The Korean manufacturing sector has undergone structural changes in a transition from labor- to capital-intensive industries. These changes seem to be relevant to the weakening of the export effect on employment that began in 1990. In light of the importance of exports in the Korean labor market, the purpose of this paper is to shed light on the primary reasons why export growth does not lead to sufficient job creation as it did in the past.
The authors first use the growth accounting approach to show that the weakening of the linkage between exports and employment is closely related to the composition of export products, which has changed toward being more labor-saving. An empirical analysis (i.e. first difference A-B generalized method of moments estimator) on the employment effect of exports confirms that as the capital-intensity of exports increases employment effect decreases.
The main findings of the study can be summarized as follows. First, the reduction in the export effect on exports is highly correlated with changes in the composition of export products. Second, an increase in exports leads to an increase in manufacturing jobs, and the export elasticity of employment decreases as capital-intensity increases. Third, the export elasticity of employment tends to be higher when the export proportion of SMEs’ products is larger.
Despite the many literatures on the link between exports and employment, there is no consensus on this topic. However, it is generally agreed that the employment effect of exports has been considerably weakened, compared to that of the past, at least in Korea. Nevertheless, few studies attempt to address why this trend has occurred. In this paper, we focus on the structural factors that are the major cause of the weakening of the virtuous cycle between exports and employment. This allows us to provide valuable information to policy makers who are concerned with developing export policies that are related to effective job creation.
The author thanks Chul Chung, Chankwon Bae, Young Gui Kim, Youngho Kang, Sooyoung Lee, Hyuk-Hwang Kim and two anonymous referees for their insightful comments and suggestions. The paper has also benefited from comments by seminar participants in the 19th KEA International Conference, 2018 KAEA Annual Meeting and KIEP seminar. The errors remain the author’s responsibility.
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