speak out on need for better balance

By Ock Hyun-ju

Published : Sept. 1, 2015 - 19:04

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Long working hours and social pressure against them taking leave for child care are some of the major difficulties faced by modern fathers in their 30s and 40s, a survey in Seoul showed Tuesday.

According to the survey conducted by Seoul Foundation of Woman & Family from May 28 to June 10, 48.5 percent of the respondents cited long working hours and heavy workload as the reasons for poor work-family balance, followed by social pressure deterring them from taking child care leave (24.5 percent), lack of support at workplace (10 percent) and slashed income (8.3 percent).

The poll asked 1,000 men in their 30s and 40s who live in Seoul and have a child aged eight or younger.

As of 2013, South Koreans work an average of 2,163 hours, the third longest following Mexico and Costa Rica among OECD countries.

But the young working fathers had a strong desire to build a better work-family balance, with 92.5 percent of the surveyed willing to curtail working hours to care for their children if possible.

The survey also found that nearly half of the respondents had taken paternity leave for an average of 6.1 days to care for the wife and newborn. But the vast majority wanted to extend the leave, with 34.3 percent of them demanding at least seven days and 23.6 percent supporting a monthlong leave.

Currently, male workers can take up to 5 days off work by law for paternity leave when their wives give birth. Child care leave is open to both men and women who have a child aged 8 or younger, entitling each of them to a paid leave for up to one year.

Unlike the paternity leave, the child care leave remained more inaccessible for men, the survey showed. Only 15.3 percent of the surveyed said that they had taken the child care leave, with 60.8 percent of them having spent less than three months on the leave.

To make it easier for working fathers to take the child care leave, the surveyed men said that the government should make it mandatory for all eligible men to take the leave rather than allowing them to choose. They also addressed the need to increase the pay for those taking the leave.

As part of efforts to raise the chronically low birth rate and help women maintain their career, the government has implemented the policies to encourage shared childrearing between men and women.

The government gives financial incentives to couples with a child aged 8 or younger when both of them take the child care leave. The parents can also work between 15 and 30 hours per week, with their wage covered by employers and government-funded insurance.

Against this backdrop, the overall number of South Korean fathers taking the child care leave has dramatically risen in recent years.

Still, the number only accounted for 5 percent of those who took the leave in the country in the first half of this year, raising questions over the effectiveness of the policies.

The survey also found that women spend less time at work and more time for child care and household chores, highlighting the deeply-rooted Confucian values in Korean society considering men as breadwinners rather than caregivers.

When both wife and husband have a career, husbands worked on average of 9 hours and 14 minutes per day, while spending 1 hour and 19 minutes on looking after a child, 47 minutes on doing housework and 1 hour and 7 minutes on pastime.

On the other hand, women worked for 8 hours and 5 minutes per day on average, spent 2 hours and 11 minutes on taking care of a child and 1 hour and 33 minutes on domestic chores. They spent 1 hour and 4 minutes on pastime.

“There are laws and institutions to encourage work-family balance in place, but they are not being properly implemented,” said Lee Sook-jin, head of Seoul Foundation of Woman & Family. “Based on the survey results, we will work on drawing up specific policies reflecting the reality facing working fathers.”

By Ock Hyun-ju (