Korean Culture Term Paper

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Korean Culture


The purpose of this study is to examine the extent to which females roles are influenced by their cultural background. Particularly this study will focus on close examination of how Korean and Japanese cultural influences affect a women's career aspirations and expectation for success in society. The study will be broken down into two sections; the first portion will consist of primarily an observational review of the Literature available regarding female roles in Japan and Korea. An analysis of the two cultures will be executed. The second half of the study will entail a field study of American students with Korean and Japanese cultural backgrounds, in an attempt to ascertain to what extent female student roles are influenced by the models of their parents, the majority of whom were raised in Japan or Korea. First generation students/families will be examined only, to assess the most accurate information.

This study will be conducted as a qualitative/observational study. The aim of the study is to compare the differing roles of women in Japan and in Korea, in an attempt to ascertain to what extent women are brought up differently, if at all. The hypothesis to be examined in the first portion of the study is as follows:

Hypothesis 1: Women take on traditional roles such as that of wife and mother in both Japan and Korea, despite trends in the west toward gender equality.

The research question to be examined was whether or not educational and peer influences affect a women's role and aspirations to break out of that role in both Korea and Japan. The hypothesis is supported by the assumption that women growing up in Japan and Korea are subjected to a predominately patriarchal system, whereby female roles have traditionally been subordinated to those of men.

For purposes of this study, women's roles were examined via Literature Review from studies conducted of college women in Korea and Japan, and of studies conducted related to career opportunities among women.


In a study conducted by Song (2001) women's career aspirations were examined among 482 Korean college women in South Korea. The study showed that a formal education perpetuating gender inequality exists among many of the students, thus many students based on educational experience only would not be able to envision themselves in a career. Rather the inter-relationships and external factors such as peer influences and internal factors such as maternal influences and the mother-daughter relationship were examined to uncover to what extent a woman's self-perception and career orientation were influenced. The study acknowledged that a woman's choice of roles and career aspirations were tied to developmental history and the pressures of the social climate (Song, 2001:1).

In this particular study, women's roles varied greatly. Sholomskas and Axelrod (1986) point out that while some women in Korean culture seek to develop careers others limit their working world to their families, while still others choose to work but not in a career capacity (p.171). The Korean culture traditionally has maintained that women's roles are subordinate to that of men; this despite the fact that women have contributed greatly to the economic growth in Korea (Park, 1993). Women's participation in the labor force was just under 50% in the mid nineties, though a majority of women were concentrated in low end positions rather than career positions. Generally studies have supported the idea that Korean women's "inability to envision themselves in a career" can be attributed to several stereotypes and barriers including discrimination by employers and a patriarchal ideology. Also within Korea the educational system has been described as perpetuating gender inequalities. Inequalities within the educational system in Korea seem to be exacerbated rather than equalized (Acker, 1984a, Song, 2001). Stromquist (1988) argued that the government in Korea perpetuates the subordinate role of women by deploying patriarchal ideologies that keep women contained regarding education and career options. Women generally are still considered an optimal choice for domestic labor within Korea.

Song's study (2001) acknowledged that schools in Korea typically still promote gender inequality as an integral part of education. Women also are influenced by the actions of their peers and mothers, who are also subjected to a patriarchal system where a woman's role is traditionally defined and limited to less superior roles. Interestingly Song (2001) suggest that the relationship that mothers play in the lives of their daughter can inspire female children to pursue a career.

Research conducted in both Korea and the United States supports the idea that female Korean students typically 'envisage traditional roles with the influence of their peers' (Song, 2001:1, Cho, 1995) suggesting that schools still to a certain extent socialize students with a gender oriented frame of reference regarding their future (Song, 2001).

In a study conducted by Hee and Soh (1993) the concept of gender relations among Korean women was explored with reference to Korean society and Korean culture as a whole being reflective of the 'patriarchal democracy' that reigns in S. Korea, rather than the Western democratic ideal of sexual equality. The study suggests that many females are subjected to the Confucian ideal of yin/yang complementarily still, where a state of ordered inequality should exist, such that male superiority acts to subordinate women's roles.

Despite the majority of research indicating gender equality, research also supports the notion that women are gaining in Korea. More and more women despite cultural norms are beginning to pursue advanced educations and more aspiring careers. More women are entering the labor force. Whereas nearly 99% of women in times past filled traditional roles, in 1998 a survey suggested that 12% of the female population was now working in professional or managerial positions (Asia Org, 2003). There is still a long way for women to go to realize true equality and roles similar to those of men, however progress is being made.

According to some observations, the role of women in Japan is similar, though slowly changing. According to Tomoko Inukai, a Japanese writer, unless "Japan's male-dominated society alters its treatment of women, marriage and family, it is headed for social calamity" (Wetzstein, 1999:1). A recent report published by Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi on gender equity showed that Japanese men basically have a monopoly in management jobs. They also earn most of the money and participate very little in housework and traditionally 'female' roles. Japanese women while they are young are generally well educated, however once they enter the workforce they are traditionally hired into low paying and low level jobs and are pressured and even expected to quit and stay home after marriage, fulfilling the traditional role of wife and mother (Wetzstein, 1999). A recent study showed that for every 100 hours a women spent in the home cleaning, her Japanese husband spent only 4.1 hours; an additional study reported that 11% of Japanese children reported little to no contact with their fathers, further supporting the notion of the role of woman as housewife and mother in Japanese society (Wetzstein, 1999).

ANALYSIS thorough review of literature suggests that women's roles in Japan and in Korea do not vary much. Women in Korea and in Japan both face a patriarchal system where men and their roles are considered superior to that of women. The studies conducted of collegiate aged women in Korea seem to indicate that women are influenced by a variety of other factors outside of the governing authority however, including peer influences and maternal influences. The study suggests that Korean women are strongly influenced by their mothers, and even if their mother's roles are traditional in nature, women are afforded the opportunity to branch out and explore career paths. Despite some limited progress, the data collected seem to support the idea that gender inequality exists throughout the educational system in Korea, encouraging women to take on more traditional roles. Of the women that do embark on 'careers' a majority are limited to low paying and low advancing roles not often associated with career success.

The situation in Japan appears to be quite similar, perhaps even more limiting than that in Korea. Japanese women are certainly subjugated under a patriarchal democracy. A majority of women living in Japan still are fulfilling the traditional role of wife and mother. While they are encouraged to achieve and acquire an exceptional education, once they enter the workforce they are generally limited to non-career positions, and often encouraged or goaded into quitting once they are married. Women are responsible for almost 100% of the child rearing and housekeeping functions in a majority of Japanese society.



The purpose of this portion is to conduct a field review, to assess the extent to which these traditional female roles carry over to first and next generation students in college within a Westernized culture, where societal norms do not dictate traditional roles with as much emphasis for women.


Women's traditional roles in Japan and Korea…

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