chapter  5
21 Pages

The Boss, the Worker, His Wife and No Babies: South Korean Political and Social Economy of Care in a Context of Institutional Rigidities


One of the most signifi cant developments in South Korea’s social and political economy in the last few decades has been the breakdown of the developmental state-familialistic care regime nexus that had hitherto formed the basis of the country’s economic growth. The main causes of this institutional breakdown are the parallel changes in the structural underpinnings of the Korean society-the shift in the industrial structure, increased economic globalization, changes in family and gender relations and political democratization-and one of the most important consequences of this has been the dramatic decline in the total fertility rate. Studies reveal that changes in institutional arrangements have a signifi cant impact on fertility patterns, which in turn, have cascading eff ects on the economy, social relations and other demographic features. In Korea, the declining fertility rate has spurred a series of social policy reforms since 2000. Following OECD and EU discourses on work-family reconciliation and social investment, the Korean government has attempted to address the issue by focusing on social care and work-family reconciliation policies. Despite the eff ort, however, the total fertility rate remains stubbornly low. The Korean experience therefore reveals not only the diffi culties of implementing population policies, but also the complexities associated with the social and political dimensions of systems change.