Barry McNamara  |  Published October 16, 2023

Women in the Workplace

First-year Monmouth economics professor Brian Park has studied same topic as this year’s Nobel Prize recipient.

BRIAN PARK: Economics professor is in first year on Monmouth's faculty. BRIAN PARK: Economics professor is in first year on Monmouth's faculty.MONMOUTH, Ill. – Last week, the Nobel Prize in economics was awarded to Harvard University professor Claudia Goldin for research on the workplace gender gap. Goldin’s research helps explain why women around the world are less likely than men to work (50% vs. 80%) and to earn less money (13% less) when they do.

For economics professor Brian Park, who is in his first year of teaching at Monmouth College, the Nobel Prize announcement hit close to home, as he’s studied the topic in his native Korea.

Park credited Goldin for her “advancement of the understanding of women in the workforce and searching for solutions to those issues. She’s one of the first economists to look into the gender pay gap systematically, as well as historically. She was one of the first to be able to, without refutation, address the difference in women’s incomes and the so-called glass ceiling.”

Like Goldin, Park has observed a very high child penalty when it comes to women working.

“Even if women wanted to work longer, the physical reality of the world is that women are away from the job for some period due to childbirth, affecting continuity at the workplace,” said Park.

For men, there’s some research showing a marriage/child premium – when they marry and/or have children, they can no longer afford to lose their job, and employers use that to their advantage.

“A more dystopian way to look at it is employers can hold their workers’ family situation hostage,” said Park.

A pair of major developments

In the spring of 2020, most workers around the nation – regardless of gender – were banished to their homes because of the pandemic. Many came to find out they preferred it that way.

“Just a couple personal anecdotes I have is one friend who lives in Atlanta and works for Airbnb, which is headquartered in San Francisco,” said Park. “Another lives in North Carolina, but works for Amazon, which is in Seattle. As work from home becomes prevalent, women won’t have to miss out.”

“More women were graduating from high school, gaining access to college education, and as a result they were postponing marriage. It’s a massive societal change we’re going to have to find a way to accommodate.” Brian Park

And that’s a win for women in the workforce. Another victory came roughly a century ago, as many of the world’s men were fighting in a pair of world wars.

“There was a massive shortage in the labor force,” said Park. “Companies had no choice but to hire women. It’s sad that we need a tragedy like those wars or the pandemic for things to move forward.”

Park’s background

Park earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from Korea University and a doctorate in applied economics and management from Cornell University.

“My primary field is two-fold: one is environmental economics and the other part is labor and demographic economics,” he said.

Park has studied how having a child affects women in the workforce in Korea, especially among those in their late 20s or early 30s, using such data points as were they working prior to the child, did they have stable jobs, their level of education and did their husband work.

Part of his dissertation, titled “Household Job Stability, Public Childcare and Fertility Decisions,” is concerned with how having a child affects family decisions, in a Korean context.

“I was drawn to the issue because in Korea, the total fertility rate is 0.7,” he said. “The replacement rate is 2.1,” which is not far from the old line of the American dream being a husband and wife and 2.3 kids.

“Why is this happening, and how we can remedy it?” Park (and others) are asking.

Part of the why, he said, is that as women in Korea were given more access to higher education, the fertility rate dropped.

“More women were graduating from high school, gaining access to college education, and as a result they were postponing marriage,” he said. “It’s a massive societal change we’re going to have to find a way to accommodate.”

‘College is a worthwhile investment’

To the younger demographic, who will be arriving in the workforce at the end of this decade and throughout the 2030s, Park offered some friendly speculation.

“Unless you’re going to find work in the creative sphere, such as a photographer, a vlogger or an artist, you’re probably going to benefit greatly from college education,” said Park. “Most jobs that you do from home require a college degree, or the skills it teaches you. You’re working with a computer, working with data. You have to have the right training and qualifications. So unless you’re a creative, or unless you teach yourself everything, you’re going to need college, because that type of discipline is incredibly hard to foster in yourself.”

“College forces that, and there’s pressure in college – the kind of pressure that requires you to build critical skills such as time management and how to effectively navigate stressful situations that you need to succeed in the workforce.” Brian Park

Just as a growing number of people are working from home, many are experiencing college at home through online courses, but Park said employers still have the incentive to prefer their staff to have an in-person learning background.

“Online courses don’t train you to work with other people,” he said. “College forces that, and there’s pressure in college – the kind of pressure that requires you to build critical skills such as time management and how to effectively navigate stressful situations that you need to succeed in the workforce. If you don’t have those skills, you’re going to be left behind. College is a worthwhile investment.”

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