Political Economy Of Cross-Border Marriages : Economic Changes And Social Reproduction In South Korea

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In this dissertation, I analyze cross-border marriages between South Korean men and Vietnamese women within the framework of social reproduction. The volume of Vietnamese cross-border marriages has increased dramatically with the emergence of the commercial marriage brokerages industry in the late 1990s. While NGOs have raised concerns about the commodification of Vietnamese women, the South Korean government has actively supported cross-border marriages through legislations. Why and how cross-border marriages have increased in South Korea at this moment and gained so much attention in the policy arena are the primary questions addressed in this dissertation. The practice of cross-border marriage between Korean men and foreign women started as a response to widespread concern over the inability of large numbers of rural bachelors to find marriage partners in the 1980s. The "rural bachelors problem" arose in the context of growing concerns over the sustainability of rural communities that arose as a result of the policy of export-oriented industrialization that began in the 1960s. The increase in rural to urban migration and women's labor force participation, and the decline in fertility and marriage rates continued during this period and contributed to changing family patterns and the dismantling of the family as a key institution for care provision. By the mid 2000s, low fertility and a "care deficit" became national concerns and a series of legislative correctives, including the Framework Act on Healthy Families were implemented. Growing attention was paid to the "Multicultural Family," which is the government's official term for unions arising through cross-border marriage. While much of the discussion surrounding cross-border marriage focuses on individual marriage migrants' experiences, this dissertation focuses on the structural changes that accompany cross-border marriage. I use social reproduction as a framework within which to discuss both the demographic and the political economic context within which the practice has grown, including changes in migration patterns, women's labor force participation and their role in care provision, and the contexts of the welfare regime and notions of citizenship. I take the family, in particular the multicultural family, as a site through which to explore how these contexts and processes. . Care provision has become increasingly important in the current global political economy. Recent research on the global care chain and the feminization of labor migration has articulated how the pressure to reduce the cost of care provision in the context of the decline of the welfare state has contributed to affect female labor migration. In a similar vein, I have found that the increase in marriage migration coincides with the population and care crisis, which has resulted from the decrease in fertility and marriage rates, changes in family patterns, and the increase in women's labor force participation that has occurred since the industrialization period. Women have been primarily responsible for care provision within the family in South Korea. The pronounced care crisis at the moment cannot be separated from changes that have taken place in family patterns and women's roles. While the Korean government has increased the social expenditures, efforts to restore the family as central to care provision continue. I argue that the recent increase in marriage migration in South Korea is one manifestation of social reproduction in this context. As of 2009, cross-border marriage became more than a rural phenomenon, as more than 50 percent of Vietnamese marriage migrants to Korea were living in urban areas. The data show that most are marry into low income families and nearly half of them live with in-laws, which is ten times higher than the rate among Korean-Korean families. Marriage migration helps address the population and care crisis in South Korea by contributing to the formation of families and providing care for children and elderly in the low income families. Lastly, it is worth noting that multicultural families are indispensible in the current making of "Multicultural Korea". Marriage migrants and their low income families are mobilized in the celebration of "Multicultural Korea," yet their marginalized socio-economic status is hardly recognized in this process.
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Cross-border marriage; Social Reproduction; South Korea; Feminization of Migration; Vietnam
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Williams, Linda Brooks
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McMichael, Philip David
Beneria, Lourdes
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Development Sociology
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Ph. D., Development Sociology
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Government Document
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dissertation or thesis
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