This is why South Korea’s average birthrate is the lowest.


translated an interesting (?) article – if you have to copy this to somewhere, please site.  Or better yet, use trackback please.

Behave like dull bear in early stage of pregnancy…Behave like a cunning fox when the pregnancy becomes visible


The government is launching all kinds of pregnancy/childbirth encouragement plans.  But still, only a few of people decides to give birth to children so they can take advantage of these plans.  There are so many obstacles they have to face during the journey of pregnancy, childbirth, and nurturing.  This is especially so for working woman who has to work for nine months, bearing a child within them.  For them, the wall of reality is too high even before giving birth to their children.  We have complied stories from 10 workers, including pregnant employees and collegues of pregnant employees, so hopefully we can gather some street-smart wisdom from them.  All names are written as alias, for the sake of honesty and privacy.

+ “I didn’t behave like you.” vs “I’m not faking this.”

Mrs. Kim (30), an 8-month-pregnant working woman, had a sharp ache on her lower abdomen few months ago.  She told her female supervisor that it would be hard to do overtime, explaining her situation.  “In front of me, she said that’s fine.” Mrs. Kim says, “Few minutes later, she texted me: ‘Hey, I did all overtime when I was pregnant.  Why do you want a special treatment?’  I was baffled.  I mean, I appreciate her directness, but we are women and she should know how hard it is sometimes!”

Another Mrs. Kim (36), a unit manager of cosmetics company with a kid, commented: “I know I should have more understanding of pregnant colleague.  But in the office, you have to be professional before being a pregnant mom.  Emphasizing that side sometimes hurt pregnant employees.”  She then went on, joking “People serve in the military for 3 years, and there are many people thinking they can bear waiting for 13 months (10 months of pregnancy + 3 months of maternity leave).  I hope the working moms understand it.”
+ Not sure what to do vs. Impolite

Mrs. Lee (32) recently had a miscarriage at the 6th week of her pregnancy.  Her male supervisor’s reaction was something she did not expect.  Upon hearing the news, the supervisor gave her a big hug, saying how sorry he is.  Naturally, Lee expected some days off.  However she never received the days off.  consequently, she had only one day off after the day of miscarriage, and then had to go to work.  Mr. Park (45), a manager of fashion retailing company, said “sometimes I do wonder whether they are really in pain.  But as a man, it can be quite embarrassing to be inquisitive about symptoms so I just let them go.”

Though improved, there are male supervisors smoking at the presence of pregnant employees.  Mrs. Park (27), an 8-months-pregnant employee of medium-sized company, said:” there are male colleagues who just smoke inf front of me.  I feel like I am a unecessary burden of this office.”  Mrs. Ko (28), a 6-months-pregnant employee of well-known big conglomerate, agreed: “you don’t dare to say refrain from smoking to your bosses.  It kills me!”

+ From bear to fox –  be cunning
Of course, the implementation of office culture respecting pregnant female is necessary.  But at the same time, the pregnant employee has to coordinate their behavior.   Taking others’ care granted really takes others’ willingness to help.  Mrs. Yang (38) who gave a birth to her child last year advised, “according to my experience, act like there is no problem at the early stage of your pregnancy.  As your pregnancy becomes visible, broadcast all over that you are pregnant mom.  Doing so will cause your colleagues to help you out voluntarily.  As your body becomes heavier, take days off smartly.  That will make fewer enemies in your office.”  Obviously, if the pain is too much, don’t bear it.  Mr. Shin (43), a director of public relations firm, mentioned:  “I had no idea how bad it was because my female pregnant subordinate said nothing.  One day, she was absent without telling me.  Constantly telling others how painful you feel isn’t the best idea, but if it really hurts, tell them.”

Like Mr. Shin said, saying way too much about the troubles of pregnancy will turn colleagues into enemies.  Mr. Cho (29), a computer programmer, said: “a pregnant colleague of mine keeps showing her ultrasound picture of her kid and saying ‘look how cute she is!’ I smile and compliment, but sometimes it’s just too much, I almost want to scream ‘I am not your husband!'”  Mr. Lee (35), an employee at service industry, commented: “Given the job’s characteristic, you have to look nice.  Sometimes there are pregnant colleagues who are just way too untidy at workplace.  You can’t help thinking they lack the professional spirit.”  Some others mentioned being way too “bragging” about their pregnancy at the early stage (i.e., wearing maternity clothing at the very early stage of pregnancy), quitting business trips/hweshik (business social, usually involving alcohol intakes) are not good to see.
+ The worst colleagues of pregnant employees
– Women supervisor giving them hard times, in the spirit of “I beard it so should you.”
– Supervisors who say all the nice things, but never giving them a day off.
– Colleagues who keep asking “are you going to keep working here after giving your kid a birth?”

+ The worst pregnant employees
– People who are way too excited, or bragging when they are only a month pregnant
– Talking too much about her kid
– Quitting business trips and hweshik no matter what
– Forcing colleagues to be emotional while watching her kid’s ultrasound picture
Miri Kim


Like many female readers of this article, I was baffled.  This is precisely why South Korean women no longer want to give a birth to a child.  Yet the newspaper put this as one of the special in-depth article series about ever-lowering average birthrate and what to do about it.  Clearly, they understood the problem as the solution.  I do not know whether the reporter was single woman, married woman, or man, but one thing is clear.  She did such a lazy, lousy job.

My Thoughts Exactly.

On some things I do agree with the article.  You have to be professional at workplace: trying to use your pregnancy as an excuse for having an easy way out is immature and foolish.  But other than that, I just want to scream “wrong! no! wrong! no!”  to the rest of this article.   Because so many pregnant working women have to hide their pregnancy, bear their physical uncomfortableness, and/or pressured to have some kind of guilty feeling for getting pregnant by their boss, women no longer choose to give a birth to a child.  Well, why not give up their job instead?  This is 21st century, developed Asian country.  Women are well-aware of the fact there are more choices about their life other than being a housewife for the rest of their life.  Now they have the direct access to financial independence.  On the top of that, Korea – especially Seoul, where the quarter of entire population resides – is not a cheap city to live.  To maintain a decent living, both mother and father have to work and be breadwinners.  In such a situation, child is no longer a “joy.”  It is more of an obstacle for your bread-earning and career development.

The law states all pregnant women are granted 3-months-long paid leave, and all male spouses of pregnant women can have 100 days paid leave.  In reality, this is unlikely.  Though better than before, asking for a full 3-month-leave usually means your superiors’ frowning, and higher risk of your desk to be removed from the office.  Or, your superior will often try to talk you into resigning instead of maternity leave.  One of my female client – a mother of one baby girl – once said she had to apply for 2 months maternity leave even though the law says 3 months, because “people at the office don’t like it.”  Now, if a male employee ask for the law-stated maternity leave, again, frowning and talking-into-the-resigning is to be expected.  In some cases, he is stigmatized as “overreacting” or “making us look all bad.”  Besides, the early stage of pregnancy requires a lot of caution.  However, many Korean women in Korean offices still have to go to work, stuck between full-packed morning trains and busses, and still required to go to after-work social, on the top of overtime.  As a result, there are so many early stage miscarriages  among working women.

In addition, home working/telecommuting is next to non-existent.  Hey, the office culture here forces employees to work overtime on weekend even if they don’t have any works to do, just so they can all look like working hard.  Recently, due to G20 Summit in Seoul, almost all Gangnam area had their transportation/roads closed.  The only offices that went strong even with transportation shutdown were European and American companies – they had home working/telecommunting system set up already.  Most Korean companies had some days off, or replaced the business day for some group activity (like…why?  Offday sounds better).

Let’s turn the table around and imagine you are the pregnant female employee of Korean company.  So you have all this great dream and vision about your career – it’s either blooming, or you are already on the right track.  You are married with a man of your dream.  Then the matter of having a kid comes up.  If you have a kid, you will still have to work full-time + who knows how much, and probably have to be uber-careful not to upset your superior because you are pregnant and have to be away from the office for 3 months, and frequent absences due to your changing physical condition.  Even after the childbirth, you will strain your nerve for having to work 8+ hours AND take care of your child.  In short, you have to put your career, which you worked very hard to build, in jeopardy.   Giving up your job for child also means less capital for your childcare.  Who would want to have a child in situation like this?

Naturally, it is not uncommon to have interviewers asking such things to female candidate:
Interviewer: So, do you have a boyfriend/fiance?
Candidate: Well, yes. (Now, in West, the candidate can totally say “that is out of the purpose of this job interview.”  Not here.)
Interviewer: Any plans to get married?  How are you going to balance your life and work?

If you say yes, the chance is, you just had your points off.  Some hospitals require female interns to sign a labor contract, saying “by signing this contract, I approve that I will not marry anyone until the end of this internship training period.”  The pregnancy is viewed as something that brings more burden to everyone.

As of 2010, the total fertility rate of South Korea is 1.22, which is roughly a tie with Japan, and placing South Korea on 220 out of 225 countries (CIA Factbook).  Except Japan, most of the countries below South Korea is small city-states.   Last year’s Korean fertility rate was lower than Japan.  South Korean government is aware of this, and launching loads of policies and systems to boost up the fertility rate.  Most of them are giving money for parents giving birth to more than one child, but considering the cost of living and childcaring, the money means nothing.  The cities started to build childcare houses for working mothers, but the number is far shorter than demand.  Of course Korean companies rarely run in-house childcare system.  If the government REALLY wants to push up the fertility rate, what they REALLY need to do are the following:

1) Extend the maternity leave, and make sure mothers can use it freely – meaning, no talking-int0-resigning, frowning, etc.
2) Make sure fathers can use the “paternity leave” freely, too.
3) Make sure the applicants of maternity/paternity leaves do not have to worry about their superiors – or, maybe superiors need to make more use of maternity/paternity leaves so their subordinates do not have to worry about them.
4) Do use home-working.
5) Have more childcare system so the parents do not have to give up their career for caring their child.

However, I have a bad feeling the government is avoiding this while perfectly aware of the reason of low fertility rate.  Many of the people who are in charge of the project and authority to bring this into reality are men of old Confucius society, i.e. thinking men>women, thus not really feeling this trouble eminently as women and practicing professionals.

Few days ago, through a news program about low fertility rate, I saw an interview with Korean woman who made it to the Senior Manager in a well-known, big Korean company.  She said:

“Now I do regret working so hard for this company.  Because I am a woman, no matter how my performance is better than my male colleagues, it’s always them getting better evaluation and promotions.  I don’t have time for take care of my kid because of so much work.  When I was a job seeker, many of my friends who knew about the field or have a married female sibling with kid desperately avoided applying for Korean companies.  They all applied for foreign companies, and if they couldn’t get the position at once, they would do so later on.  Things are better for them to have kid.  I should have done the same.”

I feel for her.


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