Celebrity Dads Help Korean Men Embrace Parenting

Reality TV is at the front line of social change
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South Korean father Kim Jin-Sung puts footwear on his child at a child-care center in Seoul.

Photographer: Jung Yeon-je/AFP via Getty Images

South Korea’s efforts to have men share more of the responsibility for rearing kids is starting to take hold, thanks to more generous child-care benefits for dads taking paternity leave and changing social attitudes.

Popular reality TV shows like "Where are we going, dad?" and "The return of Superman" have played a part in recent years by showing male role models looking after kids and taking them on trips while moms enjoy a little more freedom. "Where are we going, dad?" was so popular that local versions of the show popped up in China and Vietnam.

For South Korea, having men spend more time with their kids is also about making it easier for women play a bigger part in the workforce. That's vital for the economy because the nation's working-age population is set to shrink as more of the baby boomer generation retires.

While the chart below shows a rapid increase in men taking paternity leave, South Korea still has a long way to go. President Park Geun Hye’s administration wants men to account for 15 percent of people on child-care leave by 2020, compared with about 6 percent last year.

With the fertility rate among the lowest in the world (South Korean women on average have 1.2 babies in their lifetime) getting dads more engaged is also essential to arresting demographic decline, according to the government.

South Korea now offers up to 1.5 million won ($1,220) per month to the “second parent” in any family who takes leave after the birth of a child. The "first parent" receives a maximum 1 million won a month.

“While the government-funded pay might be below the wage a worker used to receive, it still helps cover basic needs,” said Yoon Ja Young, a research fellow at Korea Labor Institute. “Having just one male worker take paternity leave could encourage other men in the company to follow, leading to an overall change in attitudes.”

 

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