South Korea

   

Social Policies

#23
Key Findings
With efforts to expand the welfare state showing little immediate effect, South Korea’s social policies fall into the middle ranks (rank 23) in international comparison. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.2 points since 2014.

Education outcomes are good, and tertiary enrollment rates are high. A government effort to chance a university entrance system deemed unfair was launched without public discussion, leading to criticism.
Overall spending on health is comparatively low, but a new healthcare plan will substantially expand insurance coverage. The per capita number of doctors and nurses is low.

Inequality is rising despite government efforts to expand the welfare system, and relative poverty remains a serious problem. Higher social payments and minimum wages have not as yet significantly reduced the number of poor. Paternal leave and childcare availability has been expanded; nonetheless, there are numerous disincentives to women entering the workforce, and birth rates are extremely low.

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. The number of resident foreigners and undocumented foreign workers has climbed rapidly in recent years. The country only rarely grants full refugee status.

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). While general access to education is very good, admission processes for elite universities are extremely competitive and unfair, as they favor children from privileged families. 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. Consequently, Korean students do well in PISA tests, but lack critical skills for dealing with the challenges of a fast-changing, increasingly open and democratic society. Recently, the Ministry of Education declared it would change the current university entrance examination system in accordance with President Moon’s directives; however, the process was launched without a full process of public discussion or professional consultation, leading to considerable criticism.

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

#33

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
Though it has focused strongly on the issue of social inequality, the Moon administration has thus far failed to narrow the gap between rich and poor. On the contrary, income inequality has increased substantially in recent years, while transfer payments have had only a small effect on inequality. In fact, the Gini coefficient after social transfers is now one of the highest such figures in the OECD. It remains to be seen whether recent minimum-wage increases and higher social spending levels will have an appreciable effect; however, they have not as yet significantly reduced the number of the poor. Relative poverty remains a major problem, with the old-age poverty rate in particular among the OECD’s worst. Almost half (47.7%) of the country’s 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%. According to the OECD, Korea spends only 3% of its GDP on pensions, and about 11.1% of its GDP for social purposes overall; this is the third-lowest such rate in the OECD, with the figure being about half that of the group’s average. At 34.6%, the gender-based wage gap is the largest in the OECD, and is 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. The Moon administration has begun increasing welfare spending in areas such as the basic pension.
Migration from North Korea has raised additional concerns about social inclusion, as these migrants tend to face considerable discrimination. 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:
OECD (2019), Social spending (indicator). doi: 10.1787/7497563b-en (Accessed on 15 October 2019).
OECD (2019), Pension spending (indicator). doi: 10.1787/a041f4ef-en (Accessed on 15 October 2019).
OECD (2019), Society at a glance, https://doi.org/10.1787/soc_glance-2019-en

Health

#12

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 healthcare 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” healthcare 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. In July 2019, a revised law came into effect that requires foreign nationals without employer-provided health insurance to enroll in the country’s National Health Service. According to the Health Ministry, this new law will give foreign residents the same medical benefits and services as Koreans. One major problem in the Korean healthcare system is the comparatively low number of doctors and nurses per capita. Mental health care remains underdeveloped in Korea, a problem reflected in the OECD’s second-highest suicide rate.

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’ healthcare 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)
Arin, Kim. 2019. “All Foreign Residents required to enroll in National Health Insurance.” The Korea Herald, May 12. Retrieved from http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20190512000186.

Families

#31

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
Despite making substantial efforts, 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 childcare and education costs, and precarious job and wage conditions are the most important factors in young couples’ decisions not to have children. In 2018, the fertility rate reached a record low of 0.98, which is by far the lowest in the OECD. President Moon has promised to strengthen family and childcare policies by building and expanding childcare centers and kindergartens. Starting on October 2019, paternal leave was expanded to 10 days, to be taken following a child’s birth. Previously, only three days of paid paternal leave was allowed. 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. Many local governments have also offered additional incentives in an effort to raise fertility rates in their areas. 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 the population of college graduates is 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 in which 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
Fenson, Anthony. 2019. “South Korea’s Population Disaster is Coming.” Retrieved from https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/south-koreas-population-disaster-coming-81956.
Yonhap News Agency. 2019. “S. Korea to allow longer paternity leave next month.” Retrieved from https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20190930005400315.

Pensions

#28

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, with the poverty rate among retirement-age people the highest in the OECD. Pensions are small, and most elderly people today lack coverage under a national pension system that excluded 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 do not register their employees for participation. National pension benefit levels are still very low (with an average monthly pension of KRW 520,000, equivalent to $440), 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 from its current maximum of KRW 206,050 to KRW 300,000 a month by 2021, with benefit eligibility coming at the age of 65. This pension will be provided to the 70% of elderly classified as low-income. Currently, the South Korean government is expending only 3.0% of its GDP for pensions, a very low share compared to the OECD average of 7.5%. In the past, the country’s pension funds have been vulnerable to government interference, with the funds 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. The old-age dependency ratio is currently low in comparison to that in other OECD countries, although the low fertility rate means that this might become a problem in the long run.

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
OECD (2019), Pension spending (indicator). doi: 10.1787/a041f4ef-en (Accessed on 18 October 2019).
Yonhap News Agency. 2019. “About 15 pct of S. Korea’s population aged 65 or older: report.” Retrieved from https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20190927005500320.

Integration

#22

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 2018, South Korea experienced a rapid increase in the number of foreigners resident in Korea of nearly 9%. At the same time, the number of undocumented foreign workers also increased by 15%. According to the Ministry of Justice, the absolute number of foreigners residing in Korea rose to 2,367,607 as of the end of 2018, an increase of 8.6 % compared to 2017.
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. 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.
South Korea has a very bad record with regard to fulfilling its obligations under the Geneva Refugee Convention of 1951. Since 1994, only 2% of the 40,400 applicants for refugee status have received approval, prompting criticism by the United Nations Refugee Agency. As recently as 2018, the government gave in to anti-refugee protests by granting “humanitarian stay” visas rather than refugee status to most of the approximately 500 Yemeni refugees that arrived in Korea.

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
Koreatimes. 2019. “No. of foreign residents in Korea up 8.6% last year.” Retrieved from http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2019/05/177_269616.html.
Statistics Korea. “International Migration Statistics in 2018.” Retrieved from http://kostat.go.kr/portal/eng/pressReleases/8/5/index.board.

Safe Living

#8

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 subjective feeling of insecurity. Despite low violent-crime levels, levels of personal insecurity and trust in the police are low. This might have to do with a seemingly high level of fraud, including white-collar crimes and cyber-crimes. The spread of financial scams (“phishing”) and cyber-crime in particular, 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 lax enforcement of traffic laws remains another serious problem. South Korea has the OECD’s third-highest ratio of road fatalities, with 8.4 deaths per 100,000 residents. The lax enforcement of drunk driving laws in particular has recently become the subject of contentious debate.
The external threat posed by North Korea persists, although the Moon administration’s policies of engagement have successfully calmed the situation following recent years’ more bellicose rhetoric.

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 Council (OSAC) of the United States. South Korea 2017 Crime and Safety Report.
OECD. Road Accidents Statistics, https://data.oecd.org/transport/road-accidents.htm
The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) of the United States. 2019. “South Korea 2019 Crime & Safety Report.” Retrieved from https://www.osac.gov/Country/SouthKorea/Content/Detail/Report/6d2ced24-cc8e-4077-8b75-15f4aeb80d5f.

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 2018, the country provided $2.35 billion in net official development assistance (ODA). This marked a slight increase from the previous year’s $2.2 billion, but still represented just 0.15% of gross national income (GNI). ODA spending had stagnated 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 for 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.
OECD iLibrary. 2019. “Development Co-Operation Profiles 2019.” Retrieved from
https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/d919ff1a-en/index.html?itemId=/content/component/d919ff1a-en.
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