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[Weekender] ‘As families evolve, so should policies’

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Published : 2014-05-30 21:10
Updated : 2014-05-30 21:10

Some of the best-known “family-friendly” policies at workplaces include child care services, parental leave for both mothers and fathers, and flexible work scheduling.

But what we now consider as family-friendly policies should be redefined in the years to come, as family trends in Seoul have been changing dramatically in the past decade, said Lee Sook-jin, the president of the Seoul Foundation of Women & Family.

“We now have to go back to square one and really think about how to define families,” said Lee in an interview with The Korea Herald. “We are trying to introduce a new set of policies that are inclusive of all families of all shapes in Seoul.”
Lee Sook-jin, president of Seoul Foundation of Women & Family, speaks during an interview with The Korea Herald on Tuesday. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)

The Seoul Metropolitan Government predicts that more than 60 percent of Seoul families will be single or two-person households, including single-parent families, by 2035. Last year, they made up 49.9 percent of families in Seoul.

Meanwhile, traditional nuclear families ― which consist of a married couple and their children ― are likely to make up less than 25 percent of the total Seoul households, Lee said. In 2000, three- or four-person nuclear families made up 49.8 percent of the households in Seoul, but that number decreased to 35.1 percent in 2013.

“There are many reasons for this,” Lee said.

“More elderly people are living alone. Many young people put off getting married because of either unemployment or job insecurity, or difficulty finding housing. And more people decide not to have children. Also, there are people like goose fathers, who send their kids and wives abroad for English education, while working and living alone in Korea.”

Lee, who is currently working on a new set of family policies to be introduced by the Seoul Metropolitan Government in near future, said educational programs for single fathers, as well as working men who live alone, have been discussed among her team members.

“Men who live alone, especially those who are in their 40s or 50s, have their own set of problems compared to women who live alone,” Lee said. “Many of them fail to live a healthy lifestyle because of their lack of knowledge in domestic affairs, such as cooking. Many single fathers also have difficulty raising their children alone, because they don’t know much about infant care. But these things can be taught and trained, and can really make a difference in their lives.”

Regardless of the changing family trends, Lee said flexible working hours are crucial for both men and women. Local workplaces should also acknowledge that men, just like women, have the right, desire and responsibility to partake in raising their children, Lee said.

“The public and private sectors have to work together on this,” she said.

“For example, the government’s job is to provide child care services, such as day care centers, that are safe and reliable. The private companies’ job is to make sure their workers can get off work on time, so that their children don’t have to stay at day care until 10 or 11 p.m. It doesn’t matter what kind of a household you have ― you need to spend time and form relationships outside your work.”

Lee said it was also important for society to accept that there are many different kinds of families, including chosen families ― whose members are not related by blood. An example of a chosen family is a number of unwed women living together in a single household as a community, Lee said.

“Although the number of traditional nuclear families is decreasing drastically, the common perception is that such families are the ‘normal’ family,’” she said.

“Our job is to respect every individual’s decision, but offer support if they need help with family planning. For example, if a couple decides not to have children, we need to respect that. But if they want children but give up on the idea because they don’t feel confident, we can help them by informing them what options they may have, such as child care services and infant care education programs.”

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)

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