South Koreans earn, on average, $33,140 per year (PPP), making them almost as rich as Britons. However, Koreans also work 30% more hours than Britons, making their per-hour wage considerably less than a British wage. In fact, the Korean wage of $15 per hour (PPP) is comparable to that of a Czech or Slovakian.
Here is a map of the working hours of mostly OECD countries.
As you can see, people in developing countries have to work longer hours. The exception is South Korea, which works pretty hard for a rich country – harder than Brazil and Poland do. If you divide per-capita income by working hours, you get a person’s hourly wage:
The top 10 earners by wage are mostly northern Europeans – Norway, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Netherlands – and small financial centres Singapore and Luxembourg. As the first to industrialize, Europeans found they were able to mechanize ploughing, assembling and number-crunching – boosting incomes, while simultaneously decreasing working hours.
The bottom earners are developing countries – such as Mexico, Brazil and Poland. Again, Korea stands out as a rich country with low wages. This could be because Korea exported their way into prosperity by winning over Western consumers from the likes of General Motors and General Electric. They did this by combining industrialization with low wages, which are therefore responsible for the ascent of their economies.
Data from World Bank, OECD, and BBC. Maps created on R.