South Korea’s gender pay gap worst in OECD


Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions march during a rally on May Day in Seoul on May 1, 2024. - AP

SEOUL: South Korea has the worst gender pay gap among the 38 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) according to 2022 data, an OECD estimate showed on May 23.

This marked the 27th straight year that Asia’s fourth-largest economy recorded the most severe gender pay gap among member states.

The data showed South Korea’s female workers were paid on average 31.2 per cent less than their male counterparts in 2022, or 68.8 per cent.

The disparity is higher than that in any other OECD country and is more than double the OECD average of 12.1 per cent. Japan’s gender pay gap stood at 21.3 per cent and the US’ came in at 17 per cent.

Historically, women working in South Korea have never earned on average more than 68.9 per cent of what male workers earn.

The data showed that over the past three years until 2022, South Korea has lost any momentum it had to bridge the gender pay gap. The gap was 31.5 per cent in 2020, fell slightly to 31.1 per cent in 2021, and increased again in 2022.

In 1992, women working in South Korea earned around half what men earned, as the gender pay gap stood at 47 per cent. It was 12 years later, in 2004, when the country first broke the 40 per cent threshold.

A survey by the state-run South Korean Women’s Development Institute showed in August that 54.7 per cent of South Korea’s female respondents said the “accumulated gender discrimination in hiring, promotion and placement in the organisation” is the reason behind the country’s serious gender pay gap.

South Korea’s male respondents, on the other hand, thought that such differences were due to simply having shorter careers, as 39.6 per cent thought the gender pay gap was “due to career breaks caused by childbirth and child-rearing, which makes women’s average careers shorter than men’s”.

Meanwhile, the average annual salary for South Korea’s workers reached an all-time high of US$48,922 (S$66,000) in 2022.

In terms of average annual salary, South Korea ranked 19th out of the 38 members of the OECD. Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica and Turkey were not included in the 2022 data. But those countries’ 2020 and 2021 figures were lower than South Korea’s.

All of the 18 OECD members ranked above South Korea are classified as developed economies.

The average annual salary for South Korea’s employees was 91.6 per cent of the OECD average of US$53,416, according to calculations by the intergovernmental organisation headquartered in Paris.

South Korea’s average annual salary has constantly narrowed its gap with the OECD average. It was 89.7 per cent of the OECD average in 2019, 90.4 per cent in 2020, 90.6 per cent in 2021 and 91.6 per cent in 2022.

Iceland topped the ranking with US$79,473 in the 2022 average annual salary, exceeding those of Luxembourg, the US, Switzerland, Belgium and Denmark. Meanwhile, Mexico ranked last with US$16,685, while Greece and Slovakia were also behind the OECD average.

In average annual salary, South Korea has ranked above Japan since 2014. In 2022, Japan ranked 25th with US$41,509. Thirty years ago in 1992, Japan’s figure came to US$40,434, 1.5 times South Korea’s US$26,214.

In Singapore, the median income for women working was 14.3 per cent less than that for men in 2023, a narrower gap than the 16.3 per cent in 2018, according to the latest Ministry of Manpower data.

Singapore’s pay gap was slightly worse than that across OECD countries, which was 12.1 per cent in 2022. But the OECD data also shows the Republic did better than countries such as the US (17 per cent in 2022), Britain (14.5 per cent) and Japan (21.3 per cent). - The Korea Herald/ANN

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