Changes in Korean Family Structure and the Conflicts of Ideology and Practice in Early Socialization
Changes in Korean Family Structure and
the Conflicts of Ideology and Practice
in Early Socialization
With rapid industrialization and urbanization, the Korean family has
undergone tremendous change in both structure and function. Family
size is continuously decreasing, and the number of extended families
is decreasing, too. One-generation and two-generation families have
increased, and the increase in one-person households is remarkable.
Divorce has increased explosively, and more than half of married
women join the labor force.
Family values and ideologies have not changed enough to meet
with the changes in family structure. Modern values of an industrial
society such as independence, freedom, and achievement have been
gaining more and more importance in people’s lives, especially in the
formal sectors such as schools, the workplace, and other formal organizations.
Where the family is concerned, however, traditional values
such as parental authority, children’s filial piety, and gender-role differentiation
are still widely emphasized, and the virtues of the tradi-
tional family are highly praised.
Dominant values in today’s Korea still favor family care of infants
and young children. However, during the last decade, Korea built an
extensive day-care system in order to allow mothers to take employment
outside the home. Under the surface of the monolithic image of
Korean child rearing, which assumes the presence of a family and a
“professional housewife,” in reality, there is a significant cleavage in
the environments of early socialization between children reared at
home and those in full-day child-care centers. Since the dominant discourses
still emphasize the “modal” practice of child rearing and the
role of the “proper” mother, the children in the centers and their
working mothers are often considered either to be exceptions or an
insignificant few who form a sort of cultural minority.
Cleavages in the paths of early socialization often overlap with
the divisions among social classes and differences in the conceptions
of “proper” gender roles. Full-day child-care centers supposedly are
for the children of working mothers who are either forced or willing
to take outside occupations despite the dominant social norms. In
this regard, the rapid expansion of the day-care system is not only a
reflection of large scale economic changes but also a potential challenge
to the official model for how Koreans are supposed to live.
Traditional Ideologies and Current Problems
Changes in Family Structure
Over the last few centuries industrialization and urbanization have
brought about changes in family structure all over the world. All
these changes have occurred in modern Korea very drastically within
the range of just a few decades. Table 1 shows these changes in some
basic social indicators.
The changes in family structure have occurred in accordance with
the socioeconomic conditions. Table 2 presents the changes in household
Table 2. Changes in Household Types
One-generation 5.4 14.2
Two-generation 64.0 60.8
Three- and more generation 28.5 8.4
One-person 2.3 (1966) 15.5
Not blood related 2.1 1.1
Source: KNSO (2000b)
As shown in Table 2, within a period of 40 years, extended families
of three or more generations have decreased to less than one third,
and one-generation families have almost tripled. The increase in oneperson
households is even more remarkable. As the divorce rate has
gone up from 2.5% in 1960 to 25% in 2000, single-parent families
have also increased sharply.
These statistics show the drastic changes in the Korean family
structure over the last 40 years, and the trend will continue in the
future for some time with the ongoing changes in the Korean society
toward higher economic development, democratization, individualism,
and longer life expectancy.
Table 1. Korean Social Indicators
Per capita GNP ($) 79.6 9,628
Urbanization (%) 28.6 86.2
Life expectancy 52.6 74.9
Source: KNSO (2000a)
Ideological Conflicts: “Normal” and “Abnormal” Family
There is a cultural lag between practice and ideology. This situation
produces psychological dissonance and creates adjustment problems
of various kinds. The dissonance between the dominant traditional
family values and widespread family practices can make people think
that they are “abnormal” or even “immoral.” Ironically, the majority
of family practices can be categorized as “abnormal” (Chung Byung-
The dissonance between the older and younger generations within
a family is very serious, too. They have different ideas about
whom to live with, what role to play, and how to interact and communicate.
It is a source of heavy stress for both parties. The dissonance
also exists within a single individual. Many people experience
the conflict between their psychological need for freedom, independence,
and equality, and the internalized cultural norms within oneself.
This dissonance or inconsistency can lead to mental health problems,
interpersonal conflict, and moral dilemmas (Chung Jean-Kyung
These problems occur in any society to some extent, but they are
more acute in Korea because of the rapidity of its industrialization.
Korea’s tremendous economic development over the last three
decades has attracted a lot of attention from all over the world. But
economic blessings are not without a price. The changes in family
structure occurred drastically without allowing enough time for adaptation
Traditional Korean family values are undergoing a change, but not
fast enough to meet the changing family structure. In May of every
year, which is designated the “family month,” the mass media
laments the deterioration of the traditional family values, gives out
prizes to those who kept the good tradition of filial piety (hyo), and
prompts people to revive the good virtues. Clearly, one of the reasons
Changes in Korean Family Structure and the Conflicts of Ideology and . . . 127
for the gap between family ideology and practice is that the high
speed of changes in family structure did not allow people the time
they needed to adjust their thinking. There are other reasons, however,
that are more specific to Korean culture itself.
Korea has been described as one of the most collectivist cultures
(Bond 1988; Han and Ahn 1994; Hofstede 1980). People in collectivist
cultures live in strong and cohesive in-groups and value ingroup
solidarity, harmony, and duty. In-group norms are strictly followed,
a practice which makes the members reluctant to stand out.
Therefore, even when the pattern of family life has changed for
many, they do not want to speak out for the new values in the face
of the dominant majority. In a way, it is analogous to the concept of
pluralistic ignorance, in that even though the new values are held
privately by a lot of people, they tend not to surface and make
changes in the cultural discourse unless the people realize that there
are many others who feel like themselves.
Another reason for the persistence of traditional family values
can be found in Korea’s modern history. Since the nineteenth century,
Korean society has experienced a dissolving of the traditional
social stratification system, peasant uprisings, and a number of wars.
With the Japanese occupation, many were deprived of their land,
forced to leave the community, or drafted to the army and forced
labor. During this period of turmoil, the people had to survive social
insecurity, economic poverty, and cultural confusion, and the family
was often the only resource and protection they had.
Losing the protection of the government altogether, “family-centered
survival” (Jo Hye-jeong 1988) became the life goal of most people.
The external threats to the family elicited a strong reactive
response. It enhanced the cohesiveness of the family as a unit,
strengthened its ability to survive in the face of hardship, and consequently
reinforced the sentiment of “familism” with all the traditional
family values that go with it.
1) Obsessions of “Blood” and Extreme Infant Sex-ratio
The most striking example is the phenomenon called “boy preference.”
The sex-ratio of boys to girls at birth was 115.2:100 in Korea
in 1994, the highest in the world (Newsweek 1995). The traditional
value of continuing the patrilinear descendence with at least one son
and the contemporary practice of having a small number of children
found a solution in selective abortion, using the modern medical
technology such as ultra-sonograms. The law prohibits selective
abortion (in 1999, the sex-ratio lowered to 109.6:100), but the ratio
tells how widely it has been practiced. For the fourth child, the ratio
of girls to boys is less than 50 percent.
A married woman is likely to be under some pressure from her
husband and in-laws, either openly or covertly, to give birth to a son.
The pressure from the husband’s family, however, is not the only
factor. Often, it is the wish of the woman herself. This is where the
problem gets more complicated. Women these days cannot and do
not expect their sons to behave like the sons in the traditional family,
obeying parents, living with them, and supporting them in their old
age. They have observed that the number of elderly who live with
and are supported by the oldest son, or any son, has decreased. Boy
or girl, children these days have become an economic burden on the
family rather than an economic asset or an insurance against old age.
Furthermore, in modern nuclear families, the love and intimacy
between husband and wife is not structurally interfered with.
In this respect, the boy preference in contemporary Korea does
not have the instrumental or sentimental basis it had in the past. The
only meaningful aspect of the boy preference that is still effective is
the symbolic power and status that bearing a son gives a woman in
the husband’s family. The factors that comprise boy preference and
influence a woman’s decision to have a selective abortion need further
The immorality of the selective abortion is mitigated and rationalized
with the excuse that it is done “for the family,” giving a good
example of how the “familism” sometimes comes before morality. But,
for many women who go through selective abortions, the psychologi
cal hurt remains. Even when it is their own decision, the guilt and pain
from “killing a baby girl, a daughter that might have been,” troubles
them for a long time. It goes against their basic moral values, and
creates a dissonance that does not go away easily (Chung Jean-Kyung 1996)
2) Private Competition and Erosion of Early Childhood
Under circumstances in which the family unit becomes smaller and
the value of domestic labor drops, the social realization of self for the
married women becomes even more imperative, not only as a personal
goal but also as a social necessity. However, patriarchical family
ideology blocks any paths open to married women for self-realization
in the social or official spheres.1 Frustrated married women are
often susceptible to many pathological problems, and they, as an
oppressed cultural minority, may cause numerous social problems,
especially in relation to education and childcare.
Children’s education becomes one important arena where women
compete with a concentration of their personal ability and social
resources. Being restricted from many socially meaningful activities,
mothers seldom find ways to fulfill their social self other than realizing
it indirectly through their children. On the other hand, it is considered
to be one of the most acceptable and surest investments, one
that is closely related to traditional strategies for establishing one’s
place within the existing social stratification. As such, it is a serious
social power game, with the future at stake, in which mothers
become major players.
In view of a familism based exclusively on blood ties, children
cannot be separated from the family, and thus, they are expected to
function as a means of reproduction of family, status, and property.
As the number of children in the nuclear family decreases, the traditional
expectation becomes an intolerable pressure on the children. It
often leads to collective child abuse, as a kind of new cultural practice,
to which the contemporary Korean society at large has yet to be
Compared to the past, today’s younger children in Korea are
blessed with material abundance. However, they are deprived of
spontaneous social relationships and cultural experiences. They are
typically confined to the apartment of the nuclear family, especially
with their mothers who are usually isolated from relatives, neighbors,
and larger communities in their daily interactions. Limited spaces in
institutional group settings for education and care do provide experiences
to interact with others. However, these invaluable opportunities
are often eroded by collective class-room activities which promote
competitive early learning and talent training.
Due to their parents’ ambition and strong desire to see their children
achieve much at an early age, many young children find themselves
spending long, passive hours every day in talent-training classes.
Field (1992) describes a similar phenomenon caused by parental
obsession in Japan, and argues that it is an example of forced “labor”
upon children. For the children, it results in the “erosion of childhood”
(Suransky 1982), taking away the experiences and happiness
they deserve during their childhood.
3) Working Mothers and the Need for Socialized Childcare
Unlike our image of Korean mothers as “professional housewives”
who rear their children and stay at home, a significant number of
mothers are fully incorporated into paid work outside the home, and
a large percentage of children are reared in institutional settings. In
the year 2000, 77.9% of married women worked, while 27.3% of
mothers with 0-5 year-old children (33.9% with 3-5 year-olds; 20.5%
with 0-2 year-olds) had jobs, numbers that run counter to the dominant
values which still insist that the mother should care for infants
and younger children in the home. Further, three out of four full-time
housewives, ages between 25-29 years old, want to have jobs outside
the home, if they can find a proper arrangement for the care of their
children (Hankyoreh 21 2001). In other words, today’s Korean mothers
favor more socialized childcare than family care. The problem is
that the society is not able to recognize nor to respond to their
demands properly yet.
Figure 1 shows the dynamic changes of the women’s participation
in the labor force during the years from 1960 to 1995. The participation
rate has more than doubled since the 1960s. The rapid expansion
of the Korean economy and the ever increasing demands for
labor have been considered as the main causes of this radical change.
But, it also needs to be examined from the supply side, from the
changes in women’s lives. Marital status, child birth, and education
are the major factors that affect the women’s participation to the
labor market. All of these areas have changed drastically.
First of all, the total birth rate dropped from 4.8 children in 1965
to 1.7 in 1985, and it has remained at this level to the present (KWDI
1997). It means that women have been somewhat freed from the
demands of repeated pregnancy and child birth during their marriages.
It also affects families’ investment into girls’ education.
Second, the average number of years of formal education for
women increased from 3 years in 1960 to 9.3 years in 1995. The
increase in the education of younger women had been so rapid that,
by 1995, there was no difference in average length of education
between men and women under 30 years old (Jang 1998). During the
initial period of industrialization, in the 1960s and 1970s, undereducated
young girls as unskilled cheap laborers in the factory had been
the symbol of women in the labor force. Now, more and more
women with higher education want to find jobs with the potential for
a life-time career.
Third, the average age for a woman’s initial marriage gradually
increased from 21.5 years old in 1960 to 26 in 1995 (ibid., 1998). Prolonged
education must have affected the delay of initial marriage. At
the same time, many young women see marriage as a less appealing
option that would disrupt their individual social lives, and would
rather extend unmarried life with a career as long as possible. Even
after marriage, they tend to delay childbirth.
The sharp valley in the M-curve of the women’s age-cohort labor
pattern (Figure 1) reveals the reality of the labor market. It represents
both how the labor market pushes women out at the time of mar-
riage, childbirth, and child rearing, and how the society is not supportive
of them. Dominant ideologies concerning the family and the
role of the mother lay the cultural foundations for these discriminatory
social practices against women. The establishment of the socialized
child-care system will be an effective tool for further social change.
Dual Responses: “Education” and “Care”
Families, homes, and mothers are still considered to be major agents
for the early socialization of children in Korea. However, rapid industrialization
and urbanization have created emergent new needs for
early socialization outside the home. The speed of change has been
so fast that the society has failed to respond to them in time. The traditional
view of education as a means of social competition has eroded
the childhood experience by being extended to younger children.
The lack of understanding of the need for social childcare has made
the children of some working mothers the victims of fire when they
were locked in tiny one-room apartments.
Still, Korean society has difficulty in acknowledging the contemporary
problems of childcare and education as social responsibilities.
Children under the ages for compulsory education are believed to be
in the hands of mothers, and thus, the expenses of their education
and care are considered to be solely family matters. Even the advocates
and policymakers, who argue for the governmental support for
early socialization, find their rationale in the traditional perspectives
on competitive schooling and the welfare of the poor.
Early Education: Domestic and International Competition
Kindergarten education in Korea started out as an exotic form of
early socialization for the children of elite families. As an import for
the privileged, it displayed many distinctively foreign cultural forms
that became the dominant mode of early education. Not only the
material settings such as buildings, classes, and educational materi-
als, but also the songs, dances, and ways of speech and interaction
patterns were modeled after the dominant foreign practices.
During the colonial period, the prewar Japanese kindergarten
practices laid the foundations of the kindergarten culture in Korea.
Uniforms, collective activities, and ritualized interactions between
teachers and children are still visible in many kindergartens as a legacy
of the past. After the liberation and the Korean war, American culture
added a new layer to the kindergarten life. Some kindergartens,
usually affiliated to universities, started to emphasize more liberal
approaches for individual freedom and development. However, their
influence has been limited to a few experimental institutions because
of the societal obsession for the competitive education. Still, popular
perception of early education as fundamentally foreign and advanced
has been confirmed and widespread. Even today, many early educational
institutions display the names of foreign scholars, theories, and
practices as their models.
Until 1975, kindergarten enrollment of the 5 year-old children
had remained under 2.8%. It rose to 45% in 1997.3 This marks a significant
shift from the education of the few to that of the masses.
However, the modes of education have not changed much. Kindergartens
in contemporary Korea are mainly for the children of nonworking
mothers. With only morning-hour programs (four hours a
day as a standard, usually with a 9:00A.M. to 1:00 P.M. daily schedule)
and with long vacations, kindergartens assume the existence of
full-time housewife mothers. A very limited number of kindergartens
in urban areas have started to provide after-hour services for the children
of working mothers, but few of them are willing to extend their
programs into the long vacations. In short, they are schools and they
have all the characteristic rhythms of formal educational institutions.
There has been an even more explosive expansion in the field of
early education parallel to the kindergarten. This has been the expansion
of the private institutions for early talent training. It is sometimes
called the “early education industry,” since most of these institutions
clearly show a profit-motivation by running institutions with
business-like management skills. In these institutions, children from
very early ages are supposed to learn any specific subjects such as
reading and writing, math, foreign languages, drawing, dance, swimming,
and taegwondo. Every possible subject in education is for sale.
In this field, discourses on the success and the failure in education
are consumed extensively among educators and both working and
Competition is the key factor that makes mothers most deeply
afraid. Earlier learning is widely believed to be the only effective tool
for success in the realms of domestic and international competition.
It is no wonder that many advocates and policymakers emphasize
international competition as a reason for further governmental investment
in early education.
Child-care Priority: Class or Gender
The government’s delayed response to childcare was not simply due to
inefficient bureaucratic arrangements, but was mainly due to dissonance
in the cultural concepts (or political ideologies), especially
among the policymakers, concerning the roles of the government and
the family. In 1981, the First Lady of the President who had come to
the power through the military coup launched an ambitious campaign,
called the “New Village Kindergarten” (saemaeul yuawon), for early
childhood education. She transformed all of the full-day child-care
institutions (hundreds of children’s homes or eorini jip) into half-day
kindergartens for the early education for the poor. This project systematically
up-rooted the child-care system while Korean society was well
into its rapid industrialization. The ideas behind full-day childcare
were often thought to be “communistic.” At the same time, the practice
of institutional childcare was legally blocked until the democratization
of 1987. However, even today, this period is highly praised in the
history of education as one of drastic development from the “simple
care” to the “advanced early education.”
Any systematic response to the child-care needs had been
delayed in Korea until there occurred a series of accidents in which
infants and toddlers who had been locked inside the house were
killed in fires while their parents were out working. Such accidents
occurred repeatedly in the years between 1989 and 1991 and were
considered to be clear evidence of policy failures in which the necessity
of state-supported childcare had been consistently ignored. It was
at that time that the general public finally realized that society and
the government should assume responsibility of childcare since many
individual nuclear families were no longer able to provide the necessary
Finally, the Infant and Childcare Law was passed in 1991. Immediately,
the child-care system rapidly expanded to such an extent that
in 1997 the total number of institutions became 15,375 (public,
1,158; private, 8,172; workplace, 158; family, 5,877), enough to care
for 520,859 children (Ministry of Health and Welfare 1998). These
were neither the natural fruits of economic development nor the
mechanical outcomes of policymaking by state bureaucracies. Childcare
advocates and some progressive women’s organizations had to
struggle for the establishment of today’s day-care system. Various
forms of struggle such as rallies, sit-ins, fund raisers, signature collections,
law petitions, and political campaigns had to be carried out to
make even a minimal child-care system available.
At the same time, the labor market demands on working mothers
also pressed conservatives to make a bargain with progressives over
the expansion of day care. Suffering from an extreme labor shortage
beginning in the late 1980s, the Korean economy began to rely on
imported foreign labor. As a means of exploiting available domestic
labor, the day-care system was implemented for the integration of
young mothers into the labor force.4 This was when the Ministry of
Labor decided to step into the day-care business. However, there
were limits to how far the system could expand and in what directions.
The system itself ran counter to the dominant family values.
The notion that financial support for childcare is only for the
underprivileged class (or “broken” families) was firmly set in policy
from the beginning. The government and conservatives held the view
that most “ordinary” (or middle-class) families should carry the
financial burden since the primary role of day care is child rearing. It
is fundamentally a welfare program for the poor families in which
mothers are forced to work outside home. The government only supports
the public centers, which are supposedly located in underprivileged
communities, and it provides subsidies for the children of families
who receive social welfare.
All private and family care centers operate only on the tuition.5
As private businesses, it is natural that most of these centers seek
profit. However, childcare is fundamentally less profitable than education
because of regulations prescribing “proper” teacher-children
ratios for the care of younger children for the full day. The contradictions
between policy and practice are the source of current problems
which result in a lack of infant and toddler care in most centers.
Many centers even demand the softening of regulations in order to
have the kindergarten-like large classes but with fewer teachers.
Unlike the stereotypical images of childcare as a form of social
welfare for the poor, the actual need of childcare has been emerging
across classes and regions. After such rapid social change, it is now
almost evenly distributed among the entire population, as a significant
proportion of women of all ages and classes participate in (or, at
least, want to participate in) work outside the home. The only difference
is whether this need is visible to the society or it is obfuscated
by the sacrifices of individual family members. The need itself is not
homogeneous any more. It is diverse and depends on the types of
work and the life cycles of mothers. Further, as the divorce rate
increases, not only the types of families but also the life-style choices
of families also increase, and thus diversify the needs of childcare.
The recently established Ministry of Gender Equality views childcare
as mainly a gender issue rather than a class one. It seeks the
establishment of a more comprehensive child-care system that would
greatly enhance women’s participation to, and status in, the society.
On the other hand, the Ministry of Health and Welfare, which still
has full control over the system, insists on extending the system to
support the poor and the working class.
Debate in Practice
From 1996, the kindergarten advocates have proposed to make the
education for all 5-year-old children as part of the national compulsory
schooling. By comparing Korea’s percentage of preschool enrollment
with those of other OECD countries, the advocates have persuaded
the government, and the proposal was accepted. It means
that the establishment of half-day preschool education has now
become the top national priority for early socialization. It also proposes
the establishment of a nationally standardized education system
for children over three years and a national care system for the
infants and toddlers under age three.
The advocates for “care” have resisted these proposals. They
view them as a uniform application of educational policy to address
radically different demands in early socialization. Further, they argue
for the urgent extension of the child-care system to school-age children.
The issue of the “unification of kindergarten and the day-care
system” has been a central theme of the debate among the people in
both camps, and in the related offices of government.
In terms of theory and principle, it is rather a clear and simple
demand, since both institutions serve overlapping age groups (from
three to five, that is, preschoolers), and everyone agrees that for
these children, education and care should not be separated. But, it is
often speculated that conflicts of interest in the two camps and
between the related government offices act as major obstacles to the
unification. The two parties never come to terms with one another,
since the kindergartens want to see a “kindergartenization” of the
day-care centers, and, on the other hand, the day-care centers prefer
a process of expanding the “full-day” care function to the kindergartens.
However, the current situation can also be viewed as a reflection
of social and cultural divisions at a deeper level. There are many layers
of larger divisions in society that would directly influence the
division of the two systems—such as divided concepts of mothering,
radically different views on childhood, and different ideas about early
socialization in institutional settings. Furthermore, there are fundamental
policy differences regarding these institutions among three
government offices: the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health
and Welfare, and the Ministry of Gender Equality.
Each system is supposed to respond to one set of needs and
expectations of a different segment of the population. Sometimes, the
arbitrary division of the system dictates the choice of the people who
are less dichotomized than the governmental definitions. The division
itself guarantees a dichotomized experience for the children.
How far can this division between “education” and “care” go? Is
the current situation a process of polarization of early socialization,
or a process of eventual integration of the two systems and concepts?
The answers remain, in large part, dependent on changes in the larger
society: changes in the nature of women’s participation in social
labor, changes in the mother’s role in the domestic sphere, and
changes in society’s view of educational institutions and education
itself. However, there are groups of people who believe in the power
of social action to make and accelerate changes through their efforts,
especially in the day-care field.
In order to challenge the dominant cultural patterns and social
structure in Korea, some individuals and organizations, with progressive
ideologies of class and gender issues, utilize day care as transformative
institution for socializing a new generation—children who
will acquire alternative values and behaviors—and for inducing concomitant
While the majority of kindergartens and day-care centers in contemporary
Korea still effectively carry out conservative functions by
practicing the collectivist and discipline-oriented process of socialization,
some centers, such as the “cooperative childcare” (gongdong
yuga) centers, challenge them by developing a radically permissive
pedagogy that emphasizes activities in nature and at a tempo of daily
life rather than a tightly organized school-like schedule in the classroom
(Chung Byung-Ho 1994).
Through daily interaction, these experimental centers perform
mediating functions by developing strong bonds between child-care
practitioners and parents, and among the parents. Based on this
social bond and these consciousness-raising efforts, the adults are
politicized through their involvement in institutional child-care practices,
and become organized to participate in various communitylevel
social movements and engage with important concurrent social
They have opened the day-care field as a new arena where the
dominant concepts and patterns of early socialization are constantly
challenged and transformed. In this context, theory and practice in
the Cooperative Centers have become an excercise of “cultural politics”
(Giroux 1991) intervening in power structures.
Research on early socialization in Korea has mainly focused on childhood
experiences in the home and familial relationships. The strong
ties between mother and child have been considered crucial in formulating
the later personalities, interpersonal relationships, and adult
social participation. Such conceptions of universal experience in early
socialization are mostly based on conceptions of Korea in which a
homogeneous national culture, patriarchal family structure, and rigid
gender-role division are supposed to dictate social life.
However, like families in any society that has undergone rapid
industrialization, Korean families have also gone through all the
characteristic changes attendant to the processes of industrialization
and urbanization. The current problems emerge mainly from the
rapidity of these changes. The speed of these societal changes has
created serious dissonance between the traditional family ideology
and the already diversified modes of family lives.
Working mothers and the issues of socialized childcare constitute
one of the most dynamic fields in which the contradictions of contemporary
Korea can be seen. The dominant ideologies still dictate
that mothers stay in the home, but, in reality, the majority of mothers
work outside the home. The hegemonic exercise of cultural perceptions
such as “full-time housewife and mother” pushes women to
leave the labor market during the childbirth and child rearing only to
return to it later and receive much lower wages and positions.
According to the dominant values, children under age five should be
reared in the home by family members, but, in practice, institutional
modes of collective child rearing are rapidly becoming popular
among many families across different classes and regions.
As in other industrial societies, Korea, too, developed its childcare
system initially to put mothers into the labor force (Chung
Byung-Ho 1992b). But, during the last decade, the focus of the system
has gradually shifted from the mothers to the socialization of the
children. What children learn or experience in a child-care facility
has become a greater concern, since it touches on a variety of issues:
equality (or equal opportunity) between children at home (or in a
half-day kindergarten) and children in a full-day child-care center;
the nature of the center, whether as a place for early schooling or for
communal living; and the role of the center, whether as a socializer
of dominant values or of alternative ideals.
Socialized childcare itself has been considered to be a fundamentally
subversive practice to the traditional family ideology. Now, like
the heated debate of “education” and “care” for children of the same
age group, the questions of who controls, what kind of program, for
whom, and for what are more explicitly confronted and debated in
many fields of early socialization by groups with varied and often
contradicting expectations for future generations.
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