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Significant changes have occurred in recent times to the structure and dynamics of family life in Korea, yet some of the old patterns persist. In terms of structure, Korean families are very similar to those of Western countries. But Koreans' attitudes differ greatly from those of Westerners because of the society's dualistic mentality. For instance, Korean society includes both progressive and conservative trends, coexisting with the Western and Asian mentalities; a dual class system with the emergence of the middle and the poor classes alongside a very powerful rich class; a division among the generations, as with individualism of the younger generations nurtured on Western culture and the traditional patriarchy of older generations; and a duality between family centered on the relationships of couples and children and society composed of collective families centered on adults. Finally, Korean society shows discrepancies between action and mindset. Although many Koreans have a Western mentality, their actions reflect a very conservative tendency, which grows even more pronounced with age (Chung 1999). The Korean family is in transition, and one result of these opposing forces is confusion.

Despite these changes, family laws and policies in Korea still represent the traditional value systems in many aspects. Countering this have been recent movements toward improving individual and women's rights. The family law reform in 1991, for example, included an asset partition claim right for women and visitation rights for noncustodial parents. Also, new family law entitles a divorced woman to a share of the couple's property based on the extent of her contribution to it. Furthermore, custody of the children, which used to be automatically awarded to the father upon divorce, will now be decided in court. Drastic changes in the property inheritance system include eliminating discrimination against daughters. When her husband dies, a childless widow will be entitled to half of the inheritance, with the other half going to the husband's parents. The law was abolished that prohibited a woman's remarriage until six months after the end of a former marriage. However, the new family law does not completely abolish the controversial head-of-the-family system, which Confucians lobbied to preserve. More political and legal support is needed for the welfare of elderly and children, as well as for types of families that remain in the minority, such as singles, homosexuals, and remarried couples.


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Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsKorea - Traditional Korean Families, Contemporary Korean Families, Women's Labor Force Participation, Conclusion