The Uses of Social Investment in East Asia: How Work-Family Reconciliation Policies Make the Labour Market ‘Flow’ in Japan, Korea and Taiwan

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 16:30
Oral Presentation
Ijin HONG, Yonsei University, Republic of Korea
Jieun LEE, University of York, United Kingdom
Work-family reconciliation policies occupy an important part in the social investment discourse (Morel et al. 2012, Bonoli and Natali 2012), however they apply differently across different national contexts (Morgan 2012, Lee and Baek 2014, Garland 2016, Hemerijck 2017). Since from the 2000s, social investment policies have also been introduced in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China (Kim 2010, Chiu Wei 2011, Tsai 2012, Estevez-Abe and Kim 2014, Fleckenstein and Lee 2017), although they were originally following a traditional male breadwinner model (Lewis 2001), as often pointed out for the case of Japan (Seeleib-Kaiser and Toivonen 2011, Kleider 2015, Sjoeberg 2004).

Even acknowledging that more employment-friendly work-family reconciliation policies are taking place in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, the correspondence to the original social investment goals of increasing ‘stock’ of human capital, easier ‘flow’ or labour market and life-course transitions, and stronger social protection measures as ‘buffers’ (Hemerijck 2013, 2015) finds a difficult terrain in these coordinated market economies (Soskice and Hall 2001, Amable 2003). By utilizing the comparative approach of the most similar case design (Ragin 2014), we question how the degree of economic individualization expected from an adult worker model (O’Connor 2005), typical of a social investment approach, applies within a still traditionalist East Asian context – in terms of labour market features and attitudes towards the gender role in the family -, resulting in a problematic reform implementation that does not correspond to the original policy intentions (Streeck and Thelen 2005).

Policy implications stemming from the analysis of these cases are yet another reminder of the several critical points of a social investment approach already identified in European welfare states (Hemerijck 2017): budgetary problems, problematic connection with economic performance (Noland 2013), “Matthew effects” (Cantillon 2011).