Society and Identity
This paper examines gender differences in South Korean attitudes towards the relationship between romantic love and practical considerations of social and economic capital in courtship. The practical considerations of a prospective partner’s economic and social status have long been principle concerns of Korean matchmakers. However, as Korean women make strides towards parity in educational and occupational achievement, and romantic love becomes a marital prerequisite, the contradiction between the expectation of men to be reliable material providers and men’s belief that love ought to be free of financial considerations, is a peaking source of misunderstanding among courting Koreans. Based on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork, interviews and survey data, I adopt a feminist ethnological lens to explain why this gender difference has emerged in South Korea and not China, as cross-cultural survey data indicates. I argue that Korean men’s anxiety over conditional, pragmatic love lies in the combination of their precarious position as workers in an inflexible labor market and enduring ideals of a gendered division of labor in which breadwinning remains an obligatory expectation of men. In contrast, women have longer been incorporated into the Chinese workforce, which also enjoys high inter-firm mobility, making unemployment and fear of an inability to earn a living, a less threatening specter in China. By highlighting the structural and cultural progenitors of this situation, I offer a counter narrative to the Korean anti-feminist men’s movement’s claims that this conflict stems from female selfishness or hypergamous avidity.