Korean Fatherhood in Policy and Practice

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Korean fathers gained their first entitlement to take one-year paid parental leave in 2001. The policy has since continuously advanced, but as of 2020, fathers’ take-up rates remain low at 3.4%. This dissertation raises the question of why Korean fathers do not take parental leave, and what the nature of the underlying sociocultural contexts is that precipitates this discrepancy. To seek answers to this question, the dissertation examines tensions between the de jure entitlement and the de facto entitlement of fatherhood via four different contexts: policymaking, relational ethics, workplace norms, and paternal identities.

Applying these four contexts, four sub-studies address the following research questions: (1) How have Korean parental leave policies evolved since 1995 and what were the motives and challenges that emerged in the course of their development? (2) How have relational ethics and workplace norms influenced individual fathers’ decisions and sense of entitlement for taking time off for childcare? (3) How do Korean fathers perceive good fathering and how do they negotiate and practise fathering ideals in everyday life?

The analysis draws on two types of empirical data: semi-structured interviews and public documents. The interview data contain four different sets of interviews with six policy actors, 47 fathers, and 15 of their female partners. Official policy documents contain various sources, such as newspaper articles, Acts, Bills, Master Plans, press kits, campaign posters, and parliamentary meeting minutes demonstrating policy changes from 1990 to 2021.

The findings show that Korean parental leave policies have evolved in a way of emphasising the value of gender equality and men’s roles in childcare as a practical tool for increasing fertility rates. In everyday life, couples, influenced by Confucian relational ethics, considered fathers as last-resort caregivers within families and as forefront workers in workplaces; they showed reluctance to renege such social expectations despite the detriment to women’s careers. Furthermore, Korean workplaces featured presence-oriented, hierarchical, and work-prioritised norms and practices. These features (in)directly lowered fathers’ sense of entitlement to take time off for childcare. Indeed, those pursuing to be an involved father, tended to struggle with gaps between fathering ideals and practices. With lack of time, information, network, and role models, fathers tried to make the most of the time given to them by engaging in playful activities with their children, with the belief in fathers’ distinctive role in childcare.

Based on these findings, this dissertation contributes to theoretical discussions in the policy-practice literature by bridging the two perspectives. It suggests a distinction within the policy context: policymaking context and policy context for practice. The latter matters because the de jure entitlement granted by policies does not necessarily transition to the corresponding sense of entitlement in practice. To explore this gap, this dissertation explores the policy context for practice (as opposed to theory) by proposing the concept of fatherhood practices (people’s routine behaviours). Fatherhood practices highlight people’s everyday aspects that consist of doings, sayings, and reasonings, which shape and construct the meaning of fatherhood. The integration of the policy contexts and fatherhood practices particularly reveals the nuanced differences between voluntary opt-out and resigned acceptance of policy use behaviours.

In conclusion, this dissertation argues that policymaking contexts of Korean parental leave policies have been insufficient for promoting sociocultural grounds that directly encourage fathers to feel equally entitled as a parent as mothers; Korean fatherhood is undergoing piecemeal transitions, which can be interpreted as conditional, exclusive, and silent.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • School of Social Work
  • Göransson, Kristina, Supervisor
  • Lundqvist, Åsa, Assistant supervisor
Award date2022 Nov 25
Place of PublicationLund
ISBN (Print)978-91-89604-71-1
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Nov 1

Bibliographical note

Defence details
Date: 2022-11-25
Time: 10:15
Place: Socialhögskolans hörsal, Allhelgona kyrkogata 8, Lund
External reviewer(s)
Name: Kvande, Elin
Title: Professor
Affiliation: Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Social Work

Free keywords

  • fatherhood
  • fatherhood policies
  • fatherhood practices
  • policy and practice
  • South Korea


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