The book Changes and Conflicts by Pyong Gap Min gives us an analysis on how and why Korean migration to the United States has altered their traditional family system. Allyn and Bacon published the book in 1998. The book focuses on changes in gender roles and marital relations. Also Korean child socialization, adjustments of the elderly, and the nature of transnational families and kin ties are topics Min discusses in the book. Min uses results of several surveys as well as his own ethnographic research to back his claims.
Min used his own personal family experiences, his observations of other Korean families, informal discussion with Korean school teachers and social workers, and Korean newspaper articles for insight on Korean immigrant families. He also interviewed 50 Koreans in N. Y. representing a broad range of Korean people. Finally, Min used census and survey data, including his own surveys of Koreans in New York, to provide statistical information about Korean immigrant families.
Min starts his analysis of Korean immigrant family by providing some background information on the Korean community in N. Y. Min explains that recent Korean immigrants can be characterized as being highly educated, urbanized, and predominately Christian. Korean immigrants began to settle in New York after 1965. One reason is the need for medical professionals during the 1960s in the New York and New Jersey area. The demand for medical professionals attracted many Korean professionals to the area. These professionals later on became naturalized and were able to invite their relatives for permanent residence.
A characteristic o f the contemporary Korean community living in N. Y. are their concentration in small business. Min explains that the vast majority of the Korean work force is segregated in the Korean sub-economy, either as business owners or as employees of co-ethnic businesses. Some Korean businesses include green groceries, trade business dealing, import business, dry-cleaning service, and nail salons. Min states that the segregation of Korean immigrants in the work place promotes the preservation of their Korean cultural traditions and social interactions with co-ethnic.
Min then proceeds to examine the role Confucianism plays on the Korean family system. Min claims that Confucian values that emphasizes filial piety, family/kin ties, the patriarchal family order, and children”s education still have a powerful effect on the behavior and attitudes of all Koreans. For example, Korean government, school, and community encourage people to practice filial piety by rewarding those who are exceptional in showing loyalty, respect, and devotion to their parents and by punishing those who deviate far from the norm.
Also the concept of patriarchy has helped establish a male dominated society in Korea. In Korea, boys are preferred and are treated more favorably than girls and more emphasis is placed on boys” education than girls are. Finally, the emphasis on child education can be seen in Korea where formal education is used as a means of social mobility. According to Min, the most significant change brought about by international migration is the phenomenal increase in wives” economic role coupled with the weakling of husbands” role as provider.
Korean immigrant working women make an important income contribution to the family finances. Min claims that Korean wives play a more important role than their husbands do in many family business, particularly small dry cleaning shops and small restaurants. Also it is easier for Korean immigrant wives to find jobs compared to their husbands because of the demand for blue-collar jobs. Even though Korean wives play an important economic role, their power and status in Korean society does not increase.
Min claims the status of a Korean woman as a “helper” in the family business rather than as a co-owner also diminishes her social status and influence in the Korean immigrant community. Also the segregation of Korean immigrants at economic and religious levels bolsters the patriarchal ideology they brought with them from Korea. However, reality still remains and Korean women”s increased economic role in many Korean immigrant families has reduced their husband”s patriarchal authority, creating new sources of marital conflict and sometimes leading to separation and divorce.
Koreans” child care and child socialization patterns undergo significant changes when they move to the United States. The major reason Min gives is the increase in Korean Immigrant women”s participation in the labor force. In the U. S. Korean women who work and have pre-school children depend on private nurseries or an elderly mother or mother-in-law for child care while they continue to work. This is a contrast compared with life in Korea where women who have pre-school children usually do not participate in paid work, but instead focus on child care.
Also because both Korean parents work long hours outside the home, many children are left unsupervised at home. Min believes that this has lead to juvenile delinquency among Korean children, and may cause problems in the psychological development of a child. Another change in Korean family lifestyle is in gender socialization. There has been a change from the preference of male children, and equal treatment in educational aspects between boys and girls. However, the emphasis on children”s success in education has not changed since Korean immigrants moved to New York.
Korean par ents push their children to do academics so they can attend a prestigious college and choose a field that leads to a high-status more common for them to live with their daughters than with sons. Second, Korean elderly do not depend on their children for financial support or expect support from their children. This is due to the welfare programs for the elderly, which have made them independent from their children. Finally, Min states that the vast majority of Korean elderly are satisfied with their lives in N. Y. and plan to live here permanently.
The reasons Min gives for Korean elderly life satisfaction are their economic and residential independence, involvement in strong . The Korean elderly have also been affected by the changes in the traditional family system. First, many Korean elderly live independently of their children, and it is friendship networks and access to ethnic services in Queens, low expectations for economic and occupational success, and their deeply religious lives.
Finally, Min explains how new technology and improvements in international travel has helped Koreans maintain strong ties to friends and relatives in their home country. The advanced in these two areas of technology and travel has lead to improve communication between family members. For example, more Korean family members can keep in touch with their relatives in Korea because of the increased convenience and affordability.
The increase in communication between Korea and the U. S. has lead to the creation of “international commuter marriages”. Min describes international commuter marriages as being marriages where the husband has returned to Korea for a better occupation while his wife and children remains in the U. S. to take advantage of educational opportunities. Th advance in communication and travel has helped international commuter marriages prosper because now spouses can visit each other several times a year and talk on the phone every week.
Min provides a detailed analysis of the Korean family. Min”s book opens up the reader to a society that the public knows little about. He provides an understanding of norms and beliefs of Korean society. By doing so, Min dismisses the stereotypes that plague Korean society. The data used in the book is solidly backed up by experiences of Korean people making it valid and logical. Finally, the book was written in 1998 making Min”s ideas relevant for today”s Korean society.
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