Why Korean Professors Stay Put

In the U.S. many academic economists are constantly looking for jobs at other schools, hoping to get large salary increases either in the new job or at their current one, to move to a more desirable location, or have better students. And a lot of them do move — one senior professor I know has held tenured positions at 8 different schools!

Talking with the department chair at the Korean university where I’m visiting, it’s clear this doesn’t happen in Korea.

Why not?

Korean professors’ salaries are very similar, so it’s hard to get a raise by threatening to leave. Also, all the universities are in Seoul, so the living conditions are independent of where you’re employed. The only gains to moving come from having better students or being at a more prestigious institution. These matter — he cited an example of a colleague who left for this reason — but the examples are few.

Perhaps not surprisingly, in the fluid U.S. labor market, pay differences across employers have a big effect on mobility even — or perhaps especially — among economists.


To #13: I don't think the Korean university system is failing in this case.

Graduating from a Korean university gives you a better chance to find a job in Korea. Graduating from a US university givers you a better chance to find a job in USA.

People send their kids to American universities not because they are better, but because they are giving them a better chance to find a job there.


Thanks! Really interesting. I wish i could spend my time on writing articles...just have no time for it.


South Korean professors might stay put in their respective universities but ironically they don't want their children to be educated there. The S. Korean university system is failing if those involved in the system do not want to use it. Nearly every S. Korean education professional sends his/her child to study in the U.S. Some send their 12 y/o children off to the U.S. to receive an education (middle school through grad school.) The mother and children spend their schooling years overseas while the father “goose” stays put in Korea, working to support them. As far as I know, Korea is the only country with that form of migration situation breaking up the family. In most countries the father goes overseas to make money to send home to support the family remaining behind.


the best univercity in Korea (according to Chosun newspaper in Korea) is POSTECH and it is in Pohang. It is tech school and small so not many people know. Besides POSTECH and KAIST, eveny good school is in Seoul but not only in univercity, but also every good companies and good organization is in Seoul in Korea. It's a small country and they don't change job offen. It's just way it is in there.


On what exactly are you basing your statement that "in the U.S. many academic economists are constantly looking for jobs at other schools"? In my brief academic experience, virtually no one was looking for another job. Most people I know/knew in academia were happy to have a job, given the stiff competition.

Are you basing this statement on anecdotal evidence? Frankly, my own anecdotal evidence says that only research-oriented faculty at big schools actively seek other jobs. And actual movement only takes place amongst the top tier schools. But I could be wrong.



Two impressions I got from the Korean tertiary education system, of which makes perfect sense of why Korean professors stay put, (especially in the small sample size within Seoul that I encountered).

There is only one "ivy league" school - Seoul National University. Hence SNU professors hardly move out - where else would they go once they are in the top?

SNU professors are a prestigious role, and have played important role at a National level. For example, several of the President's special committees (e.g. in Economic Development) are headed by professors.


There isn't much mobility between companies in Korea either. It was the same in the US up to the 1950's. Volumes have been written about the culture of company loyalty.


Maybe there are just not that many universities in South Korea. Then, there are might not be that many choices to professors. The pecking order might be more solid: there's probably one or two very good schools. Professors in those schools don't really have anywhere to go.

In the US the market is more fluid, there is more competition, and superstars hop from school to school when they are young. But I do not particularly think of professors as very mobile individuals.


@ Chris M

I doubt he is saying this is bad


how about loyalty

Chris M

"In the U.S. many academic economists are constantly looking for jobs at other schools, hoping to get large salary increases either in the new job or at their current one, to move to a more desirable location, or have better students."

Are you saying this is bad?


@ Chimp

Probably true a decade ago... But nowadays, universities in Seoul face a high level of competition. To get hired, one should have a pretty good publication record to beat others.

Korean professor's salaries are not high as those of professors in the US. That's one of the key reasons why US scholars don't want to teach in Korea. Also, I doubt he's visiting Korea to get a job.


Most, but not all, Koreans universities are in Seoul. For example, KAIST, one of the top tech universities, is in Daejeon.


Freakonomics makes a point that people respond to incentives and does some good analysis based on this. However different people respond differently to the same incentive or their responses are similar but different in size/proportion. Applying that to larger groups of people, I believe that different cultures respond differently to the same incentives. (Just a whish I have for the next edition of Freakonomics - to have the topic of the cultural differences better covered because that part is entirely missing in the current book). You cannot study the way people respond to incentives while ignoring (not controlling for) their culture.

Eastern cultures are generally long-term-oriented. Western cultures are more short-term-oriented. So it is no wonder that a Korean professor would prefer the stable growth of staying in one place over the prospect of short-term success and the associated with that risks.



How about thinking about how people get hired in Korea? People are hired through connections, not ability. So many can't just take off.

Koreans also belive that only the dumbest Americans will teach in Korea. So what are you doing there? Looking for a wife?


Korean students would have a field day if education becomes too expensive. They would freak out if they knew how we paid.


I am currently grad student in S. korea and I agree to # 13 seoulman.