Depressive Symptoms of Younger and Older Korean Married Women

By Keith, Pat M.; Hong, Seon H. | Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Summer 1994 | Go to article overview
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Depressive Symptoms of Younger and Older Korean Married Women


Keith, Pat M., Hong, Seon H., Journal of Comparative Family Studies


This research investigated factors related to depressive symptoms among younger and older married Korean women. A primary objective was to determine the relative importance of five assessments of personal and family relationships fo depressive symptoms. Disagreement between spouses, financial strain, perceived deprivation, division of labor, and coresidence with parents-in-law were considered in relation to depressive symptoms. A second objective was to assess whether older and younger women were distressed by comparable or different circumstances in their families.

The Division of Labor in the Korean Family

Societal changes in Korea reflected in shifts in the roles of men and women in their families (Chung, 1986) formed a part of the background for this research. In Korea as in other countries the labor force participation of women has increased (Cho, 1986), and it has been suggested that attitudes toward the division of labor in the household and in the actual distribution of tasks have become less traditional. In Korea, the growing nuclear family system in contras to the extended family pattern emphasizes that a "husband-wife team runs the family" (Chung, 1986: 182) with correspondingly enlarged roles for men in the household. Changes in Korean family values are demonstrated in the allocation o roles between husbands and wives, the distribution of authority, expectations o spouses, and ideal images of women (Lee, 1986). Lee observed a decline in decisions made only by husbands and an increase in shared decisions by spouses about children, increased participation in homemaking tasks by husbands and children, and a less hierarchical relationship between spouses accompanied by greater emotional support and affection between partners. However, research in both Korea (Lee, 1986) and in the United States (Pleck, 1983) suggests that changes in the distribution of labor in the home have not been substantial. The relationship between shared family work and well-being has been investigated among families in the United States (Pleck, 1983; Thompson and Walker, 1989), but the outcomes have been inconclusive.

Following a review of considerable research, Pleck (1983) observed studies usin the best measures of family work and adjustment consistently showed the more family work done by women in two-job families the poorer their adjustment. Ther were negative effects for women in dual-earner families with husbands who assumed little responsibility for housework. In older households, however, shared housework was found to be especially distressing (Keith and Schafer, 1991). Comparable data were not available for Korean families.

Disagreement Between Spouses

The nature of the relationship between husbands and wives is determined in part by their personal characteristics, their expectations for one another, their views of gender roles, as well as broader societal influences. Within marriages spouses define roles for themselves that are idiosyncratic and that also reflec mutual adjustments made over the course of the relationship. The roles are subject to redefinition at different stages in the life course and are accommodated to changing needs in the marriage. For some individuals, chronic disagreements over roles will be demoralizing. Whereas some internal feelings may remain invisible, disagreement is often observable and assumes participatio and contributions from both partners.

Various types of psychological distress may be the end products of interaction problems and misunderstandings in marriages when the relationship cannot accommodate the strain (Hinchliffe, et al., 1978). Depressive symptoms are one type of psychological distress fostered by disagreement between spouses. In research in the United States, the relationship between disagreement of partner and depressive symptoms was investigated; disagreement was greater among younge couples than among their older peers (Keith and Schafer, 1991).

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