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Gender in Transition: The Case of North Korea


  • Stephan Haggard

    () (University of California, San Diego)

  • Marcus Noland

    () (East-West Center & Peterson Institute of International Economics)


This paper uses a survey of 300 North Korean refugees to examine the experience of women in North Korea’s fitful economic transition. Like other socialist states, North Korea has maintained a de jure commitment to women's rights. However, we find that women have been disproportionately shed from state-affiliated employment and thrust into a market environment characterized by weak institutions and corruption. As a result, the state and its affiliated institutions are increasingly populated by males, and the market, particularly in its retail aspects, is dominated by women. Among the most recent cohort of refugees to leave North Korea, more than one-third of male respondents indicate that criminality and corruption is the best way to make money, and 95 percent of female traders report paying bribes to avoid the penal system. In short, the increasingly male-dominated state preys on the increasingly female-dominated market. These results paint a picture of a vulnerable group that has been disadvantaged in North Korea's transition. Energies are directed toward survival, mass civil disobedience is reactive, and as a group, this population appears to lack the tools or social capital to act collectively to improve their status.

Suggested Citation

  • Stephan Haggard & Marcus Noland, 2011. "Gender in Transition: The Case of North Korea," Economics Study Area Working Papers 124, East-West Center, Economics Study Area.
  • Handle: RePEc:ewc:wpaper:wp124

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Yoonok Chang & Stephan Haggard & Marcus Noland, 2008. "Migration Experiences of North Korean Refugees: Survey Evidence from China," Working Paper Series WP08-4, Peterson Institute for International Economics.
    2. Haggard, Stephan & Noland, Marcus, 2010. "Reform from below: Behavioral and institutional change in North Korea," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 73(2), pages 133-152, February.
    3. Marcus Noland, 2000. "Avoiding the Apocalypse: The Future of the Two Koreas," Peterson Institute Press: All Books, Peterson Institute for International Economics, number 94.
    4. Haggard, Stephan & Lee, Jennifer & Noland, Marcus, 2012. "Integration in the absence of institutions: China–North Korea cross-border exchange," Journal of Asian Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(2), pages 130-145.
    5. Noland, Marcus & Haggard, Stephan, 2010. "Political attitudes under repression: evidence from North Korean refugees," MPRA Paper 21713, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    6. Stephan Haggard & Marcus Noland, 2010. "Economic Crime and Punishment in North Korea," Working Paper Series WP10-2, Peterson Institute for International Economics.
    7. Chang, Yoonok & Haggard, Stephan & Noland, Marcus, 2009. "Exit polls: Refugee assessments of North Korea's transition," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 37(1), pages 144-150, March.
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    JEL classification:

    • F - International Economics

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