Academic journal article Development and Society

Two Dimensions of Family Risk in East Asia: Variations and Contextualization*

Academic journal article Development and Society

Two Dimensions of Family Risk in East Asia: Variations and Contextualization*

Article excerpt


This paper investigates family risks in East Asia from the perspective of risk society. It focuses on two dimensions of family risk, that is, the objective and the subjective dimensions. The objective dimension refers to the official statistics related to family risk in three countries of East Asia - Korea, China, and Japan - and the subjective dimension refers to citizens' perception of these risks in the capital cities (Seoul, Beijing, and Tokyo) through survey research. The contextualized relationship between the objective and subjective dimensions shows that risk perception tends to moves up or down in a way reflecting the official statistics of family risks. We argue that this pattern of variation is be explained by the social construction of risks.

It is well known that the family in East Asia has long been considered one of the most important institutions, generally showing strong collective orientations, solid ties among family members, and some shared Confucian traditions. These days, however, the family has been undergoing remarkable change in East Asia due to (among other things) economic crisis, feminism, aging, and individualization. Many indices, such as low fertility rate, high divorce rate and low marriage rate, show this. There have been numerous studies on the family and also on risk perceptions in East Asia. However, there seems to be no attempt to explicitly focus on family risk in East Asia. This paper is an attempt to study the family risk from the perspective of risk society. Family risk refers to a risk related to the tasks and relationship of the family. More detailed discussion will follow in section II-2 of this paper.

We take up this perspective for two reasons. First, it is because a risk perspective on the family allows us to see family problems in the context of current social changes and their global significance. More specifically, we can better understand family risks within the context of individualization, which is important because it is this that is giving rise to many of the risks that were not previously so conspicuous. Second, the risk perspective as well as the thesis of individualization helps us to perceive the basic condition for adequate social responses to family risks such as low fertility rates and high divorce rates; given the megatrend of individualization, we cannot go back to the traditional family but must find the way in which family risks can be managed by taking into account the choices and preferences of individualizing individuals.

Why do we focus on the objective and subjective dimensions of family risk? It is because we think that it is important to reveal how these two dimensions are related. Subjective perception of risks such as the difficulties in child-rearing may give rise to certain actions or decisions (like the family with no children) which will have consequences upon official statistics. Also, statistics could have an influence on the citizens' risk perception directly or indirectly, through government policy and other mediating factors. Thus it is important to see the relationship between the two. There have been studies focusing on the objective dimension of family change using the official statistics (Park 2013), and there have also been studies focusing on the subjective dimension such family values (Eun 2004, 2006, 2009). However, there have not been studies relating these two dimensions from the perspective of risk society. This paper attempts to do this.

Between the two dimensions, more focus will be given to the subjective one. This is because risk, according to Beck, is an anticipation of a catastrophe, not a catastrophe itself (Beck 1997, pp. 73-4). This definition of risk is important because risk is socially constructed (Beck 1997, pp. 57, 284) and thus opens up a new space of risk governance. For a long time risk was defined by the government's decision and not by the citizens'; and citizens had no say in decisions, but had to feel their effects. …

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