Last year, popular South Korean actress Park Shin Hye made waves with the announcement of her wedding and pregnancy. In the past, this would have been detrimental to a celebrity’s career. Instead, Park received well wishes from fans and her peers in the industry. In fact, more and more celebrities have been announcing such pregnancies and marriages, referred to colloquially in Korean as “speeding accidents.
At first glance, long-time observers might be surprised to see such a visible shift in attitudes. The reality, however, is not so progressive. Premarital pregnancy has indeed become more common in South Korea, with a 2018 study finding that the number of premarital pregnancies increased 2.5 times between 1990 and 2016. In most cases, the couple faces few legal repercussions as long as they marry. The pregnancy is even jokingly referred to as a “dowry” by some.
However, those who operate outside of these traditional family norms are still ostracized. Single mothers and children of unwed parents remain highly vulnerable groups. Unwed mothers are viewed as promiscuous, making them more susceptible to social isolation and poverty. 27.9% of single mothers surveyed relayed stories of being forced to resign at work after getting pregnant out of wedlock.
According to the Korean Statistical Information Service, 20,671 single-parent households in Korea are headed by unmarried mothers, but legislation has been slow to match the current reality. While laws have been drafted to allow single mothers to give children their surnames, and attempts have been made to accommodate nontraditional families, societal views have yet to accept non-traditional families.
This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.
Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Kayla Harris, David Lee, Sarah Marshall, and Mai Anna Pressley. Picture from the flickr account of Kihong Kim