The Korea Herald


[News Focus] Korea unrivaled in gender wage gap among OECD members

Korean women make nearly 35 percent less than men

By Kim Yon-se

Published : May 12, 2020 - 16:45

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A view of downtown Seoul, to which a large portion of salaried workers residing in the capital and Gyeonggi Province commute (Seoul City) A view of downtown Seoul, to which a large portion of salaried workers residing in the capital and Gyeonggi Province commute (Seoul City)

SEJONG -- The wage gap between male and female salaried workers in South Korea has narrowed over the past few years, though the disparity had been critical compared to global standards.

But data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed that Korea still topped the list in the gender wage gap, with 34.1 percent in the organization’s comparison of 2018 data or the latest available.

The OECD clarified that the gender wage gap is defined as the difference between median earnings of men and women relative to the median earnings of men. It added the data referred to full-time employees and self-employed people.

It is contrasted to the OECD average, 13.2 percent, calculated among 27 of its 36 members. This indicates that the wage for women reached 34.72 million won in Korean currency, compared to the yearly wage of 40 million won for men as an assumption.

That figure is down somewhat from the early 2010s, when Korea saw the gap hover over 40 percent. Nonetheless, it is still far larger that of other OECD members.
(Graphic by Kim Sun-young/The Korea Herald) (Graphic by Kim Sun-young/The Korea Herald)

While Japan and Israel ranked second and third, their figures were lower by about 10 percentage points -- 24.5 percent and 21.8 percent, respectively -- compared to Korea.

The US ranked fourth with 18.9 percent, followed by Canada with 18.5 percent, Finland with 17.7 percent, the UK with 16.4 percent, Germany with 16.2 percent, Slovakia with 15.7 percent and Austria with 15.4 percent.

The salary gap was under the OECD average (13.2 percent) among countries such as France, Chile, Australia, Iceland, Poland and Hungary, whose figures ranged between 9 and 13 percent.

Belgium reported the smallest gap, 3.7 percent.

Greece posted the second-smallest with 4.5 percent, followed by Denmark with 5.3 percent, Italy with 5.6 percent, Norway with 7.1 percent, Sweden with 7.1 percent and New Zealand with 7.9 percent.

While the France-based organization compared 27 of its 36 members, nine including Ireland, Estonia, the Netherlands, Spain and Turkey were not included in the list.

A research fellow from the Korea Employment Information Service was quoted by a TV news provider, as saying that “there is a high possibility that many women -- after marriage and giving birth -- reenter the job market in an underemployment status (for example, in nonregular work) due to suspension of their career for years. Further, the reentering itself is difficult in the nation.”

The argument suggests that the gender wage gap is wider among those in their 40s and 50s, compared to those in their 20s and 30s.

While some argue that the sexual discrimination in payment still exists in many local businesses, others deny the arguments.

Some online commenters say that a dominant portion of the employed in physically risky and hard-working sectors, such as construction and heavy industry, are men. They also claim that men usually take on more physically hard-working and overnight duties than women in ordinary workplaces.

But female executives are far outnumbered than male executives, and the proportion of workers with nonregular-status has been higher among women than men for decades.

According to Statistics Korea, the portion of nonregular workers came to 45 percent of all female workers as of August 2019, while the figure for men stood at 29.4 percent.

South Korea secured the disgraceful No. 1 in the gender wage gap among the OECD countries for the 17th consecutive year since the organization started compiling the data in 2002.

By Kim Yon-se (