Patterico's Pontifications


The Shrinking Gender Gap in South Korea

Filed under: International — DRJ @ 2:17 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

South Korea has traditionally been a male-dominated society in which the woman’s role in society is limited and there are strong family preferences for male children. However, times may be changing:

“When Park He-ran was a young mother, other women would approach her to ask what her secret was. She had given birth to three boys in a row at a time when South Korean women considered it their paramount duty to bear a son. Ms. Park, a 61-year-old newspaper executive, gets a different reaction today. “When I tell people I have three sons and no daughter, they say they are sorry for my misfortune,” she said. “Within a generation, I have turned from the luckiest woman possible to a pitiful mother.”

In South Korea, once one of Asia’s most rigidly patriarchal societies, a centuries-old preference for baby boys is fast receding. And that has led to what seems to be a decrease in the number of abortions performed after ultrasounds that reveal the sex of a fetus.

According to a study released by the World Bank in October, South Korea is the first of several Asian countries with large sex imbalances at birth to reverse the trend, moving toward greater parity between the sexes. Last year, the ratio was 107.4 boys born for every 100 girls, still above what is considered normal, but down from a peak of 116.5 boys born for every 100 girls in 1990.

The most important factor in changing attitudes toward girls was the radical shift in the country’s economy that opened the doors to women in the work force as never before and dismantled long-held traditions, which so devalued daughters that mothers would often apologize for giving birth to a girl.

The government also played a small role starting in the 1970s. After growing alarmed by the rise in sex-preference abortions, leaders mounted campaigns to change people’s attitudes, including one that featured the popular slogan “One daughter raised well is worth 10 sons!”

Males were traditionally prized because they could work the fields and help provide for aging parents. Rising economic productivity has changed this dynamic by increasing women’s roles in the workforce and making it easier for older workers to provide for their own retirement:

“In the old days, when there was no adequate social safety net, Korean parents regarded having a son as kind of making an investment for old age security,” Professor Chung said. It was common for married Korean men to feel ashamed if they had no sons. Some went so far as to divorce wives who did not bear boys.

Then in the 1970s and ’80s, the country threw itself into an industrial revolution that would remake society in ways few South Koreans could have imagined. Sons drifted away to higher-paying jobs in the cities, leaving their parents behind. And older Koreans found their own incomes rising, allowing them to save money for retirement rather than relying on their sons for support.

Married daughters, no longer shackled to their husbands’ families, returned to provide emotional or financial support for their own elderly parents. “Daughters are much better at emotional contact with their parents, visiting them more often, while Korean sons tend to be distant,” said Kim Seung-kwon, a demographer at the government’s Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs.

Ms. Park, the newspaper executive, said such changes forced people to rethink their old biases. “In restaurants and parks, when you see a large family out for a dinner or picnic, 9 out of 10, it’s the wife who brings the family together with her parents, not the husband with his parents,” she said. “To be practical, for an old Korean parent, having a daughter sometimes is much better than having a son.”

The economic changes also unleashed a revolution of a different sort. With the economy heating up, men could no longer afford to keep women out of the workforce, and women began slowly to gain confidence, and grudging respect.”

Today, South Korean women are more accepted in the workforce and more likely to go to college: “Six of 10 South Korean women entered college last year; fewer than one out of 10 did so in 1981.” China and India are studying South Korea’s success:

” Demographers say the rapid change in South Koreans’ feelings about female babies gives them hope that sex imbalances will begin to shrink in other rapidly developing Asian countries — notably China and India — where the same combination of a preference for boys and new technology has led to the widespread practice of aborting female fetuses.

“China and India are closely studying South Korea as a trendsetter in Asia,” said Chung Woo-jin, a professor at Yonsei University in Seoul. “They are curious whether the same social and economic changes can occur in their countries as fast as they did in South Korea’s relatively small and densely populated society.”

The end result seems to be a more secular, gender-neutral society that is abandoning traditional male-dominated Confucian principles. According to this article, the changes were due in large part to economic prosperity that accompanied South Korean democracy. It’s difficult to handle profound changes like this in just a few generations. That may explain some of the love-hate relationship that many countries of the world have with the US.


31 Responses to “The Shrinking Gender Gap in South Korea”

  1. i’m glad they’re not doing china-style female infanticide. the modern korean woman tells her husband “this time, cook your own dog.”

    assistant devil's advocate (ea9f0f)

  2. Korea also happens to be the only North Asian country with a significant (in percentage terms) Christian population.

    But that’s only a coincidence and could not possibly have had any influence whatsoever.

    T (373dee)

  3. With these changes toward a gender neutral society, its still interesting to note an intrinsic lack of regard and value for human life in and of itself. Its easily disposed of and easily devalued (because of gender or excessive numbers or economics, etc) through abortion.

    Still a callous society no matter how many women are now going to college or how many men grudgingly respect women’s place in the workforce.

    While some things on the surface may have changed their value system has remained as inhumane as always.

    Dana (44f154)

  4. devil’s advocate, “this time, cook your own dog.”
    you are a fucking retard

    same goes for you dana. “their value system has remained as inhumane as always.” support that statement.

    yas875ex (472a84)

  5. “same goes for you dana. ”

    yas875ex, if you are including me in your accusation toward ada (and if so, what a presposterous inclusion), let me know when and if you are able to be polite and speak as one adult to another and I will explain my statement. Until then, we have nothing to discuss.

    Dana (44f154)

  6. Snarky bit of stereotypical racism from ada. Not surprised.

    Old Coot (2f9910)

  7. Koreans eat about 3 million dogs a year

    Is it racist to make a joke about true culinary habits of different cultures?

    TomHynes (6c3e12)

  8. I served a couple of tours in Korea (for a total of three years) in the late 80’s/early 90’s, including the ’88 Olympics. At that time S. Korea was RAPIDLY modernizing, trying to become a modern nation but remaining Asian, much like their neighbor, Japan. (I will not even begin to go into the relationship between these two countries, suffice to say the Koreans & Japanese do not exactly love each other).
    I doesn’t surprise me that the status of women in Korea is rapidly improving, as they (the women there) tend to be very assertive. I can say this, as my wife is Korean, and believe me, she is no shrinking violet, and is typical of the women I met over there.
    Dana, why do you think that Korean culture/society is “inhumane”? That is a pretty rough statement. Please support it.
    During my time there, restaurants that served “doggie dishes” were going underground, at least to western eyes. The signs were only in Korean, and even then they were in code, advertising “summer stew” or some other euphemism. These restaurants will not serve a Westerner unless accompanied by a Korean who the owner knows. As younger Koreans do not view dogs as a consumable item, I believe that these dishes will slowly die out.
    Interestingly, one of the most treasured animals in Korea is the native breed of dog, the Jindo gae. The breed is considered a national cultural treasure. Primarily a hunter, they are fearless when defending their master. For all the dog fanciers out there, research the breed.

    Mr Chips (e51183)

  9. #3
    Dana, roughtly a million abortions a year occur in the US. Doesn’t this make us an inhumane society as well?

    voice of reason (b85a22)

  10. thank you tomhynes, one good link deserves another. cats are sometimes boiled (alive) and made into a tonic as a folk remedy for arthritis and neuralgia in korea.

    any of you remember a kentucky derby-winning racehorse named ferdinand? ferdinand ended up in japan, and when he could no longer perform in the stud barn, it turned out he had one star turn left in him. any of you remember what it was?

    assistant devil's advocate (521883)

  11. Seeing that China is studying South Korea’s trendsetting, I hope this’ll get China to cease with their one-child law, and lead to the end of communism in China too. After all, they’ve suffered even worse a case of gender imbalance and it’s time to start changing that already.

    Avi Green (e638a5)

  12. Sorta just goes to prove if you can be misunderstood you will be misunderstood.

    I thought ADA’s comments were funny as hell! I even think I knew exactly what was being transfered as well. I could be wrong.

    Others have sorta leaned in the direction that no matter how far Koreans have come they are STILL, Not a Civilized country/people. My BIL who served there during the nam era says the same thing, he was there for 2 yrs or such. Not the most unworthy source.

    The last I can assert to. Hosting them within my hotel, I can attest they are not welcome back! EVER!

    I wish them well, and look forward to their continued evolvement into a functional part of the human race.

    Maybe more women will help! 🙂

    TC (1cf350)

  13. Don’t believe everything that read in the New York Times.

    I having been living and working in the Republic of Korea for nearly 10 years and know a few more facts.

    The society is changing, but not always for the better.

    First sons do not move in and support their parents.

    Many wives refuse to have more than one child.

    Sonograms are not allowed to determine the sex of the fetus. Prospective parents are not permitted to be told the sex of the fetus.

    South Korean women are more accepted in some segments of the workforce, but it is men only for many jobs and companies.

    slp (1565be)

  14. ADA is a jerk as usual.

    I have a different perspective on this subject as I have an adopted Korean daugher.

    Sung Mee, (her Birth name) had some statements about not continuing the go to college and have a daughter out of wedlock that seems to be the pattern of her biological family.

    For decades, South Korea readily put up their daughters for adoption out of country. I do know male Korean adoptees.

    Korea has a number of problems to seriously address.

    Oh, just because you meet a person with a Korean face, do not assume they speak Korean. You actually hurt the feelings of the non-Korean speakers.

    PCD (09d6a8)

  15. Korea is an uncivilized society? Drop a cell phone in Seoul and 29 out of 30 times, it will be returned to you.

    It’s sexist and chauvinist? South Korean men work 12-13 hours a day to support their parents, wives and children. Sure, paternalistic, but I’d rather be a woman if the alternative was working 60-80 hours a week.

    South Korean men turned South Korea from a third world shithole into a developed country in a few decades. This is without a black/mexican underclass or the land of dead natives to milk for natural resources.

    It has nothing to do with Christianity, which is a joke. 8-10% of white Christians sexually abused their children in 2006, is that moral? 3-5% have sex with animals, is this moral? Christians always make up a larger percentage of the prison population as well. And no doubt the egotistical liars; they also have lower IQs.

    Lastly, 3 million dogs for 49 million people is not statistically significant. Maybe 1% of the population eats 3 dogs a year, big deal. Dana probably fucks 5 for every one a Korean eats, lol.

    Racial blood libel from knuckle dragging Cro-Magnons.

    ferin (d5051f)

  16. Another thing to note is that disease accounted for a large part of the disparity.

    Then again when you’re making 50 cents a day on a farm having a son is probably necessary.

    ferin (d5051f)

  17. Ferin, your negative remarks were uncalled for.

    You made some very good points, but those points will be lost in the anger you engendered with YOUR racial insults.

    PCD (09d6a8)

  18. Old, English saying:

    Your son’s your son ‘till he takes a wife, your daughter’s your daughter all her life.

    It look’s like it is taking hold in Korea.

    Tom (505af9)

  19. It appears that we are still suffering the effects of the “Chinese Exclusion Laws”.

    If you can’t discuss political/economic theory and politics without resorting to disgusting rhetoric and slurs, one should stay silent.

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  20. good advice!

    ferin (d5051f)

  21. ada is a jerk as usual. [cut to scene with poster’s adoptive korean daughter]

    sung mee…had some statements about not continuing to go to college and have a daughter out of wedlock…

    this intriguing statement seems anticipatory in tone, as if sung mee hasn’t actually dropped out and gotten knocked up yet, but also seems curiously conclusive about the proposed infant’s gender. what’s the story morning glory?

    maybe 1% of the population eats three dogs a year, big deal…

    i dunno man, are we talking yorkshire terriers or great danes here?

    assistant devil's advocate (99e821)

  22. ADA, What you DON’T know fills volumes. Don’t try filling in what I didn’t say because you are off base and lost to start with.

    PCD (09d6a8)

  23. i only resorted to filling in what you didn’t say because what you did say was said so poorly. did sung mee drop out and get herself pregnant or what? it’s nothing to be ashamed of (as opposed to your writing). does she know you’re using her as a foil on the blogosphere? have you considered celebrating your family’s diversity while strengthening the bond of father and daughter by tucking into a perfectly roasted young dachshund with a generous side of kim chee?

    assistant devil's advocate (a70b2f)

  24. Ferin,


    DRJ (09f144)

  25. “i dunno man, are we talking yorkshire terriers or great danes here?”

    they’re about the size of small pigs from what i’ve seen in videos, though if you’re thinking of getting some today for your mother she prefers larger dogs for anal sex.

    have a happy celebration of your false god’s birthday, by the way. and i can’t believe anyone actually thought mary was a virgin.

    ferin (d5051f)

  26. Ferin needs to be tied-down, in a seated, spread-eagled position, with a slow fire lit between his legs and a dog’s tail stuffed in his mouth so his screams won’t annoy us too much. (And although “Ulzana’s Raid” is one of my favorite movies, I had not appreciated that it was one of Robert Aldritch’s.)

    nk (c87736)

  27. what’s this, are the jesus loving cro-magnons getting upset? don’t like the taste of your own medicine?

    ferin (d5051f)

  28. drj, i appreciate the sentiment behind your #24, however, i didn’t start this. the one guy called me a jerk while simultaneously bringing his own adoptive college dropout/unwed babymaker into the mix (and by her name, which if it is real, is forever googleable). i respectfully submit that this is poor internet flame strategy, and since i’m not christlike, let alone a christian, i get to turn the other tweak. i’d like to hear from sung mee herself on these issues, heck, maybe i can find her myspace page and post a link to this commentspace there.

    ferin has pretty much defined himself, he has a bestiality thing going on and now he’s antagonized the resident christians; this should be fun to watch, at least until patterico bans him.

    assistant devil's advocate (9ee441)

  29. it will be fun indeed.

    luckily im in a different country on vacation with a wifi connection posting from a laptop, so ill be back later!

    ferin (d5051f)

  30. I suspect ferin has left his dirt here before but he was calling himself pedobear then.

    nk (c87736)

  31. ADA, you are a clueless jerk. You must be so lonesome to desire so much negative attention. I can choose to say as much or as little about my daughter. I wish I really knew who you were. I’d give “Sung Mee” your picture and tell her never to fix a vehicle of yours.

    Ferin, Are you just like this in real life, or just a keyboard commando who is a mench in real life?

    PCD (09d6a8)

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