The number of male workers taking paternity leave increased by nearly 30 percent last year from 2011, government data showed Monday.
While they accounted for only 2.8 percent of the total workers who used the leave in 2012, it is the largest figure so far.
According to data from the Ministry of Employment and Labor, the number of male employees going on paternity leave reached 1,790 in 2012, up 27.6 percent from 2011.
This is largely attributed to the increased financial support for workers who take parental leave as well as a change in perception about the role of child rearing in society. Whereas this was once considered a mother's duty, more fathers are now taking part in rearing their children.
The number of fathers applying for paternity leave has been steadily rising since the measure was introduced in 1987. Only two fathers took leave in 2001, but this increased to 104 in 2003, 310 in 2007, and 1,402 in 2011, according to data.
The government made the previously unpaid leave a period of paid absence from work in 2001 and extended those who qualify to include parents with children under the age of six in 2008. Also if both parents are working, up to two years _ one year of absence for each parent _ is now allowed. Workers can receive up to 40 percent of their monthly income while on leave with the maximum being 1 million won.
However, Korea still has much to do, experts say. More changes in policy are needed to support the growing number of people going on parental leave.
"In Sweden, 20 percent of male employees took leave as of 2007. We still have a long way to go," said a ministry official. "The government is devising measures to create an environment in which more fathers can take leave more freely."
Last year, the government paid 357.8 billion won to 64,069 working parents who took time off to take care of their children, according to the ministry.
Korea's birthrate stood at 1.24 babies per female in 2011, much lower than the OECD average of 1.71.