"Weekend Couples" among Korean Professionals: An Ethnography of Living Apart on Weekdays
(Vol.41. No.4 Winter, 2001 pp.28~47)
Kim Song-Chul
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Types: Articles
 
Subject: Anthropology , Sociology
 
About the author(s) Kim Song-Chul (Kim, Seong-cheol) is Professor of Anthropology at Inje University. He received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from University of Washington, Seattle, in 1991. His research interests include kinship and family, corporate culture, and information society. He has authored and translated many books and articles including Ancestor Worship and Korean Society (2000) and Cultural Tradition in East Asia and Korean Society (2001). (E-mail: langsch@ijnc.inje.ac.kr)
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The Predicament of Modern Discourses on Gender and Religion in Korean Society

"Weekend Couples" among Korean Professionals:

An Ethnography of Living Apart on Weekdays

 

Kim Song-Chul

 

 

 

On any given Monday, the 6 a.m. Saemaeul Express train from Seoul to Busan is packed with passengers in suits, some trying to catch up on their sleep and others reading the morning newspapers. As the train travels the length of the Korean peninsula, it lets off hundreds of passengers at Daejeon, and later smaller numbers at Gumi and Daegu. Those who get off at Daejeon are mostly government officials who were relocated from Seoul to Daejeon when the Third Government Complex was built in Daejeon a few years ago, or engineers and researchers at the Daedeok Information Technology Research Complex. Those getting off at Gumi usually have middle- and upper-management positions in plants and branch offices of Korea's prestigious corporations, and a few of those getting off at Daegu are professors of local universities and colleges.

One thing that they have in common, in addition to the fact that they are all professionals, is that they belong to the category of so-called "weekend couples" (jumal bubu). That is, during the weekdays they live where their work is, apart from their spouses and children, and they go to Seoul to join their families on weekends. Although most of the travelers are middle-aged males, there are also some female professionals and relatively young people, in their mid-thirties. Although most take the Saemaeul Express, some might use air travel as their primary means of transportation if the weekend commuting distance is too long to be covered by train, such as between Seoul and Busan or Seoul and Mokpo. It is not uncommon to see passengers who appear to be co-workers greeting each other on early Monday morning planes departing from Seoul.

Sometimes the traveling distance even extends over the Pacific Ocean, and the family is reunited no more than two or three times a year, although each reunion lasts longer than a weekend. Unlike the usual weekend-couple families, whose weekday separation is largely due to career, this kind of separation is mostly due to parents' lack of confidence in the Korean education system and their desire to enhance the educational chances of their children in the U.S., Canada, Australia, or New Zealand. The Korean media have coined the term "lonely wild goose" (oegireogi)[1] for those husbands or wives who are left behind in Korea, and have extensively reported on this phenomenon for the past several months (e.g., KBS 9 O'clock News, 23 July 2001; Chosun Ilbo, Special Report, 30 July 2001).

This seemingly new living arrangement for families was not unknown to Korean society in the past. In traditional times, some impoverished peasants left their families in their home villages during the slow farming season of winter to participate in the regional commodity trade as peddlers. In the 1960s and 1970s, this temporary residence pattern was an option for a household head who was considering a career change or relocation to enhance his professional opportunities. During the same period, this pattern was unavoidable for Korean construction workers in the Middle East and miners in Germany who were relocated for two or three years. Yi Gwang-gyu refers to these family types as "families with separate residences,"[2] but, compared with the current trend, the scale was negligible. In addition, the factors prompting the separation were quite different from those today, and most families maintained the co-residence of husband and wife pattern (1998, 207-226).

Into the 1990s, with the advancement of public and private transportation on one hand, and more women moving into the workplace on the other, the option of maintaining different residences during the weekthe "weekend couples"has become established as a new lifestyle in Korea, especially among professionals who can afford to have an extended weekend of three days. This is probably due to the extreme centralization of Korean society which has made Seoul a megalopolis of some 15 million people and the center of not only politics and the economy but also education and other social matters. For such reasons, most weekend-couple families try to maintain at least one residence in the Seoul metropolitan area.

In this paper I describe the weekend-couple families' way of life, using data collected from in-depth interviews with 23 professionals, including professors, government officials, and middle- and upper-corporate management.[3] Six of those 23 interviewees are husbands  and wives, so my description is based on twenty cases of weekend-couple families. I include "lonely goose" families in my description because their lifestyle is not very different from the Korean-based weekend-couples, except for their more prolonged separation from their spouses and children.

 

 

Types of Weekend-couple Families

 

Weekend-couple families can be classified according to the reasons for separation, commuting distance, duration of the separation, and so on. Based on these factors, the Chosun Ilbo's distinction between the subsistence type separation of the 1960s and 1970s and the current career-oriented type, on women's part in particular, is a possible division. However, the most prominent distinction is the one between the usual weekend couples and "lonely goose" families, briefly described above.

"Lonely goose" families can form only when it is assured that the family can get together at least once or twice a year, and this pattern is commonly found among families with professors who have summer and winter vacations and can take one-year sabbatical leaves. Out of the five "lonely goose" families I interviewed, four are families with professors. The fifth case is a family in which the father was recently assigned to an upper-management position in the Hong Kong branch of a Korean corporation, and he has made several business trips back to Seoul. Also, the father interviewed by the Chosun Ilbo for its special report is an executive at a Korean advertising agency and makes frequent trips to the U.S. where his family is. This assurance of reunion is one of the most critical factors in forming "lonely goose" families.

Most of the "lonely goose" families I interviewed chose the U.S. or Canada for their relocation because they had lived in North America for a considerable period of time when one or both parents studied for a higher degree, and therefore have a high level of cultural familiarity with the U.S. or Canada. These interviewees stated that their children's education was the main motivation for becoming a "lonely goose" family. All the families had children when they studied in North America, and some of their children attended North American primary schools. Upon returning to Korea, the children experienced extreme difficulty in adapting to the Korean educational system and the parents decided to send their children back to the U.S. or Canada.

Although children's education is a critical motivation for becoming a "lonely goose" family, the family's financial status is another factor that needs to be considered. Except in one case, all mothers in "lonely goose" families I interviewed are employed as professionals in companies and universities in the U.S. or Canada so they are fully able to support their children there, which may not have been possible had they stayed in Korea, where it is very difficult for married women to find and maintain professional positions due to the working conditions of Korean companies in general and the Korean economic conditions since the Asian economic crisis in particular. Prospective "lonely goose" families seek overseas opportunities for mothers, preferably in the countries where they had previously lived.

A typical case is A's family. A has three children, and when he returned to Korea from the U.S. in 1997 to accept a position at a local university outside Seoul-Gyeonggi region (hereafter, local university), one of his children was a fourth-grader and another was about to enter primary school. However, he felt that the local primary schools were not suitable for his children as there were no other students with overseas experience, unlike many schools in Seoul. His children began to show signs of culture shock and had some difficulty in communicating in Korean. As a professor of education, he had doubts about the Korean educational system and hoped for his children to be educated in the U.S. and live there permanently. After three agonizing years, A and his wife finally came to the decision to send their children back to the U.S., even though A's wife couldn not find a job there and it would be difficult to maintain two households with a single income. A's wife and three children returned to the city where they used to live in the U.S. A's wife is still seeking employment and their three children are attending public schools. A has visited his family for about six weeks during each of the last three vacation periods and now wishes to have an early sabbatical in the spring of 2003.

The case involving B, a high-level manager who was transferred to Hong Kong, also shows a family decision based on the children's education. B has been employed at one of Korea's elite corporations for the past twenty years, and he was informed of his transfer to the Hong Kong branch in November 2000. At that time, his first child was in grade 11 and would enter college in March 2002. B and his wife saw no point of taking the child to Hong Kong, and came to the conclusion that B should leave alone. So far, he has managed to make three business trips back to Seoul, and has stayed with his family for about a week on each trip. Right now, B's wife plans to join B in Hong Kong when the first child enters college. This is also in consideration of his second child who is presently in grade 9 in middle school; they plan to put the second child in a Hong Kong high school for two years so that he will be eligible for the special college application program for the children of overseas Koreans.

Like the "lonely goose" families, weekend-couple families also maintain separate residence. However, they are different because both spouses live in Korea and the family gets together at least twice a month. Thus the residence of the husband and wife who live apart is not usually as well-prepared for adequate living as in the case of "lonely goose" families. They do not intend to maintain this second residence as a permanent living facility and simply use it like a motel room on weekdays. They usually rent a "one-room"[4] or a small apartment, and do not cook many of their meals there, commuting to where their other family members live by car, train, express bus, or by air for the weekend.

Although the lifestyles of the weekend commuters who live separately do not vary greatly, there are distinctive differences in their attitudes toward their living arrangements. Some take it as a stable lifestyle to adapt to, and others as a temporary living arrangement. The former is more prominently found among professors who have a permanent position at a university while the latter is more prominent among government officials, judges and prosecutors, or middle- and upper-corporate managers whose occupation requires them to move frequently. Weekend commuting is a lot more stressful for non-academics. While professors can enjoy extended weekends by leaving their work on Friday and returning to work on Monday, as well as long summer and winter vacations, other professionals are required to work from early Monday morning through Saturday afternoon.

One such case is C. C was a judge in the Seoul District Court and lived with his family in Seoul until 1995 when he was promoted to a senior judge position and was transferred to the Daegu District Court. He was happy about the promotion, but didn not want to move down to Daegu with his family because he knew that his stay in Daegu would not be more than two years.[5] Instead, he decided to commute to Daegu by plane and usually took a late Saturday afternoon flight to Seoul and returned to Daegu on early Monday morning. Weekend commuting proved to be a lot more stressful than he thought. When he heard the rain very early on Monday morning, he would become anxious and would get up to confirm the flight schedule with the airline. Also, he confessed that there was no family life at all for the two years when he was commuting to Daegu. As he usually arrived home in Seoul on Saturday evenings, and played golf on some Sundays, sometimes he did not have a chance to even talk with his wife or children over the weekend. The only reason he continued to commute to Daegu was his expectation that this arrangement was temporary.

 

 

Becoming a Weekend-couple Family

 

As briefly explained in the previous section, children's education may be the most important motivating factor for a family to become a "lonely goose" family, stretched across the Pacific. However, this factor alone cannot provide a sufficient explanation for why a certain couple chooses this life. The same is true for weekend-couple families. When we try to explain why some couples become weekend couples in general, there are as many different reasons as there are couples. In this section, I will discuss some important factors that prospective weekend couples consider to reach their decisions.

No matter how important other motivations or circumstances may be, economic considerations are a prerequisite for becoming a weekend-couple family. All of the interviewees, including the "lonely geese," mention family income as a deciding factor. In a case where a family has just a single income from the father's employment, which may not be sufficient to maintain two households, the family is unlikely to become a weekend-couple family even if the father is transferred to another location. This is why weekend couples are more frequently found among professionals with high income rather than those in the low-middle to lower income strata.

In the case of the professors I interviewed, weekend commuting typically starts with the appointment to a local university, which is considered to be lifetime employment. D lived in Seoul with his family until September 1996, when he was appointed as a professor at a university in Busan. Until then, D had been a part-time lecturer at several universities in Seoul and his wife was employed at an office. His promotion to professor increased the family income significantly and so he began weekend commuting. Right now, D's family has no intention to move down to the Busan area because it would be very hard for D's wife to find comparable employment there, especially in Korea's current recession.

E's family presents a similar case. E is a government official who was relocated to Daejeon from Seoul two years ago, and E's wife is a middle school teacher in Seoul. As mentioned in the previous section, weekend commuting for those who have non-academic jobs is far more stressful. Yet, neither E nor his wife wanted her to quit her job to join E in Daejeon as this would result in a substantial reduction in the family income. Instead, E and his wife are using a two-pronged approach to resolve the situation. E is currently seeking an opportunity to be transferred to Seoul in the next government personnel change. If this is not successful, then E's wife will change her school districts from Seoul to Daejeon, although the second option is less preferable.

Children's education is an important factor in a couple's decision, not only for the "lonely goose" families mentioned in the previous section, but also for weekend-couple families as well. Most parents in Korea try to send their children to prestigious universities, usually located in Seoul, because graduating from a top university is seen as crucial for future professional success. With the exceptional centralization of Korea, the top high schools and middle schools of the nation are concentrated in the Seoul metropolitan area, as are the most prestigious universities. Also, more information regarding the college entrance exam is available in Seoul, even in this so-called information age, and the private education industry (such as private institutes and private tutoring) is most developed in Seoul. Most parents want to educate their children in Seoul if they can afford to, and weekend couples are not an exception to this trend.

Most of the interviewees (especially those who have children in high school) cited children's education as an important factor in becoming a weekend couple. F's family is a good example of the heavy emphasis placed on children's education by Korean parents. F has been a professor at a local university since 1991, and lived with his wife and children in the Masan area until February 1999 when his first child was about to enter middle school. F and his wife found that no middle school in Masan could provide adequate preparation for entrance to a university in Seoul, not to mention the local high schools. So, F and his wife decided to sell the apartment they had in Masan and rent a small one in Seoul so that F's wife and children could stay in Seoul and send their first child to Seoul middle school. Consequently F's weekend commuting to Seoul started in March 1999.

Another frequently mentioned factor in becoming a weekend couple is the motivation for self-fulfillment of the mothers in weekend families. Into the 1990s, female employment in general and married women's employment in particular have increased in Korea, and this is mostly, but not exclusively, related with a family's financial situation. However, the post-industrial era is marked by people's pursuit of quality of life, and this quality of life is not exclusively confined to economic affluence. More and more men and women pursue self-fulfillment through their work. That is, they pursue a career that they really want and seek satisfaction from their productivity at work. Among the female professionals I interviewed, all of those who commute over the weekend positively express their feeling of self-fulfillment through work even at the cost of other family members. Those who run the household with children and have full- or part-time positions (while their spouses are away and commuting over the weekend) also express similar feelings. Many claim that they are much more fortunate than those who depend entirely on their husbands because at least they have a job and feel confident and independent.

G has been a professor at a university in the Busan area since March 1997 and commutes to Seoul by air each weekend. G's husband is a professor in Seoul and lives with their son and G's mother-in-law there. G says that her usual week is divided into two completely different periods: the weekend when she has to concentrate on housework and weekdays when she is involved in her intellectual activities. This is more so because G's family always expects something special, such as nice homemade dinners, when she is home. She cannot leave everything to her mother-in-law for the week ahead and has to prepare some food for the family in advance. When G sees that her husband cannot be sufficiently involved in his social life or when their third-grade son complains about her being away during the week, she feels very sorry for them. However, she confesses that she also enjoys her life alone in Busan not only because she can be relieved from all the household chores but also because she can spend her time as she wishes, doing what she really wants. G feels that she has an independent and rewarding life, and wonders whether she could have achieved as much if she were a professor in Seoul and lived with her family.

The convenience of transportation is also a factor to be considered in weekend commuting. Since the late 1980s, more Korean people have bought cars, more highways have been built, trains have gotten faster, and transportation schedules have become more convenient. Also, the cost of transportation has recently become more affordable in relation to income, as compared with just ten years ago. This convenience and greater accessibility of transportation has helped to extend the boundaries of weekend commuting considerably.

H is a professor in the Busan area and in the early 1990s commuted to Seoul where his wife, a freelance interpreter, and children lived. However, weekend commuting was so tiring that he gave it up after only one year, and persuaded his wife to join him in Busan. H recalls that it took him about seven and a half to eight hours to travel one-way by the Mugunghwa Express train from where he lived in the Busan area to his apartment in Seoul, and couldn not even think of going by plane that time because of the cost. Today, the faster Saemaeul Express trains with more flexible schedules shorten the same door-to-door travel time by at least two hours, and if air travel is used, as many professors in the Busan area do, the trip can take less than three hours. Also, J, another professor in the Busan area, has been commuting to Daegu since 1985. She says that the only options she had in the 1980s and early 1990s were train or express bus, and it took her about three hours one-way. Now J commutes by car and it takes less than two hours. If she has to, she can go to Daegu on any day of the week after class and return the next morning.

 

 

Lifestyles of Weekend Commuters

 

In the previous section, I discussed several factors considered by weekend couples in their decision to separate during weekdays (or for longer periods in the case of "lonely goose" families). This section describes the lifestyle of weekend commuters during the weekdays and the difficulties of living away from their families. I will start with a week in the life of K who has commuted between Busan and Seoul over weekends for the past two and a half years.

K has been a professor at a university in Busan since March 1999, and his wife is a part-time instructor in a private institute for middle and high school students in Seoul. K had been a researcher in a government-affiliated research institute and was pleased to be appointed by the university since employment there would be more stable. At first K and his wife thought about moving down to Busan together, but gave up that idea because their son was soon going to college and they knew that K's income alone could not support the additional education expenses for their son.

K's week starts very early on Monday morning. He usually gets up at around 4:45 to catch the 6:00 a.m. Saemaeul Express train bound for Busan. K seldom flies to Busan because of the expense, although he sometimes takes a plane to Seoul for a conference or to take care of some business. The moment he boards the train, like most weekend commuters he tries to catch up on his sleep. When he first started commuting, he tried to use this four-hour ride to read and prepare for classes, but he soon gave up because it was far too tiring and not worth the effort.

By 11:00, K is in his office preparing for his 3:00 P.M. class. He arranged with his department to start teaching Monday afternoon and finish his weekly schedule either by late Thursday or very early Friday. K's teaching schedule always includes some evening duties and early morning classes, because he lives close to the university and does not have any family in Busan. On Mondays, he usually leaves work earlier than usual because he always feels a bit tired after his journey, and goes to the supermarket to pick up some food and other supplies for the week. K arrives at his "one room" by around eight o'clock in the evening and turns on the TV to dispel the silence as soon as he enters the room. He hates the cold and unfamiliar feeling of his "one room" even though he has lived there for over two years. He does some housework, then eats dinner (usually he does not cook and eats what he picks up at the supermarket) and goes to bed early.

For the rest of the week, K goes to his office very early since he does not have much to do at his "one room," and calls his wife to check whether everything is fine in Seoul. He usually stays in his office until very late, around ten in the evening, teaching, reading, and doing some research. Organizing dinner is sometimes tricky for him, while eating lunch at the faculty cafeteria with colleague professors is a good opportunity to share in some good conversation. He usually eats dinner alone either at the school cafeteria or at a restaurant near the campus. He enjoys dinner invitations from colleague professors in the university who also live alone in the Busan area and commute over weekend. However, those dinners sometimes include excessive drinking since all of them feel a little lonely, and so K and other professors try not to make too many opportunities to drink.

After his Friday morning classes, K hurries to the train station or airport and usually arrives home in the early evening unless he has some conference or meeting in Seoul. At home on the weekend, he does not do much reading or research unless he has some pressing work to finish, and tries to spend most of his time with his family. K also helps with a lot of housework in Seoul trying to make up for his absence during the week (and maybe to compensate for feeling of guilt from neglecting his family).

Although weekend commuting is sometimes very tiring, K does not want to give it up. He knows that it's better for his children to be educated in Seoul, and that his wife has a job, earns some money, and enjoys it. Without her income, K's family could not even think of the comfort that they enjoy right now. In addition, K does not want to lose his connections to Seoul (which he maintains through projects or group study meetings with professors in Seoul, or chances to deliver lectures at universities in Seoul) because he does not want to be labeled as an incompetent "local university professor" with an undeserved reputation of not doing much research or study.

As seen in the case of K, commuting itself is one of the difficulties that most weekend commuters face. In the previous section, H gave up commuting because of the chronic fatigue from inconvenient transportation, and G and K also feel that Mondays are not their best days and they go home a little early to rest. According to L, a professor in the Busan area who has commuted to Jeonju for the past five years or so by express bus, boarding a bus itself is the start of his torment. When he first started commuting, he used his time on the bus relatively productively by reading books, but by the second year of commuting, he just slept. Now he says that he can not even sleep on the bus and is far from able to do anything productive, which makes the ride torturous for him. He feels that those two commuting days of the week are usually ruined because of fatigue from traveling.

Another serious difficulty is the emotional isolation that most weekend commuters feel, and this is more prominent among the "lonely goose" families. All the weekend commuters mention some kind of emotional isolation such as loneliness when opening the door of the apartment they stay in during the weekdays, no conversation of any kind during the evening, or the strange feeling of eating dinner without their family. However, this emotional isolation may bring about more serious problems to weekend commuters.

One of those problems is male commuters' excessive drinking out of loneliness. K says that he not only welcomes invitations to drink but also makes opportunities to drink. And A, a "lonely goose," confesses that he had quit drinking about three years ago but since his family moved to the U.S., he has started to drink again, especially on weekends when he does not have to go to school and there is no one around. This drinking poses a more serious problem for government officials or those employed by corporations who are more prone to excessive drinking even on weekdays, which may influence their performance at work.

One such case is M, who is an executive at a prestigious corporation in Korea and has been commuting between Seoul and Gumi for a year since he was transferred to the Gumi plant. He says that his position involved a lot of drinking even in Seoul, but it is now uncontrollable in Gumi. On an average of three nights a week, he drinks to the point of unconsciousness, sometimes to the point that he does not remember how he was able to return to his apartment. His colleague subordinates and his sub-contractors feel especially bad about his solitary living situation in Gumi, and keep even on inviting him out for dinners that sometimes last until very late. M feels he is unable to refuse those offers.

Poor eating habit combined with fatigue and heavy drinking, may result in health trouble. None of the interviewees cook very much and they all feel that their meals are insufficient, and some of them have health problems. K feels that he is not 100% this year and has been bothered by various minor ailments such as colds and stomachaches. N, who has been a "lonely goose" for the past ten years, has been seriously ill twice during that time.

Inability to concentrate on work may also be the result from emotional separation, and this is more prominent among "lonely goose" commuters. O, a professor at a local university, has not published anything since his wife and children moved to Canada four years ago, and for one and a half years A also has not done any research that will lead to a publication. Although no one I interviewed directly correlated their inability to concentrate on research with their separation from their families, most admitted that they have become more relaxed about things other than their families.

The most serious problem that weekend commuters face is their relationships with their spouses. O's parents do not like the fact that their daughter-in-law lives in Canada and still ask O whether his relationship to his wife is fine. A's parents-in-law understand the intention of A and A's wife to educate their children in the U.S., yet they constantly worry that A might be having an affair with another woman. For P, commuting resulted in divorce. P started commuting to Seoul on weekends in 1996 when he moved to Daegu because of his job. His wife was a full-time office worker, and so a maid was hired to take care of the children and do the housework during the day. P says that his trips to Seoul were less frequent in 1998 and there was a rumor spread even among his colleague workers that he was not in good terms with his wife. In 1999, he stopped going to Seoul and by the year's end P and his wife agreed to a divorce. He did not provide the exact reason behind the divorce, but implied that he thought his wife was too selfish and thought only about her career. As an example, P cited such incidents as company dinners when his wife returned home very late and drunk. In a word, P thought his wife did not pay much attention toward him and their children or rather ignored the other family members, even while he stayed in Seoul on weekends.

Q, whose wife commutes between Gyeongju and Busan, thinks that a married couple should live together. He says that on the surface weekenders' relationships to their spouses might seem better than before. This is likely because they pretend there are no problems and refuse to talk about them. Thus, Q maintains, if a couple lives apart during the week, there is no way to resolve problems in their relationship, even small ones, and that may have a snowball effect. P did not say exactly why he divorced his wife although he denies it is because of an affair on either side, and I assume that their divorce might have stemmed from small problems and consequent lack of communication.

Weekend commuting of one family member may lead to weekend commuting his or her parents as well. L's family is such a case. L's wife is a full-time professor in Jeonju, and L's mother travels from Gwangju to Jeonju to take care of the children while L is in Busan on weekdays. This leaves L's elderly father in Gwangju alone, and L sometimes worries about him. L commented half-jokingly that weekend commuting is not simply about the family but is also closely related with issues of the elderly. Another such case is R, a dentist in Gwangju who commutes to Daejeon where his wife works and lives with their children. In this case, R's mother-in-law commutes from Jeonju to Daejeon to take care of the children while R is in Gwangju, and his father-in-law is left alone in Jeonju.

In spite of all these difficulties, weekend couples still maintain their separate living arrangements during the week. As mentioned above, the greatest benefit of maintaining such a lifestyle is the economic advantage that these families can enjoy. In addition, in the case of the female members of weekend couples, self-fulfillment is also an important factor. Even most male weekend commuters also think that their commuting does not hinder them from achieving their goals. They say that they use their time as efficiently as they wish and can do what they used to do in a full week on the weekdays, because they are not interrupted by their family when they are alone. As this lifestyle persists, we need to conceptualize weekend couples, especially in light of conventional ideas on family.

 

 

Conclusion: Conceptualizing the Weekend-couple Family

 

Murdock defines the family as "a social group characterized by common residence, economic cooperation, and reproduction [which] includes adults of both sexes, at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship, and one or more children, own or adopted, of the sexually cohabiting adults" (1949, 1). Yi extends Murdock's definition further to apply to societies like Korea where family has been a very important social and cultural institution, and defines the family as "a group consisting of husband and wife united through marriage and their children or the equivalent (through adoption). It is a common residence group, a common property group through economic cooperation, a common sentiment group sharing love and respect, and a cultural group having its own characteristics and traditions" (1991, 22-23). Both emphasize the importance of co-residence in the composition of the family.

As we have seen, the weekend-couple family, or "lonely goose" family, is not a typical common residence group according to the conventional definitions of the family. Yi tentatively regards weekend-couple families as an exceptional variant of the common residence group based on strong trust and solidarity among family members (1998, 218-219). It is because common residence in the definition of the family means not simply living together under the same roof and sharing the same food, but maintaining an exclusive sexual relationship between husband and wife and economic cooperation (Yi 1983). This is also because weekend-couple families are not the same as a single-parent families where a parent is permanently absent (Yi 1998, 219-224).

Although Yi treats the weekend-couple family in post-industrial Korea as a numerically increasing variant form of the family, rather than the issue of whether or not the weekend-couple family is an exception to the normative family type, I argue that we need a different approach for conceptualizing a wide variety of families in the post-industrial era, including the modified stem family in which married children and their parents live in different households not far from each other and maintain a certain degree of cooperation (ibid.,  183), and the so-called "digital family" in which family members live under one roof yet maintain a certain degree of independence. That is, instead of conceptualizing families according to the normative models, we need to understand each family (and members of the family) as an agent trying to adapt to changing socioeconomic circumstances.

I have elsewhere analyzed Korean kinship activities in a contemporary urban setting using Bourdieu's notion of practical kinship (Bourdieu 1990, 166-179; Kim 1998). Many kinship activities in contemporary Korea, such as the growing importance of affinal kinsmen  to men in day-to-day cooperation, do seem to violate traditional kinship norms based on patrilineal ideology. Yet they are explicable when the socioeconomic context in which such activities occur is taken into consideration. As Harrell notes, human behavior is dependent on not only what individuals have been taught to do (their culture or norms) but also on the surrounding socioeconomic context (1982, 8-15). By socioeconomic context he means "the sum total of exogenous, given factors to which people with certain cultural rules have to adapt their social behavior" (ibid., 9). The norms or culture of a society can also change over a considerable period of time while adapting to changing socioeconomic circumstances.

The Korean family, including the weekend-couple family de-scribed herein, can be considered in a same way, as a practical family. We may use a static normative model to explain in detail how much of an exception it is and why. Yet, in order to reach a fuller understanding, we need to apply the concept of practice to the family. The idea of practice focuses on how each family, as an active agent, transforms traditional family norms (such as co-residence) into strategies to cope with everyday life and to achieve specific social goals. Put simply, practice means "what people do with the family" rather than "what people say about the family."

According to this point of view, Korean weekend-couple families' decisions to maintain different residences on weekdays can be understood as a strategy to maximize the available resources under changing socioeconomic circumstances while not totally violating the family norms of Korea. There is nothing exceptional about weekend couples who commute while living apart during the weekit is not very different from sending their children to universities located in other regionsand they are just like any other Korean family trying to get the most out of what is available.


 

 

 

References

 

An, Byeong-cheol. 1997. Sahoe byeondong-gwa gajok (Social Change and the Family). Seoul: Center for Future Human Resources Studies.

An, Byeong-cheol, Im In-suk, Jeong Gi-seon, and Yi Jang-won. 2001. Gyeongje wigi-wa gajok (Economic Crisis and the Family). Seoul: Center for Future Human Resources Studies.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1990. The Logic of Practice. Translated by Richard Nice. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Chosun Ilbo. 30 July 2001.

Harrell, Stevan. 1982. Ploughshare Village: Culture and Context in Taiwan. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Jin, Su-hui. 1999. "Jeonmunjik yeoseong-ui il-gwa sam-ui jil" (Female Professionals' Work and Quality of Life). In Yeoseong-ui il-gwa sam-ui jil (Women's Work and Quality of Life), edited by Son Seung-yeong. Seoul: Center for Future Human Resources Studies.

KBS. Nine O'clock News, 23 July 2001.

Kim, Song-Chul. 1998. "Kinship in Contemporary Korea: Normative Model versus Practice," Korea Journal 38.3: 128-147.

Murdock, George Peter. 1949. Social Structure. New York: Macmilan Company.

Son, Seung-yeong. ed. 1999. Yeoseong-ui il-gwa sam-ui jil (Women's Work and Quality of Life). Seoul: Center for Future Human Resources Studies.

Yi, Gwang-gyu. 1983. "Hanguk-ui gajok jedo" (The Korean Family System). Hanguk munhwa illyuhak (Korean Cultural Anthropology) 15: 11-21.

____________. 1991. Gajok-gwa chinjok (Family and Kinship). Seoul: Illchogak Publishing Co.

____________. 1998. Hanguk gajok-ui sahoe illyuhak (Social Anthropology of the Korean Family). Seoul: Jip Moon Dang.



Kim Song-Chul (Kim, Seong-cheol) is Professor of Anthropology at Inje University. He received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from University of Washington, Seattle, in 1991. His research interests include kinship and family, corporate culture, and information society. He has authored and translated many books and articles including Ancestor Worship and Korean Society (2000) and Cultural Tradition in East Asia and Korean Society (2001). (E-mail: langsch@ijnc.inje.ac.kr.)

 

 

1. Oe of oegireogi means "alone," and has the connotations of an "empty nest."

2. Bun-geo gajok.

3. See Appendix: List of Interviewees.

4. "One-room" is a small studio-type apartment of about eight to twelve pyeong.

5. The interval between personnel changes in Korean courts is usually around two years.