South Korea

   

Social Policies

#22
Key Findings
Producing strong education and health systems, South Korea’s social policies fall into the middle ranks (rank 22) in international comparison. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.1 point since 2014.

Education outcomes are good, and tertiary enrollment rates are high. Numerous curriculum-reform efforts have been unable to overcome the reliance on cramming and rote learning. While the universally available health care system is of high quality, overall spending on health is comparatively low. Co-payment levels are high, but a new safety net is being created for families facing high costs.

Inequality is rising, and relative poverty remains a serious problem. Transfer payments do little to prevent poverty. Women face considerable disincentives to joining the work force, and policies aimed at helping women combine work and parenting have had little overall effect.

Old-age poverty is a major problem. The government is raising the basic pension for low-income seniors, and a more general pension reform is on the agenda. Migration has become an increasingly controversial issue, with public resistance to accepting refugees from war-torn countries strong despite the small number of individuals involved.

Education

#4

To what extent does education policy deliver high-quality, equitable and efficient education and training?

10
 9

Education policy fully achieves the criteria.
 8
 7
 6


Education policy largely achieves the criteria.
 5
 4
 3


Education policy partially achieves the criteria.
 2
 1

Education policy does not achieve the criteria at all.
Education Policy
8
Education policy is a key priority for the South Korean government. On the positive side, Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test results are good, and tertiary enrollment rates are high. Levels of private expenditure on education are exceptionally high, while public expenditure is just about the OECD average (4.1% of GDP). Many Koreans spend a large share of their income on private schools and tutoring academies (hagwons), a practice that puts low-income households at a disadvantage. Despite a number of announcements in this area, the new administration has as yet been unable to address the issue successfully. Numerous curriculum-reform efforts have been unable to overcome the reliance on cramming and rote learning over teaching critical thinking, analytic skills, discussion and creativity. After Moon’s first year in office, a survey conducted by Gallup Korea ranked the Ministry of Education as least popular among all government departments, with an approval rate of 30 percent.

Citations:
OECD, Education at Glance at a Glance 2017
Korea Times. Moon’s education pledges under scrutiny. May 10 2017. http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2017/05/181_229082.html
University World News. Is South Korea in a Higher Education Access Trap? July 14, 2017. http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20170711111525929
Kim, Hyun-bin. 2018. “[Reporter’s Notebook] Moon gets ‘F’ in education policy.” The Korea Times, May 18. Retrieved September 19 (https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2018/05/181_249202.html)

Social Inclusion

#29

To what extent does social policy prevent exclusion and decoupling from society?

10
 9

Policies very effectively enable societal inclusion and ensure equal opportunities.
 8
 7
 6


For the most part, policies enable societal inclusion effectively and ensure equal opportunities.
 5
 4
 3


For the most part, policies fail to prevent societal exclusion effectively and ensure equal opportunities.
 2
 1

Policies exacerbate unequal opportunities and exclusion from society.
Social Inclusion Policy
6
While still smaller than the OECD average, the gap between rich and poor has widened significantly in South Korea in the past years. Poverty rates are still above OECD average and old-age poverty in particular is one of the country’s urgent inequality issues. Almost half (47.7%) of its citizens aged over 65 currently live in relative poverty. In 2016, the poverty rate among Korea’s elderly population was the highest in the OECD, at more than four times the OECD average of 12.1%. At 34.6%, the gender-based wage gap is the largest in the OECD, and almost three times the group’s average. The South Korean tax and welfare systems are not designed to reduce inequality, and their capacity to prevent poverty is very limited given the low level of social-transfer payments. Currently, Korea just spends 10.4% of its GDP for social purposes, the lowest such rate in the OECD, and just half of the group’s average. The Moon administration has begun increasing welfare spending in areas such as the basic pension. The increase in the minimum wage and the substantial reduction in the maximum quantity of weekly working hours allowed, from 68 to 52 hours, are expected to improve social life and wellbeing of employees, although enforcing implementation of both policies beyond government agencies and big companies remains a problem.
The influx of North Korean defectors has raised potentially troublesome issues of integration into South Korea’s workforce. Available data on the work integration of North Korean defectors reveals this group’s marginalization within the primary labor market, with other indicators also showing poor labor-force integration. There has been some improvement in terms of embracing multicultural families and providing support for migrant workers, but South Korea still has a long way to go before becoming a genuinely inclusive society.

Citations:
The Guardian. South Korea’s inequality paradox: long life, good health and poverty. August 2, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/inequality/2017/aug/02/south-koreas-inequality-paradox-long-life-good-health-and-poverty
Yonhap News. Moon’s pledges: senior citizens. May 10 2017. http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/news/2017/05/08/0200000000AEN20170508001400320.html

Health

#6

To what extent do health care policies provide high-quality, inclusive and cost-efficient health care?

10
 9

Health care policy achieves the criteria fully.
 8
 7
 6


Health care policy achieves the criteria largely.
 5
 4
 3


Health care policy achieves the criteria partly.
 2
 1

Health care policy does not achieve the criteria at all.
Health Policy
8
South Korea’s health care system is characterized by universal coverage and one of the highest life expectancies in the world, all while having one of the OECD’s lowest levels of overall health expenditure. President Moon has announced a new “Mooncare” health care plan, and the government will provide KRW 30.6 trillion ($26.8 billion) over the next five years to cover all medical treatments. In the future, medical insurance will cover all forms of treatment, excluding plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures. The Moon administration has thus proposed expanding the state insurance policy to include not only the four major diseases – cancer, cardiac disorders, cerebrovascular diseases and rare incurable illnesses – but all other major diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease. Co-payment levels remain high in Korea, but under the newly proposed health care policy, patients in the lower 50% of the income bracket would be able to receive medical treatment costing up to KRW 20 million. Additionally, new measures intended to act as safety nets for families facing astronomical health care costs have been announced. The government’s intention is to create a medical safety net that leaves no patient untreated in times of emergency. Mental health issues are not currently well addressed in Korea, a problem reflected by the large numbers of suicides; indeed, the country’s suicide rate is the second-highest in the OECD. One major problem in the Korean health care system is the comparatively low number of doctors and nurses per patient, particularly in some surgery departments.

Citations:
OECD, OECD Health Policy Overview: Health Policy in Korea. April 2016. https://www.oecd.org/korea/Health-Policy-in-Korea-April-2016.pdf
Korea.net. President announces new ‘Mooncare’ health care plan. Aug 11, 2017. http://www.korea.net/NewsFocus/policies/view?articleId=148430
Ebesutani, Chad. 2018. “Korea’s struggles with mental health insurance coverage: lessons learned from the US”. The Korea Times, March 26. Retrieved September 20, 2018 (https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2018/05/119_245967.html)

Families

#28

To what extent do family support policies enable women to combine parenting with participation in the labor market?

10
 9

Family support policies effectively enable women to combine parenting with employment.
 8
 7
 6


Family support policies provide some support for women who want to combine parenting and employment.
 5
 4
 3


Family support policies provide only few opportunities for women who want to combine parenting and employment.
 2
 1

Family support policies force most women to opt for either parenting or employment.
Family Policy
5
With woman having an average of 1.2 children, South Korea has the lowest fertility rate in the OECD. The government has not been very effective in enabling women (or men) to combine parenting with participation in the labor market, which helps explain the low labor-market participation rate among women. The traditional Confucian family values that view women as mothers and housewives remain influential. High housing prices, high child-care and education costs, and precarious job and wage conditions are the most important factors in young couples’ decisions not to have children. President Moon has promised to strengthen family and child care policies by building and expanding child care centers and kindergartens. Since 2008, the government has paid a cash allowance of KRW 100,000 per child, exempting families in the top 10% of the income bracket.
Cultural and socioeconomic factors such as a gender-based pay gap and a pervasive lack of social mobility discourage women from entering or reentering the workforce. As a result, while college graduates are split fairly evenly between men and women, the employment rate for female graduates is lower than for male graduates. Furthermore, South Korea is the only country in the OECD where the employment rate among female college graduates is lower than that among women with no more than compulsory education.

Citations:
New York Times, 5 January 2010
Kim Sangmook, 2008, Women and family-friendly policies in the Korean government, International Review of Administrative Sciences, Vol. 74, No. 3, 463-476
The Global Gender Gap Report 2013, The World Economic Forum, http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GenderGap_Report_2013.pdf
South Korea’s Failure to Support Working Women, The Diplomat, Aug 20, 2014, http://thediplomat.com/2014/08/south-koreas-failure-to-support-working-women/
OECD, Gender wage gap data. https://www.oecd.org/gender/data/genderwagegap.htm

Pensions

#29

To what extent does pension policy realize goals of poverty prevention, intergenerational equity and fiscal sustainability?

10
 9

Pension policy achieves the objectives fully.
 8
 7
 6


Pension policy achieves the objectives largely.
 5
 4
 3


Pension policy achieves the objectives partly.
 2
 1

Pension policy does not achieve the objectives at all.
Pension Policy
6
Old-age poverty is a major problem in South Korea, as pensions are small, and most elderly people today lack coverage under a national pension system that did not cover a large share of the workforce until its expansion in 1999. The government has also failed to enforce mandatory participation in the system, and many employers fail to register their employees for participation. The level of the national pension benefit is still very low, and employees in private companies are often pressured to retire long before the legal retirement age of 60 (which will gradually increase to 65 by 2033). Thus, pension reform has been one of the Moon administration’s top priorities, although changes have to date been slow. The basic pension will gradually increase to KRW 300,000 a month by 2021, from its current maximum of KRW 206,050, with benefit eligibility coming at the age of 65. This pension will be provided to the 70% of elderly classified as low-income.
In the past, the country’s pension funds have been vulnerable to government interference, with the pension fund used to finance controversial projects and to prop up the stock market. Efforts to reform governance structures so as to improve the performance and enhance the transparency of the National Pension System have stalled. Given the low fertility rate, the old-age dependency ratio is expected to increase rapidly in the future. Thus, improving sustainability within the public pension systems is important, although not an immediately urgent task.

Citations:
Moon, Hyungpyo. The Korean Pension System: Current State and Tasks Ahead. KDI.
Banjo, Shelly. Korea’s Stubborn Leviathan. Sep 11, 2017. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-11/korea-s-reform-block-the-495-billion-national-pension-service

Integration

#23

How effectively do policies support the integration of migrants into society?

10
 9

Cultural, education and social policies effectively support the integration of migrants into society.
 8
 7
 6


Cultural, education and social policies seek to integrate migrants into society, but have failed to do so effectively.
 5
 4
 3


Cultural, education and social policies do not focus on integrating migrants into society.
 2
 1

Cultural, education and social policies segregate migrant communities from the majority society.
Integration Policy
5
Since the 1990s, South Korea has evolved from a net-emigration to a net-immigration society. In 2016, foreign nationals residing in Korea accounted for approximately 4% of the total population of 51 million. Within this foreign-national population, about 1 million come from China, with the share of Vietnam and U.S. nationals trailing well behind (at about 150,000 each). According to the Korean Statistical Information Service, almost 1 million residents live within multicultural families, making Korea an increasingly multicultural society. However, not all Koreans support this trend. The desire for a culturally and ethnically homogeneous Korea remains strong despite the country’s impressive cultural and in particular religious diversity. As in many other countries, public resistance to the acceptance of refugees from war-torn countries has increased in Korea, even though the total number of refugees received has been very small. In 2018, the arrival of about 500 refugees from Yemen led to hysterical reactions sparked by rumors about criminal activities and fears of terrorism that spread rapidly online. The government caved in to the protests, and denied the new arrivals refugee status, although 362 received a temporary humanitarian visa that allowed them to stay in Korea for one year. Since 1994, of the 40,400 non-Koreans who have applied for refugee status, only 2% have received it, prompting criticism by the United Nations Refugee Agency.
Despite the increasing population of migrants and citizens with a family background of migration, as well as improvements in the legal conditions and support provided to multicultural families, the country’s cultural, education and social policies still fail to systematically address the role of migrants in Korea. While ethnic Koreans with foreign passports, foreign investors and highly educated foreigners are welcomed and treated favorably, Amnesty International reports that migrant blue-collar workers are often treated as “disposable labor.” From a legal perspective, migrant workers are accorded rights very similar to those enjoyed by native Korean employees, but employers routinely infringe these rights. While courts have offered some protection to migrant workers, the government has not pursued active enforcement measures against employers that exploit the precarious status of migrant workers.

Citations:
HanKyung. No. of Foreign Nationals Residing in Korea Exceeds 2 million in 2016. June 22, 2017.
Korea Herald, Multicultural familes left out in election, as always. May 3, 2017.
Korea.net. Transformation into a Multicultural Society.
Sang-young Rhyu. “The Challenge of Social Integration in South Korea,” Global Asia, Vol.12, No.2 (Summer 2017), 30-35.
Yonhap News. Reasons for expecting new government multicultural policy. August 29, 2017.
Segye Daily.
Lee, Suh-Yoon. 2018. “Multicultural Children Still Face Discrimination at Schools.” Koreatimes. https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2018/10/181_250993.html
Park, Ji-Won. 2018. “Foreigners with Voting Rights Being Ignored.”
Koreatimes. http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2018/04/356_247360.html

Safe Living

#10

How effectively does internal security policy protect citizens against security risks?

10
 9

Internal security policy protects citizens against security risks very effectively.
 8
 7
 6


Internal security policy protects citizens against security risks more or less effectively.
 5
 4
 3


Internal security policy does not effectively protect citizens against security risks.
 2
 1

Internal security policy exacerbates the security risks.
Internal Security Policy
9
Korea remains a very safe country with regard to the risk of violent crime. There have been no terror attacks or terrorist activities in Korea in recent years. Nevertheless, extensive media reports about violent crime, along with rumors spread on social media, have led to an increasing feeling of insecurity.
Levels of respect for and trust in the police are generally low. The lax enforcement of traffic laws remains a major problem. South Korea has the OECD’s third-highest ratio of road fatalities, with 8.4 deaths per 100,000 residents. The spread of financial scams (“phishing”) and cyber-crime whose perpetrators take advantage of South Korea’s excellent broadband infrastructure and lax online-security measures is a major concern that has not yet been effectively addressed.
The external threat posed by North Korea remains, although the Moon administration’s policies of engagement have been successful in calming the situation after the bellicose rhetoric that marked recent years.

Citations:
WHO, Global Health Observatory Data Repository, http://apps.who.int/gho/data/view.m ain.51310
Korean Statistical Information Service. National Crime Statistics. 2017.
The Overseas Security Advisory Coucil(OSAC) of the United States. South Korea 2017 Crime and Safety Report.
OECD. Road Accidents Statistics, https://data.oecd.org/transport/road-accidents.htm

Global Inequalities

#25

To what extent does the government demonstrate an active and coherent commitment to promoting equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries?

10
 9

The government actively and coherently engages in international efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries. It frequently demonstrates initiative and responsibility, and acts as an agenda-setter.
 8
 7
 6


The government actively engages in international efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries. However, some of its measures or policies lack coherence.
 5
 4
 3


The government shows limited engagement in international efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries. Many of its measures or policies lack coherence.
 2
 1

The government does not contribute (and often undermines) efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries.
Global Social Policy
6
The Moon administration has as yet failed to revitalize Korean development cooperation. In 2017, the country provided $2.2 billion in net official development assistance (ODA), which was more than the year before but still represented just 0.14% of gross national income (GNI). Increase in ODA spending had stalled under the Park administration, and Korea failed to achieve its goal of increasing spending to 0.25% of GNI in 2015. A new ODA target was set at 0.30% of GNI by 2030. Korea’s aid also fails to meet the recommendations of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC), for example with respect to the share of grants, and regarding both untied and multilateral aid.
South Korea has also shown little initiative with respect to activity supporting a fair global trading system. Instead, it has largely focused on negotiating bilateral preferential trade agreements with a growing number of countries, including countries in the developing world. Due to product-market regulations and the oligopolistic structure of many market segments, market access for products from developing countries remains limited.

Citations:
OECD, Development Co-operation Report. 2018.
OECD, KOREA Development Assistance Committee (DAC), PEER REVIEW 2012, http://www.oecd.org/dac/peer-review s/Korea%20CRC%20-%20FINAL%2021%20JA N.pdf
Back to Top