Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Divorce in Korea: Trends and Educational Differentials

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Divorce in Korea: Trends and Educational Differentials

Article excerpt

The authors extend comparative research on educational differences in divorce by analyzing data from Korea. A primary motivation was to assess whether the theoretically unexpected negative educational gradient in divorce in Japan is also observed in Korea. Using vital statistics records for marriages and divorces registered between 1991 and 2006, the authors calculated cumulative probabilities of divorce, by marriage cohort (N = 5,734,577) and educational attainment. The results indicated that the relationship between education and divorce was negative even in the earliest cohort and that this negative gradient has become more pronounced in more recent cohorts. Contrary to expectations, however, little evidence was found that the concentration of divorce at lower levels of education was exacerbated by the Asian economic crisis in the late 1990s. The authors discuss these findings in light of conventional emphases on the costs of divorce and highlight the importance of better understanding this distinctive east Asia pattern of divorce.

Key Words: divorce, economic crisis, education, Japan, Korea.

According to prominent sociological theories of family change, the relationship between educational attainment and divorce should reflect the costs of marital dissolution. Higher education, and attendant socioeconomic resources, should be positively associated with the likelihood of divorce in settings where marital dissolution is uncommon and its legal, social, and economic costs are high. An increase in the prevalence and normative acceptance of divorce should make it more affordable, thus contributing to a weakening of the positive educational gradient (Goode, 1963, 1993). Ultimately, when the legal, social, and economic costs of divorce no longer present major obstacles to the dissolution of unsatisfactory marriages, a negative educational gradient may emerge, as financial strains concentrated at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum become a primary reason for marital dissolution (Goode, 1963).

Consistent with these theoretical predictions, recent comparative studies have documented an increase in the relative risk of divorce at the lower end of the educational spectrum across a range of countries (Härkönen & Dronkers, 2006; Matysiak, Styrc, & Vignoli, 201 1). Crossnational differences in the direction and magnitude of the educational gradient are also largely consistent with expectations. For example, in countries like Italy and Spain, where divorce is relatively uncommon and its social and economic costs are presumably high, the educational gradient in divorce remains positive (Härkönen & Dronkers). In contrast, a negative gradient is now observed in countries such as Sweden, the Netherlands, and the United States, where the prevalence of divorce is highest and its costs are presumably low (De Graaf & Kalmijn, 2006; Hoem, 1 997; Raley & Bumpass, 2003). McLanahan (2004) argued that the increasingly negative relationship between education and divorce is a part of a more general socioeconomic bifurcation in which family behaviors with potentially negative implications for well-being (e.g., nonmarital childbearing, single parenthood, and divorce) are increasingly concentrated at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum, whereas behaviors with potentially positive implications for well-being (e.g., childbearing within marriage, later age at marriage and childbearing, and stable marriage) are increasingly concentrated among individuals with greater socioeconomic resources. She also emphasized the potential implications of this pattern of divergence in family behaviors for socioeconomic inequality for the next generation.

Support for standard theoretical predictions is not universal, however. Recent research on Japan has documented a pronounced negative educational gradient in divorce despite its high social and economic costs (Ono, 2009; Raymo, Fukuda, & Iwasawa, 2012; Raymo, Iwasawa, & Bumpass, 2004). …

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