Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Changing Social Expectations for Work and Family Involvement among Korean Fathers

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Changing Social Expectations for Work and Family Involvement among Korean Fathers

Article excerpt

Recent studies of fatherhood have prioritized men's caregiving experiences alongside men's providing experiences (Lamb, 2000; Pleck, 1997). Fewer studies, however, have explored how this multi-faceted fatherhood is shaped by different cultural contexts (Marsiglio, Amato, Day, and Lamb, 2000). Careful consideration of diverse social, cultural, and historical contexts may provide new insights into how men develop their roles as fathers. LaRossa (1988; 1997) in particular argues that we must distinguish between changing social expectations for new fatherhood and the actual shifts in men's conduct as fathers. His notion of shifting culture and conduct may help us to examine fatherhood in contexts where traditional, non-Western notions of men's parenting have come into conflict with new social expectations and emerging economies, both based on Western models.

We know little about how "new" fatherhood emerges in industrialized non-Western societies. Compared to their counterparts in Western countries, fathers in Asian countries have been largely affected by generations of conservative patriarchical ideology in the Confucian tradition (Part & Cho, 1995). In Japan, for instance, fathers spend significantly less time with their teenage children than American fathers, a difference traced to distinct belief systems of Asian families (Ishii-Kuntz, 1992; 1993; 1994; 1995). In Korea, new social expectations have emerged alongside traditional norms, all of which provide contradictory messages about men's caregiving and providing.

Over the past four decades, Korean society has been reshaped by the emergence of a free market economy. Since 1997, families have coped with a growing economic crisis (known as the "IMF crisis"), which has threatened the concept of a "job-for-life" and forced many people to devote more time to the workforce. The International Labor Organization (ILO) reported that South Korean men and women worked the longest hours in the world (Jung, 2003). On average, Korean workers spend 48 hours a week working, while U.S. workers spend 36.5 hours a week. With fewer paid jobs after the IMF crisis, it is even more difficult for Korean workers to give up on the possibility of a "job-for-life" and search for alternative employment. New cultural expectations for paternal caregiving, evidenced in the commercial media, popular discourse, and even the educational system, also emerged in recent decades. These changes have forced Korean fathers to reevaluate their roles in families.

In this study, we apply concepts that have been developed and applied in the U.S. context to understand the culture and conduct of Korean fathers. The purpose of this study is to examine how Korean fathers negotiated changing expectations for paternal caregiving and providing in a period of transition into new roles for men in families. We expect that men in different social class locations negotiate such expectations differently. For example, working class fathers and middle class fathers in Korea encountered traditional paternal norms, a Westernizing economy and culture, and a dramatic economic downtown. However, they became fathers in distinctly different working conditions, with different levels of exposure to westernized ideologies of fathering (through higher education, social media, or contact with other cultures), and different levels of adjustment during the economic downturn (Elder, Conger, Foster, & Ardelt, 1992; Kim, Kwak, Yoon, Lee, Jung, Choi, & Choi, 1999)

In this study, we ask the following questions:

- How do Korean working class and middle class fathers perceive new expectations for men's caregiving, alongside continuing traditional paternal norms and pressure for participation as a provider?

- In these dynamic and ambiguous socio-cultural contexts, how do men act as fathers?

- Which strategies do Korean fathers use to narrow the gap between new cultural expectations for caregiving and actual limited involvement in their families and workplaces? …

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