When flexibility meets familialism: Two tales of gendered labour markets in Spain and South Korea

Margarita León, Young Jun Choi, Jong Soon Ahn

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10 Citations (Scopus)


Korea and Spain share crucial labour market and welfare state characteristics that converge to produce similar outcomes: strongly dualized labour markets, weak social protection, and features that are archetypical of familialist states. Labour market flexibility in both countries has recently increased through unusually high levels of temporary employment. Yet, when we analyse female labour force participation, we observe a significant divergence: Korean women interrupt their participation in the labour market when they are of childbearing age, while Spanish women do not. Furthermore, the level of education of women in Spain matters for their career prospects, but in Korea, it does not. In this article, we explore the causes of this divergence by analysing (1) structural characteristics of the labour market, (2) policies that facilitate the reconciliation of work and family and (3) gender equality politics. We argue that the combination of these three factors have different impacts on the career choices of women in Spain and Korea. Some aspects of working culture – long working hours in particular – the unavailability to women of good quality jobs and a high gender pay gap contribute towards labour market interruption of highly educated women in Korea when they have children. Policy developments have been important in the two countries, but high levels of childcare investment in Korea have not improved female employment prospects. Furthermore, we observe greater political commitment to gender equality in Spain than in Korea. Fundamental changes in the Spanish political culture, which were the result of a combination of domestic and supranational dynamics, played a major role in the political endorsement of gender equality and a rejection of familialistic policies and practices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)344-357
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of European Social Policy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Oct 1

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, © The Author(s) 2016.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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