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What are the reasons for the gender wage gap? Women say discrimination, men say career breaks

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : March 24, 2024 - 13:51

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South Korean men and women have differing opinions on the reason behind the country's gender wage gap, the largest among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development states, with women attributing the gap to sexual discrimination while men say it is because frequent career breaks result in shorter careers for women.

The state-run Korean Women's Development Institute surveyed 1,504 wage workers between the ages of 19 and 59 in August last year. The results showed that 54.7 percent of female respondents said "accumulation of gender discrimination during hiring, promotion, and assignment in the organization" was the reason for the wage gap. Respondents were allowed to pick up to two answers.

A report by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family in December showed that the hourly wages of women here are about 70 percent compared to that of men. The disparity is higher than any other OECD country and is more than double the OECD average of 12.1 percent.

Men, on the other hand, thought that such differences were due to simply having shorter careers, as 39.6 percent thought it was "due to career breaks caused by child birth and child care, which makes women's average careers shorter than men."

The Gender Equality Ministry report showed that, on average, men working at listed corporations here work for 11.9 years, compared to 8.9 years for women. It also showed a higher wage gap -- 43.6 percent -- in companies where the accumulated working years of male employees outnumber those of their female counterparts by at least 50 percent.

The survey showed that while most women blame gender discrimination for the wage gap, "the shorter career" option came in close second with 51.4 percent. It was followed by, "there are more women working at nonguaranteed jobs with lower wages" at 28.7 percent, which was also the third most common answer for men too, at 25.4 percent.

Men and women both generally agreed that shorter careers by women and women working at nonguaranteed jobs were major factors contributing to the gender wage gap. The part where they did not see eye-to-eye was gender discrimination, with only 22.4 percent of men -- less than half of the figure for women -- saying it led to the wage gap.

Another area on which the two genders did not agree was the possible answer, "because women do not like to do difficult tasks at work that could get paid more." It was the second most popular answer for men at 30.7 percent, but only 6.4 percent of the women surveyed agreed.

Both men and women thought that South Korean society as a whole needed to work on reducing the wage gap between genders, with 92.9 percent for women and 65.3 percent for men. About 88.9 percent of women and 79.3 percent of men said they are aware of the high disparity between the wages of men and women.

"The percentage of those who thought the gender wage gap needed to be addressed was high for both men and women, but they differed greatly on what caused it and how it could be improved. ... (The researchers) need to find out how severe the gap is and the underlying causes for the disparity, based on accurate data," the researchers wrote.