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Son preference has been at the center of understanding how families operate, particularly in patriarchal societies. However, new evidence suggests that son preference has started to weaken in some countries, including South Korea. It is puzzling, however, that son preference has declined within the context of high levels of gender inequality. Aiming to explain these puzzling, aggregated trends, I explore how young adults in Korea shape their aspirations about having children and arrive at their gender preference or indifference. Analysis based on 100 in-depth interviews with men and women in Korea reveals that first, sons are increasingly perceived as an economic burden and such perception is rooted in gendered and class-based ideas about marriage, in particular, the idea that men should bring to a marriage a house. Within the context of rising house price and of shifting ideas about whether families should operate as a reciprocal relationship – where parents provide a house for newlyweds and sons agree to care for their parents as they age – desires to have sons within my sample is low. Second, there is an emergence of daughter preference that is shared particularly by those who have low fertility intentions. Such construction of desire is rooted in the traditional understanding of daughterhood.
Eunsil Oh is an Assistant Professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Three key words of her research are gender, work, and family. As a qualitative sociologist, her research aims to explore key themes in women’s narratives of their early work lives and family decisions and discover the underlying social and cultural forces that shape these decisions.
James Raymo (Sociology) will moderate the Q&A.