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gender, antifeminist backlash, South Korea
In recent years, many countries have witnessed a rise in backlash against women’s empowerment. This paper looks at the role of the marriage market dynamics in understanding the rise of anti-feminist backlash, focusing on the case of South Korea, where gender has become one of the most salient cleavages in recent electoral politics. I argue that the marriage market squeeze, where there is an excess of men over women seeking partners for marriage, has engendered backlash against women’s empowerment in South Korea. In examining this relationship, I highlight two factors that differentially constrain the choices of women and men and simultaneously intensify backlash: status and national duty. Marriage is often regarded as a symbol of status in a patriarchal society—if one does not marry, it incurs reputational costs for the individual and their families, and these reputational costs are higher for men who are expected to continue the family line. Second, marriage may be perceived as a national duty when the government actively promotes marriage and birth as a duty that its citizens should uphold and honor, as is the case in South Korea. I argue that men and women face different costs and benefits of violating such filial and national duties, causing women to opt out of marriage at much higher rates compared to men. The case of South Korea presents an opportunity to examine what happens when the basic premise that serves as a foundation for the patriarchal bargain is challenged in a traditionally patriarchal society that has undergone rapid economic growth. I test my hypotheses using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods, including an analysis of attitudinal and census data, a survey experiment, and semi-structured interviews with over 60 elites and citizens.
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The Collapse of the Patriarchal Bargain? Status, Duty and Gender Backlash in South Korea