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20 Years of the Korean Family With the Chosun Ilbo

2007/03/05 Source

How has the Korean family changed in the last 20 of the Chosun Ilbo's 87 years in existence? This newspaper began in an era of concubines and early marriage in the 1920s, and continued through times when people had many children after liberation in 1945 to the 1950s, to birth control in the 1960s and 1970s and the one-child era we live in now. What that has meant socially over the last two decades can be gleaned from the pages of the Chosun Ilbo.

1. A birth control poster that says 'Two is too many'. 2. A neonatal unit in a hospital is barely occupied in 2003. 3. Actor Hong Seok-chun, the first Korean actor to admit he is gay. 4. Five generations of grandmother Yoo Ju-seon's family gathered together in 2006.

◆ The 1980s: The one-child movement

Social planners became obsessed with overpopulation in the 1980s. An article titled "One-Child Policy Must Be Expedited" (June 29, 1983) reported on a symposium sponsored by the Korea Family Association, "Our population will surpass 40 million at the end of July 1983, ushering in a population crisis for the 2020s and 2030s", experts warned. The assertion had it that unless alternative energies are developed, the country is hurtling toward a massive population crisis. The birthrate already dropped to 2.08 in 1983, just below the 2.1 needed to replace population, but the notion that "two is too many" -- the 80s' family planning slogan -- was deeply embedded.

◆ The 1990s: Changes in the status of women and the elderly

If quantity was the concern of the 80s, qualitative changes dominated the 90s. With the arrival of an era of working couples, the way parents raised their children began to change. A series titled "Sorry, Kids" caused a sensation in April 1993. It reported stories of couples who, due to an extreme shortage in day-care centers, had to drop their kids at their parents' or friends' homes. It was a campaign to establish day nurseries for such working couples.

The lives of the elderly also began to change. A story in the April 16, 1992 edition said elderly citizens in their 60s and 70s were looking for pen pals to stave off loneliness. It was in the 90s that the term "twilight divorce" emerged first. In the March 11, 1995 edition was the story of an 80-year-old lady who divorced a year away from her 60th wedding anniversary. Claiming she had been mistreated by her husband throughout their marriage, she was awarded W45 million (US$1=W943) in compensation. Statistics showed that twilight divorces after 20 years or more accounted for 10 percent of total divorces in 1996.

◆ The 2000s: Changes in family perceptions and low birthrate

In the Sept. 27, 2000 edition, we reported that TV actor Hong Suk-chun quit acting upon becoming the first public figure in the country to openly admit his homosexuality. Weeping, he apologized to his parents and fans for the "shock" they sustained. But unconventional relationships and lifestyles have since become accepted by the mainstream to the extent that the transgender singer Harisu has announced her high-profile wedding, and a dance troupe of transsexuals was set up.

Divorces and re-marriages increased drastically in the 2000s. A series titled "120,000 Couples Divorce a Year " began to appear on July 4, 2001. The statistics were shocking: one on every three married couples now divorce. The expression "single parent" began to replace "widowed" mother or father on Nov. 20, 2001, an indication that families with only one parent were no longer seen as abnormal. The June 17, 2005 edition carried a feature article titled "The Power of 6 Million Singles". Its lead -- "It's rude to ask a person you meet for the first if he or she is married or if his or her spouse is well" -- summed up signs of the times.

An article in the Oct. 17, 2001 edition portrayed closer relationships between mothers-in-law and sons-in-law or daughters-in-law as a consequence of the mushrooming of working couples. Changes in economic activities resulted in new family relationships. A series of articles about the low birthrate including "Statistical Shock of Low Birthrate" (Oct. 1, 2000) are yardsticks judging the future of Korea. Starting with birth control in the 60s under the 1961 slogan "Bearing Children at Random Makes It Hard to Escape Poverty", the country passed through the two-child period of the 70s and the "two is too many" era in the 80s to a time when children again pleaded, as in our headline, "Mom, I want a younger brother or sister" (in 2004). In May 2006, we reported that "females outnumber males for the first time since the liberation", and with that the traditional preference for male children was yesterday's news.

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