Grist to the Mill of South Korea’s Changing Values

By | May 04, 2015 | No Comments

South Korea has undergone rapid transition over a relatively short period of time. Photo from Hyo Chang-dong, Seoul. | Image: Emmanuel/Flickr

South Korea has undergone rapid transition over a relatively short period of time. Photo from Hyo Chang-dong, Seoul. | Image: Emmanuel/Flickr

Once again, we can see that values and attitudes are changing in South Korea.

The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) and the World Values Survey recently hosted an interactive panel discussion on sustainable development. Focusing on changes in values and attitudes across the world, conversations centered on what has been done over several decades to map, measure, and study changes and variations in values and attitudes worldwide. Participants included the likes of Pippa Norris, Ronald Inglehart, and Christian Welzel, scholars who have focused much of their their recent research on understanding what drives value change.

Developed by Inglehart, the post-materialist thesis posits that there is a causal relationship between environment and values. Drawing from psychological needs and socialization theories, he purports to explain how political values are a product of individual needs and life experiences, particularly those from an individual’s early character formation period.

Based on extensive survey research (much of it conducted by the World Values Survey) in the latter half of the 20th century, Inglehart’s hypothesis holds that the populations of advanced industrial societies undergo transformations of individual values, moving from “materialist” to a fundamentally new set of “post-material” values. Post-material values include things like tolerance for minority groups, support for and interest in environmental movements, and a general decline in deference to traditional institutions–political, social, and otherwise.

Given the huge structural changes accompanying South Korea’s “compressed modernity” or “hypermodernization,” stark value and attitude changes across generations make logical sense. These may include anything from attitudes towards the LGBT community and levels of support for unification to thoughts on income inequality. Because of world-historical timing, the nature of national development, and the security environment, value change in South Korea has moved along a trajectory somewhat different from other industrialized societies; there has been what one might call a partial post-material shift. Nevertheless, value and attitude changes are happening. Christopher Green recently tweeted:

The short article cited in Green’s tweet, and which is translated below, reports some of the latest data regarding youth attitudes towards important social issues such as taking care of aging parents–traditionally the preserve of eldest sons and their wives– as well as co-habitation and childbirth outside marriage. The article doesn’t put the numbers into historical context or compare them with other, similar societies, so it is hard to draw any definitive conclusions. It does, however, confirm that a traditionally conservative society is changing. It is hard to say what kind of society is coming along behind; some might say pragmatic, others progressive, still more may see grave moral degradation. Herein lies a debate, and the location of much future research.

Park Hyeon-yeong, “57% of youth say ‘living together before marriage is okay'” [청소년 57% ‘결혼 전 동거 괜찮다’], Joongang Ilbo, April 29, 2015.

Who should look after parents in their later years? Four out of five (80.1%) young people (ages 13-24) answered, “All their children.” In the last two years, the answer, “The eldest son and daughter-in-law must do it” declined from 4.1 percent to 3.2 percent. 12.5 percent said, “The most capable of their children.” On the 28th, Statistics Korea and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family Affairs released “Youth Statistics 2015,” which is based on surveys conducted last year.

Regarding the responsibility to provide for elderly parents, 45.4 percent of South Korean youth thought that “family, government, and society should care for them together.” 38 percent viewed it as a family responsibility. In the last two years, the response “Parents must deal with it for themselves” rose from 11 percent to 13.5 percent. [‘부모 스스로 해결해야 한다’는 응답이 2년 새 11%에서 13.5%로 증가했다.]

Thoughts regarding marriage and childbirth have also changed. More than half of the young (56.8 percent) made clear: “Couples can live together without being married”; 26.4 percent, up from 25.9 percent (2012), said, “Couples can have children outside of marriage.” Juvenile smoking and drinking are on a downward trend. At 9.2 percent, the smoking rate among Korean youth is down 2.2 percent on two years ago. Over the same period, the rate of drinking dropped 2.7 percent to 16.7 percent; however, this figure is 0.4 percent higher than in 2013.

Source: Park Hyeon-yeong, 57% of youth say “living together before marriage is okay” [청소년 57% ‘결혼 전 동거 괜찮다’], Joongang Ilbo, April 29, 2015. Translation by Steven Denney.

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