[EDITORIALS]Changing Times, Changing MoresThe National Statistical Office released its 2000 Population and Housing Census on Tuesday. The results of the survey show clearly that traditional Korean family patterns are changing. According to the survey, the number of persons living alone increased 35.4 percent since 1995, growing especially rapidly among persons in their 40s and over 70. Surprisingly, 12 percent of persons living alone are married. The survey also showed that the number of persons living with family members is decreasing.
The data indicate that the traditional family is breaking up. With the advance of industrialized society, traditional extended families changed into nuclear families in which at least two generations lived together in a household; children generally lived with their parents until they married and moved out to form a separate family.
But now, more unmarried children are living apart from their parents although they live in the same city. Increasingly, family members live apart because of the jobs of husbands or wives or schooling requirements of their children. As the average lifespan increases and divorces become more common, more middle-aged or older persons live alone.
The collapse of traditional families implies that our society is now responsible for the roles and functions that a family used to play as the basic social unit. But Korean society is not ready to take on that responsibility. The government should supply small housing units, such as studio apartments, to accommodate the increasing number of single-person households and establish a social support system for the elderly. The new survey shows a rapid increase in households led by middle-aged or older women, so the government should speed measures to support female seniors whose economic status is relatively weaker than that of men.
The changed form of families in our society also demands new efforts to maintain emotional bonds between physically separated members. Families should throw away the traditional, patriarchical hierarchy. Forming a horizontal system of values, respecting all family members and providing chances for dialogue and gatherings are the most urgent needs for our changing society.