While son preference has been at the center of understanding how families operate, particularly in patriarchal societies, new evidence suggests that son preference has started to weaken in some countries, including South Korea. It is puzzling, however, that son preference has declined within the context of high levels of gender inequality. Aiming to explain these puzzling, aggregated trends, I explore how young adults in Korea shape their aspirations about having children and whether – if so, why – they prefer daughters over sons. Analysis based on 100 in-depth interviews with men and women in Korea reveals that sons are increasingly perceived as an economic burden and such perception is rooted in traditional gendered and class-based ideas about marriage, in particular, the idea that men should bring to a marriage a house. Within the context of rising house price and of shifting ideas about whether families should operate as a reciprocal relationship – where parents provide a house for newlyweds and sons agree to care for their parents as they age – variations in desires to have sons within my sample emerge based on class backgrounds and attitudes. In the end, I argue that individuals’ rationale behind why they prefer not to have sons is shaped by the macro-level constraints of skyrocketing housing prices, persisting traditional gender ideology, and growing uncertainty about reciprocity and cooperation amongst family members.
Dr. Eunsil Oh is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin - Madison.
This event is co-sponsored by the East Asian Studies Center.