Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Living Arrangements of Older Parents in Korea

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Living Arrangements of Older Parents in Korea

Article excerpt

Living Arrangements of Older Parents in Korea*


Living arrangements are an important dimension of family relations influencing the daily lives of the elderly (Kertzer, 1986). However, the living arrangements of older persons vary widely across societies. For example, living with children has been a cultural norm for Korean elders, while it is normatively and behaviorally unusual for elders to coreside with adult children in Western societies such as the United States (Coward et al., 1989; Lee & Dwyer, 1996; Mindel, 1979).

Korea has a long tradition of family-oriented culture; the family continues to be the main institution for providing support for elders in Korea (Choe, 1987; Chung, 1986), as in many other Asian societies (Martin, 1988). In recent years Korea has undergone dramatic social change in the process of rapid industrialization and urbanization. Although the tradition of family support for the elderly has changed somewhat over time and the prevalence of coresidence has diminished, coresidence of the elderly with children is still frequent (DeVos & Lee, 1989; Martin, 1989), attesting to the perpetuation of norms supporting coresident living arrangements in old age (Bae, 1987; Chang Choi, 1992).

A recent Korean census survey (Korean National Statistical office, 1993) indicates that nearly three out of four Koreans aged 60 and over live with children (74.7%). The most common living arrangement of the elderly in Korea is coresidence with children and their offspring in three-generation households (44.0%) or, occasionally, four-generation households (1.3%). Two-generation households (29.4%) are more frequent than living with a spouse only ( 13.2%) or alone (10.6%). However, the proportion of single-generation elderly families is projected to increase in the near future (Chang & Choi, 1992; Kong et al., 1987; Lim et al., 1985; Rhee et al., 1989).

Recent research, primarily done in North America, has demonstrated that demographic characteristics and socioeconomic resources affect the living arrangements of older persons (Coward & Cutler, 1991; Coward, Cutler, & Schmidt, 1989; Crimmins & Ingegneri, 1990; Lee & Dwyer, 1996; Soldo, Wolf, & Agree, 1990). The objective of this study is to test hypotheses regarding the living arrangements of older parents derived from research in the United States on a sample of elderly Korean parents. This will help to ascertain whether the influences of demographic and socioeconomic characteristics transcend the substantial cultural differences between Korea and western societies. If the effects of these variables are similar to those observed in the United States, the indicated conclusion is that cultural differences are irrelevant to the processes underlying these effects (Lee, 1982; Lee & Haas, 1993). On the other hand, if intergenerational coresidence in Korea is attributable solely or primarily to cultural factors, then variables influencing coresidence in the United States would not be expected to behave similarly in Korea.

However, the observation of similar effects of demographic and socioeconomic factors would not mean that culture is irrelevant. Census data from the two societies indicate that the frequency of intergenerational coresidence is remarkably different in Korea, where nearly three-quarters of all elderly parents live with a child, than in the United States, where less than twenty percent of elderly parents do so (Coward et al., 1989). Similar structural causes cannot result in such different distributions in the absence of the influence of cultural factors. The objective here is not to ascertain whether cultural or structural factors are more important as antecedents of intergenerational coresidence, but rather to determine whether structural factors have similar influences in spite of known cultural differences.

In this study, the dependent variable is whether or not the elder lives with a married child. …

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