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Perspectives on Contemporary Korea 2016 | Korean Families in Economic and Demographic Transitions: Parenting, Children's Education, and Social Mobility

November 11-12, 2016 | University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Perspectives on Contemporary Korea Conference VI


Hyunjoon Park (Department of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania)
Nojin Kwak (Nam Center/Department of Communication Studies, University of Michigan)

Sponsors: Nam Center for Korean Studies, University of Michigan

South Korean families with children have changed significantly during the last few decades in composition, structure, and function. Major demographic changes, including the rise of divorce, and increase of marriage between Koreans and foreigners, have diversified Korean families. Moreover, the recent trends of rising economic inequality and deteriorating job security have posed serious challenges to many families, particularly at the lower end of socioeconomic hierarchy. How do Korean parents and children cope with the economic and demographic challenges? How do the economic and demographic trends in Korea contribute to widening disparities in family environments? When families struggle with economic strain and family instability, how do extended family networks work to provide economic, social, and emotional support to vulnerable family members? These questions of how families fare at the crossroads of economic and demographic changes, and whether families can rely on family ties in navigating the crossroads, are particularly important in Korea that has traditionally weak public welfare.  

However, families are not only responding to economic inequality but they also contribute to economic inequality. For instance, the trend of rising educational homogamy can mean that families are increasingly bifurcated between families in which both spouses have a college degree and their counterparts in which both spouses have no college education. As women’s economic participation has increased, growing educational homogamy can contribute to the increasing gap in economic resources between families at the top and bottom of economic hierarchy.  Similarly, scholars and policy makers have assessed the extent to which changing family structure accounts for changing economic inequality among families.

This conference, Korean Families in Economic and Demographic Transitions, the sixth in Perspectives on Contemporary Korea series, aims to bring scholars together to discuss how recent economic and demographic changes have affected parents and children in Korea, and at the same time how changing family structure and arrangements have also contributed to recent economic and social inequality. In particular, the conference invites scholars with both quantitative and qualitative approaches to Korean families. On the one hand, quantitative studies can offer trends and patterns of changing Korean families. On the other hand, qualitative research can explore subjective meanings, perceptions, and experiences of inequality and family changes beneath macro trends and patterns. In collaboration, these approaches offer the opportunity for better understanding of changing Korean families and surrounding inequalities.

The following are some possible topics that can be include in the conference, but any papers that fit the theme are welcome.  

  • How do recent increasing job insecurity and rising economic inequality affect Korean children’s education and well-being, particularly by influencing parents’ investment and involvement in children’s education and other activities?
  • How has Korean parents’ and children’s time use changed?
  • What are the most serious issues Korean families with children deal with? How do those issues differ for affluent and poor families?
  • How have the notion and meaning of motherhood and fatherhood changed in the context of changing economy and demography?
  • Is there an emerging pattern of the parent-child relationship that is distinctive from the parent-child relationship in the past?
  • How do grandparents and other relatives matter for Korean parents and children who face particularly serious challenges at the crossroads?
  • What are the implications of recent trends in family behaviors and structure for economic and social inequality at the next generation?
  • How are contemporary Korean families and inequality portrayed in the media and films?

Korean Families is the sixth annual conference on contemporary Korea sponsored by the Nam Center for Korean Studies at the University of Michigan. Previous conferences in the series have examined the phenomenon of Hallyu in the age of social media, transgressive practices in Korean society, the politics of sports, cultural products of the Yushin era, and new communication technologies in present-day Korea.