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South Korea’s Feminine Future

SEOUL – Over the last half-century, South Korea has made considerable economic progress, with per capita income increasing from a mere $80 dollars in 1960 to more than $22,000 last year. But its potential for sustained growth is faltering, owing to the imminent decline of its working-age population – projected to fall by 25% by 2050 – and rising competition from China and other emerging economies. In order to improve its prospects, South Korea must pursue economic reform and restructuring, with an emphasis on maximizing its human-capital resources – especially women.

South Korea’s success over the last five decades owes much to the rapid growth of its well-educated labor force. From 1960 to 2010, the share of adults with a secondary education soared from 20% to an impressive 87%. By boosting productivity, increasing returns on investment, and facilitating technological adaption and innovation, South Korea’s abundance of well-educated workers has served as the foundation for its export-oriented development strategy.