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Building Your Resume to be the Ultimate Bride: South Korean Women’s Contradictory Identity in a Hyper-Instrumentalized Society

Abstract

Rapid modernization in South Korea, derived from industrialization and democratization in the 70’s and 80’s, has helped Korean women to gain higher socio-economic statuses. However, the daughters of the 70’s and 80’s generation still prefer to sustain higher status through marriage, by regarding it the ultimate life goal, as a “job”. My research question asks, “Why do well-educated South Korean women, who are aware of the “second shift”, and other forms of marital inequality still actively resort to marriage as their ultimate life goal despite opportunities for self-actualization?” Drawing from 29 in-depth interviews with South Korean women, born in the 80’s and 90’s, I argue that in the building of South Korean modernity, a compressed process within the 70’s and 80’s, the current South Korea is a hyper-instrumentalized society where women are actively “modernizing” themselves to be “traditional”. As the body of South Korean women interacts with these emerging social institutions, marriage involves a process of resume building through higher education and the career market. My findings show that South Korean marriage is even regarded as a “job” in itself. As a result, we must reconsider the role of ideals like self-actualization, which are typically assumed in narratives of modernization. The end-goal of successful marriage should be considered as part of the changing sociology that drives South Korean women to pursue higher education and prominent job opportunities.

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