Meet the South Koreans difficult norms about household | EUROtoday

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Click right here for the primary a part of this collection on why ladies in South Korea battle to decide on between a profession and youngsters.

SEOUL — South Korea’s deep-seated view of girls’s position in society could be summed up in a single Korean phrase: jib-saram, or “home person.” It’s a phrase for “wife.”

More South Korean ladies are working than ever, however entrenched gender expectations haven’t gone away. Women nonetheless bear the brunt of family chores and youngster care, even in households the place each mother and father work, authorities statistics present. No matter their profession aspirations, they’re anticipated to be jib-saram.

Life as a working mom is commonly untenable, with a power lack of help at work and the most important gender pay hole within the developed world. Women right here earn about 69 cents for each greenback their male friends make.

It’s no surprise South Korea has the bottom fertility price on this planet — and it’s getting decrease by the 12 months.

But some Koreans are defying gendered expectations. They’re pursuing motherhood on their very own timeline, sharing family duties equally, or dwelling as singles without end in a marriage-centric society.

Meet the changemakers carving out a brand new way of life in South Korea.

At 43, Koo Eun-kyong says that by Korean requirements, she’s anticipated to be married and a mom by now.

She at all times needed each, however her skilled success was her precedence: She studied in New York, then launched her profession in Seoul growing cosmetics as a magnificence director working within the upscale Gangnam district, and as a YouTube creator.

Many South Korean ladies like Koo are delaying motherhood by alternative or by circumstance, placing skilled and monetary objectives first.

Now, Koo is among the many growing variety of single Korean ladies freezing their eggs to protect their probability at changing into a mom once they’re prepared.

“Even if I don’t use them, I know I did everything I could and don’t have any regrets,” Koo stated.

In a hypercompetitive society the place many ladies battle to renew their careers after taking a break day to have youngsters, Koo frightened a maternity break might set her again. Rising prices of schooling and housing have additionally led many middle-class Koreans to deal with getting cash and delay parenthood.

“You need money to succeed, and only when you are married and have children are you considered someone who lived life well,” Koo stated. “Because of the heightened sense of comparison fueled by social media, we can’t help but wonder, ‘Will I really be able to raise my children as well as everyone else? Maybe not; maybe we just shouldn’t have children.’”

For many of those ladies, egg freezing is changing into a pretty choice.

More than 1,100 single ladies froze their eggs in 2022 on the Cha Medical Group, South Korea’s largest fertility clinic chain, nearly double the quantity in 2019. In September 2023, Seoul began subsidizing the process, just like Tokyo and a few jurisdictions in Taiwan.

The course of requires drugs that stimulate ovaries to overproduce eggs, that are retrieved and frozen till they’re prepared for use by means of synthetic insemination. There is not any assure of being pregnant, however research present that the age of the girl when she freezes her eggs and the variety of eggs saved make a giant distinction to her probabilities of conceiving.

Koo shared her expertise of getting this process intimately with greater than 43,000 subscribers to her YouTube channel, “JulieKoo.”

Koo stated she needed to assist different single ladies navigate the method after discovering they had been typically sidelined due to authorized restrictions: South Korean legislation requires spousal consent for ladies to bear synthetic insemination, which implies ladies have to be married to have the ability to use their frozen eggs.

“There were not many resources for unmarried women who want to freeze their eggs … especially for single women like us who are working in a busy, modern society,” Koo stated.

Son Hyun’s method to fatherhood set him aside not simply at his firm, however in his nation: He was the primary at his tech firm to take paternal go away, and amongst a tiny sliver of eligible South Korean males — 5 p.c — who accomplish that.

Son, 39, and 4 different dads based the Sunday Fathers Club, a weekly publication with about 1,800 subscribers that promotes extra equitable households. They take turns writing essays printed each Sunday, documenting the ups and downs of fatherhood and parental go away.

South Korea permits mother and father to take as much as one 12 months of go away per youngster, and plans to broaden it to 18 months — making it one of the crucial beneficiant parental go away insurance policies on this planet. Yet most fathers eligible for the profit don’t use it due to the stigma round males taking break day for youngster care.

When a guardian does take go away, it’s nearly at all times the girl who does so, resulting in a dramatic drop-off of girls within the South Korean workforce.

Some South Korean {couples} are difficult structured gender roles that place the burden of kid care and house responsibilities disproportionately on ladies, which in flip fuels persistent gender disparity within the nation.

“Families can come in many different forms,” stated Bae Jeong-min, 41, one of many Sunday Fathers Club authors, who took a few 12 months of parental go away from his IT firm in 2020.

The underlying message of the Sunday Fathers Club group could seem easy — that youngster care is the duty of each mother and father — nevertheless it’s not a mainstream one.

“In the past, there was a societal emphasis on masculinity, like being macho,” Son stated. “For example: ‘Why should men do this [child care]? It’s not masculine.’ But times have changed, and it’s changing in Korea, too,” he stated, recalling recommendation he acquired from different fathers about taking over extra lively roles at house.

For Son, it was a no brainer to make use of his parental go away. His spouse had used hers after the beginning of their daughter, Seowoo, in April 2021. It was his flip after she returned to work, he stated.

On a latest weekend, Son was solo parenting whereas his spouse was away on a visit — and it didn’t really feel like a giant deal after a 12 months as the first guardian.

“There is still a long way to go, but our society is now moving in a positive direction,” he stated. “One of the reasons behind the change is the recognition that, of course, women’s careers are important … so of course we need to take turns and pass the baton.”

Shim Jae-shik and Lee Hye-ok have at all times defied what was anticipated of them as ladies. They labored when it was uncommon for ladies to take action. They drove automobiles when few ladies might get licenses. And they by no means obtained married.

At 70, they’re dwelling a life unfathomable for many Korean ladies their age, who can be caring for an ageing husband or grandchildren: They’re doing no matter they please.

The rise of singledom in South Korea — or “bihon,” that means “willingly unmarried” — is a contemporary idea popularized by a youthful technology of girls eschewing a marriage-centric society. But ladies like Shim and Lee paved the best way for such a motion a long time in the past.

“In our days, an unmarried woman was seen as a weird thing … someone to pity,” Lee stated. “The choices we made were all by necessity, but now it turns out we were ahead of the curve.”

South Korean ladies bear nearly all of house responsibilities up till they’re 84 years outdated, in line with a 2023 authorities research. On the opposite hand, males begin offloading their minimal home duties to their wives or different members of the family by the point they’re 47. That means the duty of house responsibilities, youngster care and caretaking falls closely on Korean ladies by means of their aged years.

But not for Shim, Lee and their pal Lee Kyung-ok, additionally 70. They are amongst a rising variety of South Koreans forming a brand new sort of familial construction: They are creating communities to assist one another navigate housing, retirement and health-care programs constructed round married {couples}.

It’s known as “DIY family” — a platonic, collective-living mannequin that many people who find themselves “bihon” advocate. As “bihon” people of their 30s and 40s get older, they might discover themselves following the footsteps of this trio of 70-year-olds who had been dwelling collectively earlier than it grew to become a development.

For the previous six years, the three ladies have lived in a house tucked away amongst fields of yellow melons about 40 miles southeast of Seoul. They host occasions for his or her group and handle 5 canines, three cats and 6 chickens. They begin the day along with breakfast at 8 a.m. however preserve separate day by day schedules crammed with their very own hobbies. They say the stability between independence and group is essential to a harmonious coexistence.

“We may only have a few more years to live, or we may only live until the day after tomorrow,” Shim stated. “But as long as we … don’t get in each other’s way of living a full life, we will continue living together.”

Julie Yoon and Min Joo Kim in Seoul contributed to this report. Photos by Tina Hsu.

Design and photograph illustrations by Emily Sabens. Editing by Anna Fifield, Jennifer Samuel, Reem Akkad and Joseph Moore. Copy modifying by Vanessa Larson.