The traditional family structure is breaking down as new types of families appear one by one. Childless couples and single-person households are already common enough. Added to the list are so-called “self filial duty” families, where one does not force the spouse to look after one`s parents, multicultural families and families borne out of economic necessity. But social systems and institutions are slow to catch up to these changes. This report takes a look at the diverse new family types and the state of related social systems.
Single Moms and Multicultural Families
Gong Ji-young`s novel “My Happy Home” features a single mother living happily with three children, all with different surnames. Expressing the self-assurance of a single mother, the novel recalls the real life story of the author, who has been divorced three times and has three children with different fathers. New family types are commonly found not only in literature but also on television. In place of the traditional extended family, viewers are being presented with diverse family situations, including divorced women, single mothers and stay-at-home dads (or househusbands), reflecting the great changes in family structure in Korean society.
What exactly are those changes? First, family size is shrinking. The number of 3-4 member households, the mainstay of Korean society, has been falling as single or two-member households take their place. According to Statistics Korea, two-member families accounted for the largest proportion of households with 24.5 percent of the total. This represents a considerable change in the past five years, as 3-4 member families made up the lion`s share up till 2005. There is a reason for the growing proportion of two-member households: the rise in the number of empty nesters, that is, parents whose children have grown up and moved out of home.
In the days when most couples had three or more children, parents did not live alone for long. But as most families have only two children these days, once those children are married parents are finding themselves alone at an earlier age. An added factor here is that people are also living longer. Other types of two-member households are the DINKs (double income no kids), PINKs (poor income no kids) and the PINK + PETs (no kids but pets). Coming a close second to two-member households are single-person households, which account for 23.9 percent of the total. These are mostly elderly people or single men and women who live alone.
Second, the types of families are becoming more varied. With divorce on the rise, more children are being raised by their grandparents. According to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, the number of households consisting of grandparents over the age of 65 and children under the age of 16 has almost doubled from 35,194 in 1995 to 69,175 in 2010. In more than 80 percent of these cases a grandparent is raising the children alone, and in half of these cases they have taken on the responsibility because of the parents` divorce or remarriage.
There are also a large number of single mothers and so-called “Miss Moms,” single women bearing children from donated sperm or raising an adopted child.
With the rise in the number of foreign residents in Korea, the number of multicultural families has been increasing. In 2010, the number of international marriages came to 34,200, a rise of 900 over 2009.
The family diversity has heightened social isolation at certain levels of society but measures to deal with the problem are sorely lacking. Although the government is taking great pains to promote childbirth, the shortage of childcare facilities poses an obstacle. Ministry of Health and Welfare figures show that, as of 2010, public childcare facilities account for only 5.3 percent of the total and those operated by social welfare foundations 3.9 percent, less than one-tenth the level of their counterparts in Japan. Aside from workplace childcare centers (1.1 percent), the remaining 89.7 percent are privately operated facilities.
Lack of Childcare Facilities and Rise in Childless Couples
It seems the corporate world is also ignoring the childcare problem. According to the childcare law, any workplace with more than 500 employees or more than 300 female employees must operate an in-house childcare facility. But only a handful of companies actually comply with this rule. Figures compiled by the Ministry of Employment and Labor and the Ministry of Health and Welfare show that, as of December 2010, 41 percent (236) of big companies surveyed did not operate a childcare facility or provide any childcare support. If this is the case with large companies, the situation with small and medium-sized enterprises can easily be imagined.
Moreover, there is a dearth of support measures for single mothers and multicultural families living in poverty. A 2009 survey by the Ministry of Health and Welfare shows that the average monthly income is less than two million won in 60 percent of multicultural families. The case is little different with single mothers. Ministry of Gender Equality statistics show that 40 percent of working single mothers are part-time employees, and 35.3 percent work in the service industry or sales and retail. Half of them earn between 500,000 and 1,000,000 won per month. Park Young-sook, chair of the U.N. Future Forum, explains, “As family disintegration increases, public support must be expanded to prevent social problems that could arise from changes in family structure.”
Evolution of Family Structure
As the economic slowdown drags on and on and real income drops, the number of goose-father families, PINK families, self-parental duty families, and slow growth-era large households is on the rise. With the change in the times and changes in values, there is also an increase in the number of (university) student couples, remarried couples, and multicultural families. Following is an introduction to the new family types appearing these days.