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Korean middle-aged women in 2005

Posted September. 12, 2005 07:02,   


Kim Young-mi (alias. 38), a seven-year housewife, is said to have raised her husband. After marrying him, then a poor college instructor, she became the breadwinner in her family. She did everything she could do to support her family. Thanks to her support, her husband got promoted to an assistant professorship, then to an associate professorship.

As their financial situation got better, Kim quit her job for her children’s education. And her husband grew cold toward her. He said she shouldn’t have quit her job because he wanted to use his salary for his research. Kim has become skeptical about her marriage while her children are growing day by day.

Korean middle-aged women devote themselves to their family. However, our society has labeled them as brazen “ajumma” (“married woman” in Korean).

It is said that women are actively participating everywhere in our society, but such changes are only other people’s business for plain women. Housewives are being stressed out by indifferent husbands, picky in-laws, and children who treat their mothers as their maids.

In particular, their stress level peaks as big holidays near. There is a saying that men’s festive holidays are women’s labor day. As the holidays come near, women seeking a psychiatrist has grown by two or three times. Min Seong-gil, a neuropsychiatrist at Yonsei University, said that middle-aged women’s ailments (“Hwabyeong”), supposedly caused by pent-up resentment, is a type of anger disorder. Their rage builds up due to their husband, in-laws and children, and leads to physical symptoms such as insomnia and heaviness in the chest.

Skeptical views against marriage among middle-aged women have increased. According to a recent publication titled “evaluating women’s lives based on statistics” by the National Statistical Office, responses by women in their 40s who said that marriage is a must have significantly dropped from 72.7 percent in 1998 to 59.7 percent in 2002. On the other hand, the number of those who showed ambivalence about getting married went up from 24.7 percent to 36 percent.

Doubts and anger toward marriage end up giving these women a lack of self-confidence. Dreammiz, a women’s portal site commissioned by Dong-A Ilbo, surveyed women on what they didn’t like about being a full-time mother. A total of 53.7 percent said, “When feeling they lag behind,” 22.4 percent said, “When their husband ignores them,” and 10.4 percent said, “When seeing their successful friends.”

Lee Jeong-suk, a dialogue consultant, said, “The perception that housewives are doing nothing special gives them a harder time than most. Husbands should be the ones who value their wives.”

Han Gyung-hye, a professor of Child Development and Family Studies at Seoul National University, said, “While men grow passive as they age, women tend to become more active for biological and social reasons. If middle-aged women display their positiveness in a sound way, that can contribute to their families and to society.

Sang-Hoon Kim corekim@donga.com kimjy@donga.com