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The development of social policy in Korea : a comparative analysis of its determinants, character and future direction

Lee, Sang-Young (1997) The development of social policy in Korea : a comparative analysis of its determinants, character and future direction. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.86243) (KAR id:86243)


This thesis analyses the development of social welfare in South Korea.The purpose of the study is threefold: (1) to examine the determinants of social policy in Korea; (2) to evaluate the outcomes of its social policy; (3) to explore a strategy for the development of the Korean welfare state. As a research methodology, both historical-comparative and normative-evaluative approaches are used.

The Korean experience of the development process of social welfare shows a unique trajectory which distinguishes it from such processes in most advanced industrial nations. Unliked advanced European welfare states, Korea was a late-comer to industrialisation and democratisation. The delays to industrialisation and democratisation have critically affected the development of Korean social policy. Social conflicts and labour movements have been harshly repressed by the state in pursuit of rapid economic growth. No leftist party exists, and party politics has yet to be institutionalised. Furthermore, globalisation is becoming a serious challenge to the Korean economy. This picture is quite different to those found in the advanced welfare states in their formative years of social policy development.

Korea's development strategy is most often characterised as a 'growth first, distribution later' policy. In the same vein, the basic approach to social policy has been one of 'family protection first, social protection last' policy. Consequently, the level of social welfare is still at a preliminary stage in terms of its coverage and benefits. The level and quality of services and benefits are also so low that they often do not suffice to sustain a decent life. With respect to equality, Korean social policy is not effective in reducing inequality. This is mainly due to the unfair tax system, the low level of social expenditure, and the restricted coverage of social welfare programmes.

In Korea, recent democratisation has triggered a simultaneous explosion of long-suppressed social demands in areas affecting social equality and the quality of life. In addition, the Korean social structure in the 21st century will differ sharply from that of today. changes in life cycles, the family and gender roles, as well as the momentous changes that will eventually flow from national unification, will profoundly alter expectations of social welfare. For the development of social welfare in Korea, this thesis suggests that the Korean welfare state should ideally be based on harmony between the free-market ideals of efficiency and self-support, and non-market ideals of equality and solidarity. For this model to be implemented effectively in Korea, five basic directions are suggested: the satisfaction of basic needs, the enhancement of equality, an integrated approach to economic and social policy, the development of future-oriented social services, and the establishment of a new partnership in welfare between the state and the private sector.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.86243
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 09 February 2021 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: Sociology; South Korea; welfare state; social welfare
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2019 16:37 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Nov 2021 10:27 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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