By Lee Hyo-sik
A growing number of Korean women are being forced out of the job market these days, taking the full brunt of the ongoing corporate downsizing and the collapse of the self-employed sector.
Women are more prone to layoffs than men because many hold non-permanent positions in most service sectors. Businesses here have kept permanent and essential employees, but instead dismissed temporary workers since the nation was hit hard by the global credit crunch last September and the following economic slump.
In a report assessing women's lives here, the National Statistical Office (NSO) said Monday that the economic participation rate among women declined to 50 percent last year from 50.2 percent in 2007, falling for the second consecutive year.
It means one out of every two women aged over 15 are either working or looking for jobs.
It said even though more women became teachers, civil servants, lawyers and doctors, outpacing men in many professional fields, the majority of Korean females are still employed on a temporary basis, handling mostly simple manual and manufacturing work.
``Many women, particular older ones, are hired to do part-time work, making them vulnerable to economic cycles. When the economy turns bad, temporary workers are the first ones to be hit because it is easier for companies to lay them off. Women's economic participation has and will likely continue to decline down the road,'' an NSO official said. Only 30 percent of salaried female employees had permanent positions in 2008, much lower than 44.2 percent for men.
On the other hand, more women are entering the world of professionals, advancing into areas where women were once a rare species, thanks to rising levels of education and training among females.
Last year, 65.7 percent of those who passed a state-run exam for diplomats were women, with 51.2 percent of new high-level public official positions being filled by females. About 83.5 percent of female high school students moved into university in 2008, up from 82.2 percent in 2007.
Meanwhile, the female population totaled 24.3 million last year, 216,000 fewer than men, but among senior citizens aged over 60, there were 1.02 million more females than males, indicating women live longer than men.
Korean women's life expectancy reached 82.7 years in 2007, 6.6 years more than male life expectancy of 76.1 years. Cancer was the biggest health threat for both men and women, with circulatory system diseases, such as high blood pressure, being the second most major health concern for Korean women.
An increasing number of women here are choosing to delay marriage and pursue a career, pushing down the number of newborns. Rising costs associated with childcare and unstable employment conditions have also discouraged women from having babies, making Korea the most rapidly aging nation in the world.
Korean women gave birth to 466,000 newborns in 2008, down 27,000 from the previous year. The birthrate, or the average number of babies expected per woman aged 15-49, dropped to 1.19 last year from 1.25 in 2007.
Only in 2007, a record number of couples who tied the knot in 2006 had babies, believing the year 2007 or ``the golden pig year'' in the lunar calendar, would bring luck to the newborns. But in 2008, the childbirth fever began subsiding as more couples decided not to give birth.
Increasingly, men and women are getting married at later ages, with the average age for first marriage jumping to 31.4 years for males and 28.3 years for females last year, up 0.3 years and 0.2 years, respectively, from 2007.
The average age of divorced females was 40.5 in 2008, up from 39.5 the preceding year, while the average age of male divorcees increased to 44.3 from 43.2.