Society for East Asian Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Rapid economic development, urbanization, and one of the world’s lowest birthrates have combined to create a highly-commodified and competitive dating landscape. However, youth unemployment and a broad gender pay gap have left Korean women as unequal financial contributors to their intimate relationships. Furthermore, the inequalities that exist within the employment marketplace become recreated within this dating marketplace where some men and women rise to the top while others tumble to the bottom, unable to afford the costs of intimacy.
This research was conducted over one year in Seoul, South Korea using interviews, focus groups, surveys, and participant observation data collected through attending speed-dating events, meeting-up groups, and online dating. I explore how Korean singles negotiate emergent and existing dating practices that include matchmakers, arranged marriages, parent-introductions, blind-dates, group-dates, dating apps, and “hunting” strategically to optimize their chances of finding love and intimacy while minimize feeling “uncomfortable,” a common euphemism for financial, sexual, or emotional exploitation. Korean singles with limited financial resources can find easily themselves feeling “uncomfortable” when dating with more well-off partners.
By focusing on the gendered commodification of intimacy in contemporary Korean society, which manifests itself in the complex consumption rituals that surround acts normally associated with emotional interpersonal relations, such as dating, I explore broader questions about economic development and its effect on gender equality. I situate my work in a growing literature in anthropology on the commodification of intimacy, allowing me to ask questions about how participation in the neoliberal market impacts and mediates romantic relationships.