The Roles of Mothers in Social Mobility in Joseon, Korea

Kuentae Kim, Seoul National University
Hyunjoon Park, University of Pennsylvania

The Joseon (1392-1910) Korea is typically portrayed as a patriarchal society influenced by Confucianism. Under the assumption, historians and social scientists have rarely examined the actual roles that women, particularly mothers, played in influencing their children’s social mobility. It is commonly assumed that mother’s social status should not have mattered much in affecting children’s social mobility compared to father’s social status in Joseon which was supposedly controlled primarily by men. In the current study we challenge this fundamental presumption on Joseon by empirically demonstrating the active roles of mothers in affecting their (adult) children’s social status above and over the roles of fathers. We draw data of individuals and their parents from household registers (Hojeok) compiled every three years between 1765 and 1894 in two villages located in Jesu Island, the largest island in Korea. Considering the government-owned nobis (‘slaves’), who occupied the lowest social status in Jeju Island, were liberated in 1801, we examine individuals’ social status in relation to social statuses of their mothers and fathers only after 1801. The household registers provide information on social status of each person (usually adult). By using the information on each one’s relationship to the household head, we can identify social statuses of individuals and their parents. Due to the rapid expansion of high social status during the 19th century in Joseon, the fundamental classification of social status in 19th century separates yangbans (high class) from others. We utilize logistic regression analysis predicting the odds for an individual to attain yangban status by mother’s social status and father’s social status. We will compare whether mother’s social status actually mattered more than father’s social status. Our study is an attempt to bring in mothers and women back in the history of Joseon.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 165. Bringing Women Back into the History of Joseon (Korea) in Comparative Perspective