Family transitions and family policy in South Korea

Authored by: Dayoung Song

Routledge Handbook of East Asian Gender Studies

Print publication date:  December  2019
Online publication date:  November  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138959897
eBook ISBN: 9781315660523
Adobe ISBN:


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Since the IMF crisis in the late 1990s, Korea has undergone an economic transformation oriented towards neoliberalism. Just as today’s labour market is distinctly different from its predecessor, there has been a significant change in the family. The family exists in heterogeneous configurations with diverse living styles, and there are differences in family values according to gender, generation and class. With the lowest birth rate and the highest divorce rate amongst OECD countries, Korea has sought to embrace a new direction in family policy since the early 2000s. This new direction aims to reduce familial responsibility and assign greater responsibility to the state. However, there is still a strong aspect of institutional familialism in Korean social policy that requires familial responsibility first, combined with the traditional framework of male-breadwinner/female-carer model. This creates greater burden on women than men and on low-income families than high-income families. Adherence to institutional familialism in family-related policies clearly leads to side effects such as the breakdown of family relations, the rejection of the family itself and the refusal to form a family. This chapter argues for the importance of implementing Korean familial policies that support all types of families and respond to changes in family structure and values.

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