“Female Tornado”, More Korean Women Employed than Men

After South Korea’s government statistics bureau announced that young women have continued to surpass men in employment, Koreans online reacted with strong resentment. Among the thousands of comments on a Yonhap article covering the report, the most popular demanded that women now begin to share in the civic responsibilities long held by men, such as serving in the military or paying for significant marriage expenses. The report comes soon after a major Constitutional Court decision that women were unsuited to serving as conscripts in the military.

Article from Yonhap News:

Female power: In the 20-something battle for jobs, the women win again.

The ratio of 20-something male to female employment reverses over the course of 4 years. The gap is now the highest ever.


Young Korean women at a 2013 job fair for women held in the city of Daejeon

The employment rate of workers in their fifties is the highest ever, and the rate of those in their twenties is the lowest in history.

The trend in the employment rate of female to male workers in their twenties over the last 4 years has made a historic reversal. Due to so-called ‘female power’, the gap is getting larger.

According to the National Statistics Office’s statements on the 19th, the employment rate of 20-something female workers last year was 57.8%. This is 2.1 percentage points higher than their male counterparts(56.8%).

The rate of participation in the workforce is defined as the percentage of people between the ages of 15 – 62 (those who are economically active) who are employed.

Since 2010, the employment rate of female workers in their twenties has been higher than their male counterparts.

In 2010, the employment rate of female 20-something workers, at 58.3%, surpassed the rate of males by 0.1%. In 2011, the lead increased to 0.4%, and in 2012, as women lead by 1.5%, the gap continues to widen.

The rate of economic participation of female 20-somethings was 62.5% in 2011, then rose to 62.9% in 2012. Conversely, the men went from 64% down to 62.6%, being surpassed by the women for the first time by 0.3%.

The labor market is changing little by little as women obtain higher levels of education and more positions in the workplace.

In every part of society, the female tornado is blowing strong even in specialized careers, and women are making considerable advances.

Among the 306 people who passed the bar exam last year, 123, or 40.2%, were women. 125 women passed the level 5 civil service exams as well, comprising 46% of total successful test-takers.

However, last year’s 20-something employment rate turned out to be the lowest ever.

Last year, the total 20-something employment rate was 56.8%. This was a sudden 1.3 percentage point drop from the prior year, and the lowest since 2000.

In the year 2000, the employment rate was 60.1%, however in 2008, the year the global financial crisis hit, it went under 60% for the first time to 59.1%. From 2009-2010 it was 58.2%, in 2011, 58.5%, and in 2012 it was 58.1%, showing last year’s statistic to be a drastic decrease in employment rates.

On the other hand, the rate of 50-something employment was highest at 73.1%, and employment of those 60 or older was at its highest since 2002 at 38.4%.

Teens, wanting to start work for the first time, are feeling frustrated. Both those in their prime and the elderly do not feel ready for retirement, so are remaining in the workplace longer. One reason given is that there are a lot of baby boomers, now all in their 50’s.

Last year the 30-something employment rate was 73.2%, and the 40-something employment rate sat at 78.4%. These rates were similar to previous years.

Comments from Naver:


If the male employment rate were higher, people would say it is due to gender discrimination and there’d be a fight over it. But since the female employment rate is higher, it’s called the “female tornado”. This really shows the way society is headed now.


So why does the man buy the house when you get married? A house is how many million won? What a messed up country…


Men go to the military for 2 years to rot, so how much could men beat women by? Military service is fatal, and not just for athletes.


I guess it’s ok to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family now.


In spite of reality, the women still get their special treatment? It’s clear the men gotta get some benefits, too.


So if the women have more jobs than men, it’s called “female power” but if the men have more jobs than women, it’s called “gender discrimination.”


I never had any regrets about going to the military, but after seeing things like this, I want to collect compensation for those 2 years.


Wedding costs are shared 10:0, housing costs 9:1, but divorce 5:5.


So why don’t these able women pay half of the wedding costs? They just waste their money before getting married on trips or whatever, but the man, he went to the military and can’t go out at all, works his ass off to barely save up for a house. Tell me, why is it like this?


So the situation is like this, you’re still a weakling and want special consideration, what else should we make women-only? The Ministry of Women is awfully quiet.


While the men just go to the military, can’t study, can’t get ready to enter the job market, these bitches just chase around seniors to mooch off of, drinking coffee while preparing their resumes or something. Despite this, there’s no extra points for going to the military, this country is so messed up.


Women see a man and wonder if he has a car, if he has a house, but men go to the military for 2 years so how could he save up for that? If you think about it the opposite way, shouldn’t a woman be able to buy a car and a house with that money she saved for 2 years?


This country is really calling men stupid to their face. Just look at the headline, it says “victory”, tsk tsk tsk. In Korea, having a son is suicide.


This country’s definitely gone insane.


For two years I cleaned guns and did useless work, and when I came back to society, I could directly feel that women my age were ahead of me. 2 years isn’t short. Honestly it was really hard.


While men are in the military for 2 years doing nothing and turning into dumbasses, women during the same time are going from one guy to the next, getting boozed up, changing boyfriends every three months, taking the TOEIC once a month. In 21 months, she’s gotten 7 boyfriends and taken the TOEIC 25 times. Even if she’s just hanging out for 2 years, it’s still 2 more years so of course there’s gonna be this ‘woman power’ thing… Can’t escape it.


Now all that’s left is for women to go to the military, too ~!!


It’s equally difficult for both men and women to get a job. Aren’t these arbitrary “battle”, “victory” buzz words thrown out just to make us fight? What an unpleasant headline.


Showing talent and effort is a good thing, but don’t argue in the office. Women at **** argue freaking too much over coffee in the break room.

Share This Article
Help us maintain a vibrant and dynamic discussion section that is accessible and enjoyable to the majority of our readers. Please review our Comment Policy »
  • ilbebug


  • theredpill
  • what’s next? female pro gamers?

  • JJ

    This is the way I see it- Korean men go to the military, end up finishing school later, take a gap year for internships, get a Masters, etc. By the time they finish all of that, they’re 30. Korean women are generally able to finish school earlier, because there’s no military service, so they are the only ones available to work. Companies want cheap labor, so they try to hire younger people, and the only ones available with their degrees are women.

    Meanwhile, after 30 women “should be” married, or having a child, and then there is pressure for them to quit. So once that happens, men fill those jobs.

    If women were to go into military service (which I personally am not against), once they finished their education they would be feeling pressure to get married. However, once they get married, it may be harder for them to get or keep a job.


    • Brett

      A vote recently passed again saying women are physically unfit for military service.

      I don’t see why they can’t work as interns for the government or in military offices for two years so that everyone serves their country, equally.

      • JJ

        Well, I said I am not against women going into military service.

        I agree, that if they are deemed “physically unfit” (which, honestly, is probably a load of shit) they could do the same thing physically unfit men do- Give support to a government or military office, help the police force, etc.

      • Insomnicide

        Less mentally prepared to deal with high-stress situations, I’m guessing.

        • sonotso

          Women might respond with irrational tears and collapse.
          Men might respond with irrational anger and endanger the lives of their comrades by going on a rampage.

          To take a leaflet from your generalization book.

      • sonotso

        Was this vote a referendum? Who were the voters? Were they mostly men?

        In other countries it has been often men who voted to keep women out of the military draft. Not women. Not feminists.

        Women should have the same rights and duties as men.

        In Korea, there are women who can do the toughest parts of the military service. There are men who can’t do those toughest parts, because they are physically or mentally unable.

        These women should have the opportunity to go into elite forces. These men should be allowed to get an administrative or nurse job or perhaps do something computer related in the military.

        It should be in the military though (or peace forces, if opted: like building a bridge in Afghanistan), for otherwise it will be just a source to exploit young people for low salaries. Does that mean they now have too many people? Good. They can shorten the time spend in the military for everyone by one or a few months, and pay the talented more if they stay longer.

    • chucky3176

      Pretty good theory but that doesn’t jive with the statistics mentioned in the article which show that it’s the older women who are getting employed more and more, and now outstrip the men in employment.

      Korea got rapped for having only 63% of females participating in the economy, lowest in the OECD, but what’s not mentioned by the women’s rights movement is the fact that economically active males are only 62%, lower than the women, and also probably lowest in the OECD.

      • JJ

        “On the other hand, the rate of 50-something employment was highest at 73.1%, and employment of those 60 or older was at its highest since 2002 at 38.4%.”

        Are you referring to this? I was under the impression that this was the rate for overall employment, not just women or men. Though, the article doesn’t make that clear. If it is women, that does raise some interesting questions: What kind of jobs are these 50-something women doing, and are they jobs with a female bias (teaching, cooking, etc), etc.

        • sonotso

          I would think those are jobs with a ‘female bias’ (meaning not that well paid).

          The women of that generation were most likely out of the workforce for a long time to raise kids, have grown up with discriminatory attitudes against themselves and whose education might have been deemed less important than their brother’.

          This is just one example of how legislation against discrimination does not suddenly make for a magical discrimination-free ‘everything-equal’ world.

    • A Pinky Promise

      The funny thing is getting married and getting pregnant is still a choice. (Not every woman in Korea gets married or gets pregnant), while for men there’s no exception. Even disabled men have to rot for 2-3 years in public service or in military.

      • JJ

        However, even if women choose not to marry or get pregnant, because they are expected to do these things, they may be pressured to quit and “make room” for male employees.

        Note: I’m not saying it happens in all companies or all the time, but it does happen.

        • A Pinky Promise

          The only reason Korean women in 30’s are pressured to quit is because once they have kids, they can’t devote themselves to work like Korean guys do. Companies get privileges from the government for hiring women. Why would they kick out unmarried hard working women? And if that happens in some crappy companies, compare that probability to that of male joining army. Is that fair?

          • JJ

            Well, a couple things: 1. You’re assuming that the Korean man has enough income to support the family without the woman working. Maybe the man doesn’t make enough and needs his wife to work (not everyone can work at Samsung and LG). 2. You’re assuming that it’s a woman’s job to take care of the kids (and therefore not being able to “devote themselves to work”). I didn’t realize it was so farfetched to want to work while being a parent.

            Did I ever say anything was fair? I don’t believe it’s a good situation for men or women at the moment. I also said that I am not against mandatory service for women. However, if it existed, I suspect that women would be back at lower employment in that age bracket due to the reason mentioned.

          • A Pinky Promise

            1. I’ve seen many of my friends doing that. They don’t work at Samsung nor LG. But they keep a very low budget lifestyle. And that is why Koreans won’t have more than one kid these days. 2. I’m not saying it’s right or anything. But that’s how things are in Korea.

      • sonotso

        By that same token, men don’t ‘have’ to get married and provide a house (which is what many of them complain about as well).

        I agree that women should be drafted too. It will keep things equal and fair, while it might also be a good reason to shorten the time spend in the military for everyone (since there will be a huge sudden influx of extra people).

  • MeiDaxia

    Another way to look at it is from the economic point: women are worth less. Statistically women are paid less for equal employment with men. Horrible, but true.

  • Peter Old

    Correct me if you see a more accurate translation. I would title the Yonhap article as ‘Feminist wave: The 20 Somethings’ Employment War, the Triumph between Woman and Man’

    And I think this explains the acrimony in the subsequent comments. Had the title of article been more neutral, as with koreaBANG’s English translation, we wouldn’t see the fire in the original article’s comments section. It’s a case of Yonhap fuelling the fire from the recent military conscription ruling (knowing the military service issue is fuel for anti-feminists).

    Unfortunately, what does such journalism do for Korea? On the positive side, it gets people discussing and contemplating over the changes in the society; but on the negative, it fuels acrimony between the sexes and the underlying destructive competitiveness of Korean society. Such an article sadly exemplifies ‘competitive S.Korea’ – where in this case feminism is a battle, like securing a job.

    It is difficult to make sense of the statistics without seeing the metadata. Where do these rates come from? Do they include people full-time studying or in military service? More information is needed to detail the gender-employment issue: rates of pay (indicating which gender finds higher status) and hours worked (indicating under-employment and actual employment). It is given that women in S.Korea are under-empowered and the “economic participation rate” does not reflect the actual “opportunities for participation”.

    Korean men may whine about the unfairness of military service, but the training is perfect preparation for company hierarchies which require loyalty and are based on seniority. This gives a non-sexist advantage for promotion. Crying about compulsory service is just a scapegoat for one’s insecurities and an easy target for anti-feminism. The anti-feminist comments likely stem from the “winners and losers” mentality – knowing not all men will get respectable job and be able to marry. This and losing their pre-existing male superiority.

    • bigmamat

      I’m a feminist for the most part but I have to agree that it is unfair for these young people who are compelled to give up two years of their lives. If the government insists on continuing this practice young men who serve should be afforded some kind of guarantee that their service will not result in detrimental consequences to their future. I believe it’s time for the Korean government to come up with some kind of alternative plan to mandatory service. Some kind of combination of voluntary service and perhaps mandatory reserve service could be instituted.

      • chucky3176

        S.Korea already has a mandatory reserve services for those who are physically less fit. They can go home periodically and have their uniforms washed by their mom’s. Also there’s a big contingent of draftees in the anti-riot police and in the main police forces. But that still doesn’t change the 2 years of their lives.

        • bigmamat

          So why is the reserves for the less fit? I understand nothing has changed I’m saying it should. I understand that Koreans are mama boys but I think if society needs to macho up it’s male population then mandatory service is not necessarily the most effective means to that end. Actually I’m not sure what you’re saying here really.

      • Peter Old

        Why do you think military service is unfair? I would say its unfortunate and that freedom and peace come at a cost. As we know, The Korean Peninsula has a long history of foreign invasion and is technically still at war.

        I’m not sure if the service is actually detrimental to their future… I doubt companies are less likely to hire a 26 year old, military service completed male over a 24 year old female ~ its that there is a competitive pressure to become successful and the sooner you secure a job, the more successful you are perceived. A newly hired civil servant can be paid at the rate of an employee with two years job experience in compensation for his time spent in military service. The government should in my view push companies to follow this move. Also, men can earn qualifications and experience during their compulsory service to be translated into their careers and for added 스펙.

        • bigmamat

          Well as long as it isn’t detrimental to their careers then I don’t really see the problem. I would only be inclined to think it unfair if it side tracks their progress in obtaining their education or securing a job.

  • bigmamat

    The problem isn’t so much women in the workforce as older people not leaving. We have a similar problem in the U.S. where older people choose to work longer now. Better health is a factor and so is economic instability. Obviously Korean seniors are working longer because they can no longer depend on their children to take care of them. It’s a cycle that creates unemployment and underemployment in the younger generation. There is also the problem of the mandatory military service for young males. Korea needs to come up with a better plan to support their troop levels. Some kind of voluntary service combined with perhaps a mandatory reserve service. Young men should not have to entirely put their lives on hold for 2 years right during the time when they are finishing their higher education and venturing into the job market.

  • commander

    The latest statistics need to be supplemented with more diverse indexes as it doesn’t offer any detailed information about the quality of jobs women get. Some women work as part timers worrying about job security after contractual expiry while other women work as regular workers with fringe benefits.

    The article only focuses on gender divide, noting that women’s growing presence in employment is remarkable.

    But I think what is more important is that workers are increasingly divided into two groups, with one being highly paid workers with good education background and the other being irregular workers who toil with low pay and under tough working conditions.

    This distinction shows that gender divide is outweighed by poor and rich workers, a split accelerating disparities of wealth and prompting a higher level of dissatisfaction.

    • chucky3176

      Well, whatever the real stats are, there is only one result out of all those numbers. The happiest group of people who are satisfied with their lives are Korean women aged 18 to 50 by far, as the surveys have shown.

      If the Korean women say they are the most happiest group of people in Korea, then can we really say they are being treated badly as it’s being touted?

      • commander

        Well, a level of happiness or satisfaction in life is highly subjective, a measure that has the limitation of gauging the reality confronting women, making relevant numbers hard to be used as a basis for arguments against women’s claim of prevalent gender discrimination against females .

        • Claude

          How many Korean woman have somewhere to compare it too? What percentage have worked overseas? I’m sure things have improved for the better in the last 10 or 20 years but how does it compare to life in the west for woman? The glass ceiling is still pretty thick. As of 2014, The Economists glass ceiling index put Korea below the Japanese who are way below the OECD average. Sadly, Korea was last.

          I had an interesting conversation with a woman of a flight out of Seoul. She was telling me the pressures she under to look a certain way when in Seoul. She felt she had to wear makeup just to leave the house where as – when she’s in California, “It’s always casual Friday, t-shirts and jeans.” She can compare between life in Korea and California.

          • Chucky3176

            So now it’s also Korean men’s fault for women’s insecurities for the need to deck themselves out and wear make up? There are lot of Korean men who like women without makeup. Why not also blame the bad weather on Korean men too?

          • commander

            I have heard many complaints from other nationals as well as Korean women over how bad and unfair Korean society has been to women, ranging from discrimination in employment, sex objectification and de-facto denial of maternity leave to working women for childbirths and ensuing childcare.

            All of the complaints are legitimate.

            But we need to be cautious in raising awareness of gender inequality. Complaining of discriminatory practices against women often leads to another stereotyping sounding like saying that all men are responsible for unfair treatment for women, remarks that prompt men to call them outrageously absurd and ramp up their verbal attacks, notably developing new terms like derogatory Kimchi Girls.

            In a heated debate over gender equality, we should be careful to avoid just venting anger and hostility toward the other sex, emotional relief that will spell a vicious circle of mutual denunciation.

            We need to pool wisdom to ensure gender equality for all and live in harmony with opposite sex.

          • sonotso

            You make great points.

            There might be many men who are against discriminating practises (or completely don’t care). The issue is that these men have often benefited from them, even if they don’t actively look down on or work against women.

            If a man has not actively supported discrimination, but has also not said anything while benefiting from it, he is still partly to blame for upholding the system. Yes, even if he did not realize he was doing it.

            This goes especially in Korea, where misogynist attitudes are rampant. Women are still not considered equal to men (or they would be drafted, which is held back for misogynist reasons). Yet, lots of Korean men suddenly act as if everything is equal. The generation still in power was raised with the idea that men were superior. Do they really think that this generation treats women and men equally?

          • commander

            For starter, those doing more than duties are admired by other people who do not. But that doesn’t mean those who do not take action beyond duties are to blame for inaction.

            For example, the world witnesses many countless children in the Third World starving and infected with diseases that are preventable with proper vaccination, but you would probably do nothing for better welfare of those children.
            If so, can I criticize you for your inaction and accuse you of benefiting from the current capitalistic systems?

            Let me take a more realistic example.
            If women, as you said, are badly treated and subject to unjustifiable discrimination, does it mean you are a coward when as a woman, you remain silent and inactive for women’s empowerment?

            I don’t think so.

            When a person do not implement what is morally required, the person can face a due share of condemnation.

            BUT that doesn’t mean that when a person does not take active part in promoting worthy social causes, he or she should be subject to criticism for inaction.

  • harvz



    • Sillian

      I think a lot of these complaints are related to the military service? It seems nobody has successfully justified it.

      • chucky3176

        I really don’t see how they can complain about military service. Someone has to do it. The plan is forces reduction by 100,000 men by 2020, but that still leaves 500,000 bodies that need to be recruited from somewhere. Turning the military into a professional army is out of the question due to S.Korea depending overwhelmingly on ground forces to defend against NK ground troops, therefore need a lot of bodies on the ground. And voluntary service won’t draw anybody unless the men are paid decent professional salaries. But that will blow South Korea’s military budget out of the water in terms of paying salaries.

        • Sillian

          I don’t think there are many Koreans who think conscription should be abolished. But some people began wondering why the military burden is completely exempted from women. Korean men didn’t complain about this ‘inequality’ before but since they began to think young Korean women fare better than young Korean men, the complaints became common.

          • chucky3176

            Yeah, but that’s scraping the bottom of the barrel to complain about women not being conscripted too. I guess they could be useful for support related roles, but what happens during times of real war is a big question mark.

            What they should really do away with, is this silly voluntary enlistment system for multicultural multiethnic men. It ain’t right that they get exempted from the draft just because their mothers are Filipina or Vietnamese. If they are Korean citizens, they should also mandatorily serve, just like other Korean men of their age.

  • Guest

    woahhh slightly more women are employed then men!! must be because men are discriminated against!! omg sexism!! it’s all good when the percentage of employed men is larger, but the second women get slightly ahead we gotta feel bad for the poor men in this matriarchal/female-dominated society we’re living in.

    • ElectricTurtle

      woahhh slightly more men are employed then women!! must be because women are discriminated against!! omg sexism!! it’s all good when the percentage of employed women is larger, but if men get slightly ahead we gotta feel bad for the poor women in this patriarchal/male-dominated society we’re living in.

      See what I did there? That isn’t normal or right either, but according to feminists it is, so they’ve sowed the seeds for this attitude by making the same claims. It couldn’t be that the social and market forces just happen to be making things the way they are, no, it’s DISCRIMINATION. Turns out the complaints by the goose can just as easily become the complaints by the gander and vice versa. So it will ever be so long as we support ideologies that divide us by gender.

      • Sonotso

        You can not compare the gender that has been discriminated against for
        centuries and is only now emerging with the situation of the gender that
        has been on top all that time.

        It takes a long time for the
        economical, cultural and organizational repurcussions of that
        immediately disappear once discrimination is officially abolished.

        which is the gender that has most decision power over hiring? In Korea,
        I would say that (for anything above a nurse job), it will be
        overwhelmingly men.

        It’s not suddenly an equal thing and dishonest to present it so.

  • mei mei

    it’s time for girls

    • Boris_Da_Bengal_Tiger

      to bogey!

  • Clare

    I’m frustrated with the resentment towards women in the Naver comments. It’s understandable as to why they are upset, but why are they piling the blame on (ALL) women when it was the GOVERNMENT (mostly made up of MEN) who made the Constitutional Court decision that women are unsuited to serve as conscripts in the military. How is that their fault?
    Also, isn’t it an ingrained ‘tradition’ in their culture that the man must pay for everything when he is married? If so, how is that women’s fault when they really had no say in this cultural ‘tradition’? Don’t majority of men want to be the provider so that they are not emasculated by their female counterparts? Ridiculous.
    If, however, it isn’t a cultural tradition, but an idea made by women, then I apologize for that assumption.

    • Peach

      Don’t sweat it. It is the Korean male default setting: Whine/Moan/Complain/Assume everyone and everything is against YOU. A few men here manage to break away from that, but the majority seem to be socialized in that way. If it’s not women they are venting at it will just be another group. In fact if women were forced into military service today Korean males would still find something to complain about.

  • Nick Shaw

    I suppose it might be possible that young korean women are slightly outperforming young men, have a slightly better skill set and make slightly better employees.

  • cantonizi

    Look the Korean women need to make more money than the Korean men does most of the time.
    Korean women have to spend big bucks to keep their white reject men and keep them in luxury stuffs like BMW (Buy My Woman) and Rolex or they will go home to the big fat ass wife.

  • Pingback: The OCDrama Digest 1 – 7 April Delayed Edition | obsessive compulsive (k)drama-watching disorder()

  • Pingback: Korean Sociological Image #84: What is the REAL reason for the backlash against Korean women? | The Grand Narrative()

  • Hwang Dongseong

    Only two person among KAIST 00′ succeded to get job in Wall street. Two are women. When competing for high perks job, woman is more competitive than man. They never quit the jobs after marriage.
    Gender is already eqaul for young generation. Please don’t give any benefits to one side.

  • Outsider

    I am not Korean but have many Korean classmates and co workers. From an outsiders perspective, some Korean male co workers are often too strong and too aggressive when dealing with customers and corporate partners, the women are much better at negotiations and collaboration. I suggest that Korean cultures raising men all to be alpha male leaders is also a reason some companies are leaning towards Korean women as employees. The Korean men are often too aggressive or too firm in their dealings. This is a feeling outsiders share, and undoubtedly these comments will be criticized but they are meant as an honest and constructive comment. On the positive side, when you get Korean male employees who are indeed open and collaborative, they are the most persistent and determined workers you can possibly find in the world… so it just takes a small adjustment up front during the interview process and I think they will have better hiring results.

  • dk2020

    how is this different than the gender divide in any other country? korean women have accomplish so much in a short time.. I believe they can achieve anything they want to through hard work and determination..

  • Just because 27% of Korean women are in a K-Pop band…doesn’t mean they are actually employed

  • The Spirit Molecule

    I wouldn’t mind being at home playing video games all day while my woman works and takes care of everything else.

Personals @ chinaSMACK - Meet people, make friends, find lovers? Don't be so serious!»