The restraint of filial piety prevents highly educated, high-income young men from marrying.

“Godfather, there is no excuse, no excuse.”

“It’s a favour. A ‘family’ child. Is there a more important cause in the world than that?”

The film ‘War on Crime’ has been called the ‘Korean version of The Godfather’. Choi Ik-hyun (Choi Min-sik), a customs officer in Busan in the 1980s who was kicked out for corruption, creates a “family” to attract Choi Hyung-bae (Ha Jung-woo), the “same Choi” and a gangster, to take over a nightclub run by gangster Kim Pan-ho (Cho Jin-woong). In the name of family, Choi Hyung-bae beats up his old friend Kim Pan-ho’s gang and takes control of the club. This is the moment when the black cartel of Choi Ik-hyun, a half-thug who bribes prosecutors, police and politicians, and Choi Hyung-bae, a real thug backed by street fights, is reborn as a ‘family’.

Forty years later, the family in Korean society has changed, but its power is still absolute. Even today, parents grit their teeth for their children and children for their parents. Yet scholars say that “Korean familism, the absolute value of the family, is now becoming a poison to Korean society.” What do they mean? “Addressing this uncomfortable truth of familism is the key to solving the problem of non-marriage and low birthrates that threaten Korea’s very existence,” they say.

Even elite university graduates and large company employees are giving up on marriage

Park Mo, 32, who works at a telecommunications company, earns more than 80 million won a year, but she has long since given up on boyfriends and marriage. “It’s hard to get support from my parents in the countryside when I get married, so I give them money every month,” she said. “Nowadays, people with parents who don’t have retirement security are shunned as marriage partners.”

“I recently broke up with my girlfriend and now I don’t have the confidence to get married,” said Imo, 38, an employee of a large company with an annual salary in the 100 million won range. Her reasons are the opposite of Park’s.

Online communities of high-income professionals are full of similar concerns. They post “marriage estimates” that list their and their partner’s education, jobs, incomes, savings, and even their parents’ retirement plans. Unlike in the past, the amount of marriage support from both parents, their retirement plans, and their personalities are also important to consider. The comments are full of “practical advice” such as “Marriage is more real than love” and “Don’t marry against your parents”.

In response to young people’s cries of “why is it so hard to get married,” scholars have pointed out that “Korean familism, in which parents and children are expected to be infinitely responsible for each other, is a major obstacle.” “There is a transactional familism at work in the middle class and above, where parents provide financial support and inheritance to their children, and children in turn provide social success and service,” said Jeon Sang-in, a professor emeritus of sociology at Seoul National University who recently made headlines for suggesting that Korea’s culture of filial piety has degenerated into backroom deals. Marriage is used as a key means of “class reproduction,” whereby existing family assets and privileges are passed down and maintained and extended to the grandchildren’s generation. “Young people who don’t meet these criteria feel that they can’t afford to get married and raise children, so they go on a kind of marriage strike, a childbirth strike.”

Some older generations criticise what they see as “selfish and excessive individualism” in young people who are unable to keep up with the competition and say, “I don’t want my children to have the same life as me, so I won’t marry.” The “new kids” are not getting married because they have not been properly taught the importance of family and filial piety.

However, the scholars point out that “the appeal of these young people is actually subsumed by excessive familism.” “It’s contradictory to say that you don’t want to have children out of consideration for your unborn child,” said Noh Jeong-tae, an expert at the Korea Economic and Social Research Institute. “Instead of recognising that each person is responsible for his or her own life, it’s excessive familism in the sense that my unhappiness is the responsibility of my parents and my children’s unhappiness is my fault.”

Why “family”?

Even after overcoming all the obstacles, marriage is not the end. In-laws are frustrated that “I gave them a house when they got married, but my son and daughter-in-law don’t even want to interact with me.” The children’s parents are frustrated that their in-laws keep interfering in their lives. Men are torn between their mothers asking, “What’s the password to your front door스포츠토토?” and their wives demanding that they cut ties with their in-laws.

“Parents and children demanding ‘unlimited responsibility’ for each other’s lives is a culture of excessive familism that is not found anywhere else in the world,” said Seo Yi-jong, a professor of sociology at Seoul National University. “Parents want to provide for their children’s old age by drawing down their own old age funds and providing for their children’s business or newlywed house, while the younger generation does not want their parents’ excessive interference, but is uncomfortable with it because of their parents’ legacy and support.”

There are also analyses of the phenomenon as a cultural lag due to the breakdown of family values. “There is a clash between the value that marriage is an independent family and the established value that a couple with children is a family that is attached to the original family,” said Noh Jeong-tae. “The more the older generation adheres to the position that the original family is more dominant, the more the younger generation is reluctant to create a family, which naturally leads to a drop in the birth rate.” “The popularity of the monk Beorun’s off-the-cuff remark, ‘Children over the age of twenty are adults and should be independent, so don’t interfere and don’t bother them,’ is also a sign of Korean society’s fatigue with excessive familism.”

Despite this fatigue, Koreans are unable to let go of familism. Scholars agree that it is because “due to social features such as a bifurcated labour market and an unstable welfare system, people feel that ‘family’ is the only place to turn to.” “Italy, Spain, and other countries with strong familism like Korea also have low fertility rates, and in common, parents send their children to the upper echelons of the labour market where they have more job security,” said Noh.

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