Prof. Jang Wha-Kyoung Global Peace Women Leadership Conference 2014

Global Peace Foundation
October 15, 2014

Women’s Leadership in Family for Society Reform

Transformation in the social environment and family

Various changes in relation to the family are going on in today’s society in Korea. Such transformation gets expressed through the way the family members live within the family. The consideration on the positive change in the family from a woman’s perspective has an important meaning towards the future of Korean society. The understanding on the transformation of the family will allow the search for the future oriented and equal social transformation.     

  • The relevance of the social environment and the family

A person that lives in a society with constant variability prefers to adapt to the gradual changes and tends to be morphostatic. When taking a look at the family history, the humans have lived in a form of a family in which has high suitability through a formation in which are closely related to the basic attribution and the social construction, especially those related to the economic production and economic construction. Within this, distribution of the foods, securement of safety, needs of family work, mobility based on jobs, the form of the property and the amount took an important role.

In general, the ideal picture of a family is ‘a group formed with a couple that are bonded with love and children’. Such model of a family arose in the late 18th century after the industrialization began in Europe. When both the urbanization and the industrialization progressed in the 19th century, the nuclear family became popular. Going into the 20th century, the industrialized society became a norm and the socioeconomic structure transformed the relationship between men and women, husband and wife, and the parents and the children. The separation of the family and the public, emotional connectedness between the family members, and the sexual division centered on the children strengthened the individual collectivity of the families. A love marriage began to be institutionalize based on the sexually divided structure, and the love between the couples became emphasized. A sociologist Burgess gave an explanation to such change: ‘the transformation was made from the family with rules to family with love’ (The Family: from institution to companionship). A family with love is based on the love between the husband and the wife and is an integration of personality. The love towards the children also got emphasized based on the trust and the love between the husband and the wife. 

A family in the modern nuclear family was a place for the women and the children. The word family settled as a place where the members of the family spends their daily lives with each other and confirm the emotional connectedness through a meal or a relaxation. A home is where the family members express their love to one another as well as the children get educated. A nuclear family is a small group based on the couple and emphasizes the responsibility and obligation towards the spouse and the children. A system in which the fathers or the husbands are the workforce of the production, and the mothers or the wives are in charge of the house work was based on the separation of the family and the sexually divided society.

  • Agitation of the nuclear family 

A little bit of an agitation is happening in the basic premise of the nuclear family in the society today. The power of the head of household has weakened and lateral characteristics began to reveal between the couples and the relationship between the parents and the children. The protective and support function of the family is getting weakened. Such functions are also weakened due to the fact that the nation or the companies, and the social organizations has partially intervened in the function performance. A commercialized logic also began to penetrate in the family through the expansion of the principles of a market. The commercialization progressed in the areas of consumption that is related to the necessities of life. As the electronic devices such as refrigerator, electronic cooker, vacuum, and washing machines came into wide use, the amount of housework decreased. 

An ‘egalitarian double income family’ that is based on the separation of work in which does not rely upon the democratic relationship and the gender arose. As the value of an individual’s choice increased, those that do not live in a nuclear family also increased. Marriage is often not the point of the family, and as the standards of the nuclear family that kept the system of sexual division became more flexible, the form of the nuclear family has changed rapidly. Due to such factors, a question about the role of the genders ascended and the couple based family became generalized. Many individuals that are trying to break from the traditional family formation and boundaries are creating various life formation. The spread of individualism stresses respect towards individual’s opinion and consideration between the family members, as well as promotes the gender equality relationship and democratic conversation. 

At this point, it is necessary to expand the attention and the understandings of the current status of the family as well as figure out the transformation objectively. 

Aspect of family transformation in Koran society 

  • Decrease of size and simple structure 

When taking a look at the change in the family formation, the average family members have decreased from 4.50 in 1980 to 2.69 in 2010 (mean difference 1.81). This is related to the increase of the total household and represents the divided phenomenon of the families. 

(unit: 1000 household, %, number)

Year   Total number of household 1st generation (%) 2nd generation (%) 3rd generation (%) Over 4th generation (%)

Single household (%)

Unrelated household (%) Average number of household member
1980   7,969 8.3 68.5 16.5 0.5 4.8 1.5 4.50
1985 9,571 9.6 67.0 14.4 0.4 6.9 1.7 4.16
1990 11,355 10.7 66.3 12.2 0.3 9.0 1.5 3.77
1995 12,958 13.0 63.0 9.8 0.2 12.7 1.4 3.34
2000 14,312 14.2 60.8 8.2 0.2 15.5 1.1 3.12
2005 15,887 16.2 55.4 6.9 0.1 20.0 1.4 2.88
2010 17,339 17.5 51.3 6.1 0.1 23.9 1.2 2.69









Reference: National Statistical Office,Population and Housing Census

The aspect of transition in the family makeup is summarized to the decrease of an extended family that is over 3rd generation, steadiness of the 2nd generation family with the parents and the children, and the increase of the single household. 2nd generation that is in the mainstream form has been decreasing substantially from 68.5% in 1980 to 51.3% in 2010. Over 3rd generation family decreased as well from 17.0% to 6.0%. The single household, on the other hand, increased twice as much as it was in 1980 from 8.3% to 16.2% in 2005. The single household results when the couples do not have a child after marriage, when they take years before having their first child, when only the old couples are left after all the children move out, and when the family only consists the siblings. In general, the decrease of the size of the family leads to the decreased number of the children in a household, in which also leads to the decreased in the ratio of the blended family consisted with a collateral relative.

One interesting thing to note is the rapid growth of the single household. The percentage for the single household was 4.8% in 1980, but it has increased up to 23.9% in 2010. This is about 5 times as it was in 30 years ago. When taking a look at the types of the single household (2010), the household where the couples got separated by death is 29.9%, and the divorced household (2010) was 13.4%. A single household with a person 65 years old or over was 24.7%. With the exclusion of the elderly household, a household of teens and 20s are also increasing. Such people are categorized in a group of those that are not married and not living with their parents, and often this is a result of the different viewpoints between the parents and the children, individualism, and the long distance to commute from school or work due to the expansion of the capital area. 

The next form of a family that also grabs one’s attention is the single parent family and the family where the children are raised by the grandparents. In 2010, over 159 million was a single parent family, and mother-children family took 78.2%, and the father-children family took 21.8%, which is about 4 times higher than the mother-children family.

The family where the children are raised by the grandparents recently increased. According to the data from the National Statistical Office (NSO), over 119,300 fell under the category of such type of family. The children were generally taken care by their grandparents due to the divorce of their parents or run away from home (43%), economic difficulties (16.8%), parent who lost his or her job (6%), and death of the parents. The appearance of such family reveals the increased instability of the family and the decreased responsibility of the parents towards their children.

The continuous increase in the single household, single parent family, grandparents-children family, and the unrelated family reflects the various transformation in the family formation.

  • Flexibilization of the outlook on marriage

One of the important factors that leads to the change in the family structure is the views and the actions towards marriage. When family oriented mindset weakens, an individualism increases in one’s outlook on marriage. 

Marriage today, is often seen as something that ‘does not necessarily need to happen in one’s life’, and such viewpoints are revealed in the change of the average age at first marriage. The average age at first marriage in both men and women continues to increase. In 2010, the average age at first marriage for men was 31.8 years old and 28.9 years old for women. Compared to 30 years ago, the number has increased about 3-4 years. The increase in such age points to the face that the rate of unmarried people are increasing. A change in view of when is the right time to get married has shifted, and it is clearly revealed in the society today.  


Category 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 2000 2005 2010
Men  27.1 27.4 27.3 27.8 28.4 29.3 30.9 31.8
Women 23.3 23.6 24.1 24.8 25.3 26.5 27.7 28.9

When taking a look at the trend of the divorce rate that separates the families, there were 116,00 divorces in 1970, but it increased 7.5 times 40 years later to 116,900 in 2010. The crude divorce rate however, has been steady at 2.5 in 1000 people. This is due to the introduction of the so called the ‘consideration period’ that stagnates the divorce rate.

Some of the factors that lead to the increased divorce rate are: increased individualism, increased number of women working, and expansion in the sexually equality knowledge. The men’s value is based on the patriarchal perspective and the traditional gender roll, so the rate at which women files a divorce case has also increased. The women are no longer adopting the patriarchal characteristic marriage, but rather questioning the gender roll and ends up filing the law suit to get away from the conflicted relationship with their husbands. The gender roll and the equality in sex are also causing the tension and corruption in marriage.

  • Decrease in the fertility rate 

A population is a social phenomenon that is based on the family and it closely relates to the daily lives of the human. Birth, marriage, and death of parents or grandparents that one experiences throughout his or her life forms the population phenomenon. In the demographics, the trend of a population is described as a process that begins from fecundity to death. This is referred to as a demographic transition.

  • Current state of low birth rate 

The average birth rate that keeps the population in average size (2.1) fell under the bar in Korean society in 1983. However it was not until 2000 that the seriousness of the low birth rate became official.

A family planning policy was enforced in 1960 when the industrialization just had begun due to a consideration that the increase in population pressures the economic growth. Due to such policy, an idea towards an ideal number of children changed and the average number of children per household decreased from 6.0 in 1960 to 2.00 in 1983. The policy settled since then and the low birth rate and the average number of children around 1.6 resulted. Entering into 2000, the average number of children per household was 1.16 in 2004, and 1.08 in 2005. A small rapid growth occurred in 2007 and the average was 1.25 children per household, but it decreased again in 2010 to 1.23. Compared to the international rates, the number was 1.15 children per household; and this was the lowest rate among the OECD nations. 


Year 1960 1970 1980 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010
Total birth rate 6.0 4.53 2.83 1.59 1.65 1.47 1.08 1.23

Reference: National Statistical Office, Demographic census



Countries Korea Japan Germany Italy Netherlands Sweden England France OECD average
Total birth rate 1.15 1.37 1.38 1.41 1.77 1.91 1.96 2.00 1.71

Reference: OECD, Factbook, 2008

  • Reason of low birth rate

The social meaning of the low birth rate is drop of the reproduction function. The low birth rate that began after 1990s was partially due to the low marriage rate. Instable job opportunities, pressure on spending the money on children, and increased individualism deepened the avoiding nature towards marriage and giving birth. 

The unstable labor market took a part in the social reasons. The youth unemployment and the retirement of the middle aged class also increased and the anxiety of earning future incomes increased. The employment rate decreased and weekend the social facilities for getting jobs. Korea’s supporting expense towards the job education and job placement is lowest among the OECD nations. The deterioration of the economy increased the divorce rate and resulted in the separation of the families. 

Personal values and perspectives on marriage changed as well. Self-realization and quality of life became more valuable than the value of the family. Such situation contributes to the pressure of raising a child, working and taking care of the family at the same time, and the change in the personal values and the perspective on marriage. 

Devaluation towards taking care of a child and unequal distribution of the roles contributes to the low birth rate. One can see the social evaluation on the child watching labor when taking a look at the opportunity cost the person has to pay. If the distribution of the labor for watching a child is not equal in a competition centered society, an unfair condition applies to the labor. The performance expectation towards taking care of a child expects that the women should pay for the opportunity cost for men, parents, and workers to pay for the opportunity cost. As a result, the low birth plan was enforced to decrease those that are subjected to either taking care of a child, or that needs to be taken care of. House work, giving birth, and raising kids are mostly taken care of by the women, so to better this unfairness, the women began to avoid giving birth. The cost to raise a child has also increased, and this plays an important role on the low birth rate as well.

At this point, one can see that the unstable society and the gender inequality majorly contributed to the low birth rate. According to the OECD references, the most effective method to bring up the birth rate is an effort to create an environment of gender equality. Guaranteeing the gender equality in the work force, and offering equal opportunities and pay rates to women that takes a role in raising a child and taking care of the house hold is necessary. 

  • Progress of elderly society 

In 21st century, the world is facing a problem with the elderly society. The aging of the population results due to the low mortality rate because of the bettered social conditions, but a low birth rate that does not fill in the new population spot. 

1. Current status of the elderly society in Korea

11.1% of the population in Korea was over 65 years old in 2010. The aging population was 2.9% of the entire population of Korea in 1960, but increased to 7.1% in 2000. According to the statistical forecasting, about 14.8% of the population will be elderly in 2018, and Korea will seriously enter into the aging society. As for other countries, it will take 115 years for France, 75 for the U.S., and 16 years for Japan to enter into the aging society. If Korea continues at this rate, the elderly population will take 15.6% in 2020, 23.1% in 2030, 32.5% in 2040, and 38.2% in 2050 and become the world’s highest aging society.

The direct factors of elderly society is the increased survival rate. The average lifespan of Koreans was 80.0 years old in 2010 (77.2 men, 84.1 women), and this is fairly close to Japan’s average age, 82.6 years old. Economic improvement allowed better hygienic conditions and higher survival rate for the infants, in which allowed a longer lifespan on average. 

Year 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010
Total 61.9 63.8 65.7 68.4 71.3 73.5 76.0 78.6 80.8
Men 58.7 60.2 61.8 64.4 67.3 69.6 72.3 75.1 77.2
Women 65.6 67.9 70.0 72.8 75.5 77.4 79.6 81.9 84.1

Reference: National Statistical Office, Future population estimation


Country Korea Japan France Germany Italy  Spain USA England
Aging rate 11.0 22.5 16.5 20.5 20.6 17.3 12.8 16.6

The children support population for the child over 14 year old has decreased from 42.5% in 1970 to 17.2% in 2010. On the other hand, the productive age population increased from 54.4% in 1970 to 72.1% in 2010. It is expected that the pressure of the support population will increase as there are more elders than the productive population. 3.1% of the population was 65 years or above to support in 1970, and it increased to 10.7% in 2010. 23.1% is estimated for 2030.

The increase of elderly population reflects the aged-child ratio. It was 7.2 in 1970, 62.0 in 2010, and it is estimated to be 186.6 in 2030. The average number of supporter per elderly was 17.7 in 1970, but decreased about 3 times less to 6.7 in 2010; and overall increased the pressure of taking care of the elderly.   

Category Specifics among the entire population Children support rate Elderly support rate Total support rate Aging ratio Support rate per elderly Aged-child ratio Average number of supporters per elderly
  0-14 15-64 Over 65          
1970 42.5 54.4 3.1 78.2 5.7 83.9 7.2 17.7
1980 34.0 62.2 3.8 54.6 6.1 60.7 11.2 16.3
1990 25.6 69.3 5.1 36.9 7.4 44.3 20.0 13.5
2000 21.1 71.7 7.2 29.4 10.1 39.5 34.3 9.9
2010 17.2 72.1 10.7 23.9 14.8 38.8 62.0 6.7
2020 13.9 71.0 15.1 19.6 21.3 40.9 109.0 4.7
2030 12.4 64.6 23.1 19.1 35.7 54.9 186.6 2.8

* Elderly support ratio (Ratio of age 65 or above per 100 15~64 year old population)* Aging ratio (Ratio of age 65 or above per 100 0-14 year old population

 Reference: National Statistical Office, Total population census, Future population

2. Problem with aging society 

The aging of the population causes various problems as it increases the population that needs support and decreases the productive population. 

First of all, the weakness in the elderly support system is being seen as a pressure to many. Individual family’s elderly support relys on the materialistic connection as well as the physical and metal connection between the parents and the child. The low birth rate and the increased survival rate affects the family support and weakens or disconnects the supporting relationship. The loss of employment or income increases the pressure on the cost of the support. When the family support weakens during the period of weak social support system, the lower class elderly will face a danger in the stable life and general living.  

When the elderly population that needs a lot of medical care increases, the health insurance spending also increases. This affects the individual and the family’s life as well. The older generation will face an increased danger of health that has been hiding behind the increased survivorship, and may face a decline in actual life. From the younger generation’s perspective, they are more pressured to take care of their parents and their generations and prepare for their elderly life at the same time. 

The support service that takes a part in supporting the elderlies generally tends to transform into a family oriented support to social support. It has gotten very difficult to take care of the elders as the elderly support has increased substantially and the formation and the function of the family changed. The social support here refers to the transformation of support system from family to a social services such as the senior living and retirement centers. 

Society reform and women’s leadership 

(1) Direction of the society reform 

The role and a function of the family is different in today’s society. Many areas related to the change in the family has a lot of correlation to the socioeconomic situations. Physical growth and the economy based society, increased poverty and low job opportunities, threat to peace, weakened community spirit, and aging society are all portrayed in the family problems. 

Class reproduction among the generations through investment in education, desire to move up to a higher class, role as an emotional support group, and development of the human resources are becoming more important in the modern society. However, due to the delay in the family transformation and the social transformation, such often creates state of crisis in the family. The women’s education level also increased and they are more focused on their achievement in the society rather than marriage and giving birth. Such change in the women’s role in society is often a reason for the crisis in the family and the concern of the family. This means that even the family has physically decreased in size, the basic meaning of the family has gotten less valuable. 

In the sense of the development in the scientific technology and the change in the values, the future families will have more variety than today, and the relationship of the family member will be more flexible. As the average life span increases, the overall period of the family relationship and each stage of a family will extend as well. If the time period increases, the family relationship will be more stable. On the other hand, the diseases and the pressure of support will have a greater effect on the families.

A new women’s leadership that can bring about the mutual respect and increase the quality of the life as well as the family that can adequately perform the social duties is at rise. It is predicted that the method in which women strengthen regiment of the family members and guarantee the group value of the family will be the key to the future social change.   

(2) Task of the family transformation 

The following are the tasks that should be considered for the social transformation from the women’s perspective:

1. Globalization. There should be a better policy to encourage the globalization and individualization to increase the sense of responsibility and equal gender roles. The previous welfare system first blamed the families for the social crisis. The family’s ability to face the different issues are not good enough due to the social change by the low birth rate, active participation of the women, and the aging of the society. The weakened protective function of the family is related to the social issues. 

2. The focus should be on the structure or the form of the family, and the situation of increased variability in the families. General nuclear family is not even half of the statistics, and the areas of the family are increased to various categories such as newly married, old couples, single household, single parent family, nonrelated family, international marriage, and group family. Therefore, laws and policies related to family should from and support a condition where the people are guaranteed with various choices in terms of marriage and divorce, birth, and living with the child. 

3. A social negotiation on the basic direction the transformation of the family supports is needed. There must be a definition for the relationship between the society and the family, value assessment on the support labor, and the role of women in the family.

4. An infrastructure for the coexistence of work and family should be secured. The policy to harmonize the work and house life should increase, and the companies and the society should recognize the value of the individual as well as the raising the kids and supporting the elders. To do this, there need to be work done on the reform of the labor market, increased quality in child care service, vacation policy for the parents, and the distribution of the pressure of taking care of the disabled child and elders. As for the families, they should recognize the equality in gender roles and create the environment accordingly. 

5. Based on a close relationship, the family and the society must significantly support welfare, health, living, quality jobs, support for those with low income, and counseling services. The welfare institutions are seeking for diversification lately, so the country and the welfare market as well as the families’ cooperation is needed. An adequate supporting system should also be created based on the needs of the family or the society. 

(3) Paradigm of the women’s leadership in family 

A family is a natural phenomenon based on the biological factors, and is formed by the group and love; and it has been considered as something that exists outside of a normal definition. Such disdifferntiaion hides the issue of the inequality within the family and decreases the possibility of consideration outside of the family. However, in reality where the individuals live together, justice and fairness, and the value of equality may coexist with love and mutual respect. 

Just as how the family relationship cannot be defined as something that supports the non-competiveness and equality, consideration and support cannot last a long time in a form of sacrifice. A support can only exist properly when the person who is giving the support and receiving the support have a mutual relationship. The individuals in the market relationship also requires the mutual respect and friendliness. The social change can only be supported when the value of justice and the consideration relates to each other and happens in the reality. A new paradigm in the women’s leadership is a must to achieve the tasks for the social transformation.    

1. Gender mainstreaming in the families   

The laws for the family life is under Article 36, Section 1 of the Korean constitution. This law displays that ‘the marriage and family life must be based on the individual respect and gender equality, and the country must support this’. The constitution strongly emphasizes that the country has the responsibility to properly lead the stable marriage and family life.

A start of this could be the gender mainstreaming. Gender mainstreaming figures out the way that the gender inequality continues or rises and tries to bring out the equality through the transformation of the gender role. Such method brings out the issue of the continuance of the gender inequality based on the men’s role and the unequal structure. This method guarantees a ‘happy’ life chosen by the individual and respects the full life where both the men and the women can enjoy through the equal work distribution. The main purpose of the gender mainstreaming is to recognize the way an individual or a family lives and to expand the social structure based on this. 

2. Community support of the women’s leadership 

The economic growth due to capitalism in Korea has combined with the selfishness of the families and encouraged the family-run enterprise, real estate investment, and high demands for private education. Women’s support work that does not have social guarantee is the bases of the success in the competition. The principle of growth has the characteristics of exclusive nationalism, selfish familism, the principle of economic growth, and paternalism.

The previous principles must be reviewed based on the women’s perspective and transform into something that can be continued. The women should take an active role in such transformation. Giving birth is women’s decision and it depends on her value on happiness. The pressure on giving birth and raising a child should decrease and change the society from a ‘society with high birth rate’ to a ‘society that raises the kids well’.

Social change in today’s world refers to a system in which supports the individual’s decision on being happy and recognizes the personal life style; and women’s leadership should be explored again. Women are sensitive to the social equality where they can get equal opportunities. Women’s leadership supports a society with increased people that can actively participate with an altruistic mindset and actions. Women should create an equal environment and think of a way of coexistence of work and family, and become the leader of the social transformation. 

To go further into the gender equalized society where everyone’s decision is respected, the women should lead in the discussion on the issues of the patriarchal structure within the family. If women perform their leadership, the family members can share the hopes of a society with justice and value of being together. 

A true meaning of future social transformation would accurately reveal a society where the sense of equality and democratic action leads the family to live their happy lives with their talent and go out in the society. 

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