Saturday, January 18, 2020

“Gold Miss”: Single successful women in work force in Korea

Two articles that were discussed in class touched on married women in the work force in Korea, Taiwan and Japan. All of these articles examine the changes in married women’s employment that industrialized society face. Higher participation of married women’s employment compared to the past can be explained by higher labor supply and demand caused by industrialization, social structures, changes in women’s role in family, and higher women’s education. These changes not only affect married women but also single women in Asia. I would like to go delve more into and also go beyond the readings and look more into the single women in general, with specific focus on Korea. Particularly, events regarding women at work has led to the rise of the â€Å"gold miss† in Korean culture recently has created significant cultural shifts in the way the largely Confucian society views women and how these women do business. Korean Culture Korea is home to a deeply Confucian society. Under such a system, women are relegated to a lower position, wherein they have to follow the wishes and dictates of the head of the family: the father, then the husband and then the grown sons. There are strict dictates that has crossed over to national laws on succession. Korean norms have been blamed for the lack of opportunities for women (August and Tuten, 2003, p. 118). Women traditionally stay at home after marriage to take care of family. Children usually live with their parents until they are married and the eldest son is left to care of the aging parents. Women in the Workforce In their study, Rachel August and Tracy Tuten laments that only 48% of women participate in the Korean workforce. The country's labor market is highly-segregated with jobs that are meant only for men exclusively. Korean men also have a virtual monopoly on managerial and executive level jobs, where only 7% are held by women (August and Tuten, 2003, p. 109). In contrast, women in the United Kingdom have a 66% participation in the labor force, while 33% of employed women hold managerial and executive level jobs (August and Tuten, 2003, p. 109). The pay between men and women is different too, with women getting only 60% of what their male counterparts get (Yoo, 2003, p. 367). Most Korean women had to fight a patriarchal society where in everyone — from employers policymakers, and even fellow employees — prefer males over females. As such, they get jobs that pay less (Brinton, et. al. , 1995, p. 1101) The dismal situation of women is due to the fact that workplaces in Korea lack protection like laws against gender discrimination, harassment and other similar laws. Korean women are also facing challenges in terms of getting their education that would have equipped them with the skills and knowledge needed for higher level positions (August and Tuten, 2003, p. 17). This has changed in recent years, however. With the advent of industrialization in Korea, more and more women had married later and the fertility rate fell. Korean women had more time to participate in the activities of the labor market. Korean women also gained more education, and consequently more work experience, which in turn makes them more attractive to employers (Brinton, et. al. , 1995, p. 1100) Married Korean women are less likely to be involved in formal employment, as many companies also encourage women employees to resign after marriage (Yoo, 2003, p. 384). Shift in Korean Culture The increases in the number of working married women and single woman households both represent a significant departure from the traditional Korean family structure. Women are now choosing to keep their jobs even after marriage and many grown-up children are moving out of the family home to live alone and choosing to postpone marriage. More and more women are also getting higher education compared to women in the 70s and 80s. These grown-up daughters that have successful careers postpone marriage and enjoy their single-blessedness and economic independence. In the past in Korea, marriage used to be only institution frame work for women to secure stability in their lives. But now that social conditions have changed greatly and women exert more power in economic activities women are increasingly taking charge of their lives. Thus, in recent years, more and more women are staying single, earning more, and fighting societal pressures that dictate when they should settle down. They have been termed gold misses, a play of words and a corruption of â€Å"Old Miss†. Gold misses are highly successful single women who are way above the traditional marrying age of the late twenties and early thirties. According to the Chosun Ilbo, an English language Korean newspaper, the typical gold miss has a college degree, a professional job that pays at least KRW40 million (around US$43,000) annually. A gold miss go for sophistication both in looks and image (Gold Miss Among†¦ , 2007, para. 2). More than changing their looks and living upwardly in society, gold misses are changing Korean society. Whereas before, women above thirty are frowned upon as spinsters who failed to catch a husband, with all the attendant stereotypes against it. Now gold misses are seen to enjoy their independence — both personal and economic (Gold Miss Among†¦ , 2007, para. 1). They are also breaking through stereotypes that unmarried women in their mid-thirties have something wrong with them, or have been through a difficult experience, or just plain stubborn. These are women who do not rely on a husband to keep them alive, and they are enjoying it. For Ham In-hee, a sociologist at Ewha Women's University marriage for a gold miss is a choice, instead of a desperate and only means to be stable. Ham relates that women â€Å"who are financially capable,† have a tendency to marry late (Chosun Ilbo, 2007, para. 3). The view is shared by Lee Woong-jin, chief executive officer of a dating company. Ms. Lee says that gold misses think they can continue living alone because they earn enough to support themselves (Gold Miss Among†¦ , 2007, para. 2). Other changes are evident. Gold misses are known to be ‘fashionistas', and have influenced trends in Korean fashion and food (Kang, 2008, para. ). Gold misses, though a relatively new development in the conservative Korean culture, are increasing. Kang In-sun, writing for the Chosun Ilbo, reports on data released by the Korea Employment Information Service that says that there were 27,233 gold misses in 2006, an increase of almost twelve-fold from around 2,000 just five years before. The report also says that gold misses are now found in a growing range of industries and profession, securing top jobs in private institutions, filmmaking, theater, writing, broadcasting, medicine, design and management, among others (Kang, 2008, para. ). The number will rise, as 68% of women in their twenties and thirties surveyed indicated that they would like to remain single (Kang, 2008, para. 5). Meanwhile, an overwhelming 90% of girls aged 10 think that marriage is a choice, instead of a must (Kang, 2007, para. 7). The prevalence and impact of gold misses is so widespread that Korean marketers have taken note of them, and have even come up with spin-off labels like â€Å"silver miss† or single women in their 30s who are earning less than KRW30 million, and â€Å"platinum miss† or women who earn more than KRW100 million annually (Kim, 2008, para. ). As more women become more economically active and more financially-independent these days and as views on marriage have changed dramatically, these single professional women, in their thirties and forties without pressure to get married, enjoy the feeling of accomplishment at work and gain more free time for themselves, rather than doing housework and caring for children as housewives do. Having no husbands and children also increases their autonomy on spending. Gold misses are willing to and can spend on anything they want, especially on their self-development, looks, health, skills and on leisure, their changes in lifestyle and spending start to have impact on various industries such as tourism, fashion, art and music business, interior design such as kitchen appliances, and matchmaking business. As a result, the purchasing power of singles makes them an important consumer group. Kim Ji-soo, a culture editor at the Korea Times, writes that while Korean women had been slow to change in a â€Å"strongly Confucian† society, they are now taking on more and new challenges and working in professions that used to be male domain. The causes for the rise of the gold miss are varied, and touches a spectrum of economic and social factors including (but not limited to) higher labor supply and demand caused by industrialization, changes in women’s role in family, higher women’s education, and increase in voices advocating gender equality and equal opportunities at work, among other things. The Korea Times, however, proposes another cause. Bae Ji-sook relates that the cost of marriage, including childrearing, housing and education, could be the main reason why a progressively increasing number of women are opting to stay single. With the shift in Korean thinking with regards to the convention of women getting married in their late twenties or early thirties, there is less pressure to get married and risk acquiring these costs (Bae, 2008, para. 6-8). In fact, a recent survey found that 22% of Korean singles found marriage costs too prohibitive and cited that as one of the reasons not to get married. Other reasons were the prevalence of divorce, and the idea of enjoying the single life. Almost a quarter said that they haven't found the right one yet. The survey had 1,826 respondents, 70% of them were women (Kang, 2007, paras. 1-4). Traditional values of family and harmony influenced by Confucian philosophy are disappearing, new values of individualism and independence are new inflow, and women are reacting to this change by choosing to work and marry late. On to of these changes in social values, higher cost of marriage and raising children causes further departure from traditional roles for single women. Additionally, women’s success in their career will continue to emerge as a valuable consumer group in the future. With such changes in conventional idea, their economic and social power, and consumer market towards them, they seem to have less reason to get married and the increase the number of unmarried women in their thirties and forties is likely to continue. * * * The rise of the gold misses can thus be seen as a natural consequence of the Korean woman’s progress in the country’s labor market. It is an evolution that took years to unravel. With the change in Korea’s business climate and labor environment, women became introduced into its labor force, an event which led to further changes down the road and created a cyclical cause and effect. As women became more active in their participation in the country’s labor force, the more opportunities opened for them to further their education and chalk up their work experience, which in turn made them more attractive to employers and opened the doors to more jobs. The pressures of society and culture, however, remained. In time, Korean women learned that having their best interests in mind and following the norms do not necessarily go together, and thus the evolution comes to its current form: the gold misses. Combined with this realization are the changes in the country’s norms and governance that allowed for more gender equality. It can be argued then that gold misses are the daughters who are reaping the benefits that have been set up for them by women of the past. They are also blessed to be working at a time when Korean society and culture had eased and changed. But as mothers can differ from their daughters in a lot of ways, so does today’s gold misses and the traditional married working women. Married working women of the past were at most followers of society’s dictated norms of how they should act and when they should act, and at the very least, they were constrained by their culture. Career women felt the urge to get married at an age that is largely dictated by society, at a time when they should have been at their peak, professionally speaking. These women may be doing the deals in the corporate boardroom, but they come home to cook for their husbands and care for their children. Gold misses eschewed that role, and by ignoring societal dictates, they have become progenitors of a new culture. By refusing to be tied down, they have gathered enough power to create a unique culture that soon became more and more mainstream. They became a force to be considered, if only for their collective purchasing power. Without responsibilities to take care of a family, they have the luxury of thinking only for themselves. Instead of being dictated by culture, gold misses have turned the tables and are now dictating what the culture should be. More and more gold misses are stepping into roles that women of the past have not even dreamed of. The arena for male-dominated fields is shrinking as more women are invading the work force. Whereas traditional married working women were contented in defining their value by the men in the lives, and anchoring their stability on their marriage, gold misses are challenging the patriarchal traditions and Confucian hierarchies. Women in the workplace are also changing the business culture away from â€Å"alcohol-inspired karaoke fests† into something more transparent and above-board. These women are also discouraging blind loyalty towards superiors (Asiaweek, 2001, paras. 3-4). Stability is no longer anchored to the thickness of their husbands’ wallets, but their own. Culture and society are two very dynamic forces, and they affect one another. While it is evidently a much better time to be a single work woman in Korea nowadays more than ever, there is still a long way to go to achieve more independence from and equality with men. The gold miss phenomenon is a clear indicator, though, that women in Korea are on the right track.

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