Older women dominate agricultural villages

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Older women dominate agricultural villages

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Older women dominate a pavilion that was once regarded as a popular gathering place for older men Friday afternoon in Oeyang village, Sunchang, North Jeolla. Korean women live longer than men. By Oh Jong-chan

Women tend to live longer than men, and so fishing and farming villages in Korea are now dominated by older women whose husbands have died.

Many older women say they yearn for national holidays like Chuseok because that’s the only time when their neighborhoods are filled with the laughter of men and grandchildren.

“What seems as an awfully quiet, uninhabited village turns into a lively one only when national holidays are here,” said a woman in her 60s, who was watching a television with five other older women at a village center in North Jeolla on Friday.

“Our children come down here from cities and that’s when we hear boisterous men’s voices. That makes us think that this is a village inhabited with people,” she said.

The older women said it has been quite some time since they occupied the village center formerly used by men. And the women also said their village changed significantly over the course of the decade.

A large picture on the wall dated November 2000 shows crowds of men taking part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of the town’s center.

Ten years ago, there were more than 100 people in the village, but now the number is 36 because men have died and young people have left the village to find well-paying office jobs.

Of the 36 villagers, only 12 are men and there are seven women who are older than 65 - none of the men are over 65 - said Kang Seong-ju, head of the village.

“Just five to six years ago, the population ratio of men and women was quite equal, but old men passed away, one after the other, in a few years,” Kang, 60, said. “Now, grandmothers joke about women taking power over this village. The ratio of men and women becomes fairly equal only when the children and grandchildren come on holidays.”

According to statistics from the Sunchang County Office of North Jeolla, one of the country’s oldest counties, Sunchang boasts 8,494 people over 65-years-old in the region, which accounts for 28 percent of the population. Of the 8,494 people over 65, 61.2 percent, or 5,199 people, are women, as of end of last year.

The study found seven out of 10 people over the age of 65 are female in 50 of 330 villages in Sunchang.

People over 85 are all women and there are no old men, the study found.

As old women dominate the villages, it’s natural to see a role reversal, with older women taking over the men’s tough farming responsibilities.

Spreading manure and agricultural pesticides and cutting grass are regarded as men’s work, but now older women handle the jobs.

Yang Byung-woo, an agriculture professor at Chonbuk National University in North Jeolla, said the government must come up with measures to keep the male and female population ratio equal in farming villages. Otherwise, the existence of farming villages will be under threat.


By Hwang Sun-yoon, Kim Bang-hyeon [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]

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