Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ask a Korean! News: Change in Korean Family, Seen through Home Shopping

Very interesting article about the changing family dynamics in Korea, reflected in home shopping habits:

Wife = Queen of the Table, Husband = Porter, Grandmother = Child-Rearing Specialist

Home shopping show host wearing a princess dress instead of an apron while selling a table top grill? The nickname for "Princess Electric Grill", the best-selling item from home shopping company GS Shop, is "Grills Where Moms Can Eat Too." The show host points out the limitations of an ordinary table top grill, whose size is not enough for the homemaker to eat the pieces of meat while the husband and the children eat because only two to three portions of meat can be put on. She instead emphasizes the 65 cm-length of the new grill, which is enough to put the meat for the whole family, also with soup bowl and condiments. The success story of this "Princess" grill belies the changing family culture in Korea.

The traditional image of homemakers who barely ate while preparing the food is no more.
The success of the large grill that can cook everything on the table symbolizes that 
homemakers are now a regular member of the table. 

One such change is the rising status of women at the table. In a traditional eating culture, "mom" was always an outsider -- the one who grills barbecue, not eats barbecue. In the hustle of preparing the soup and the condiments and carrying them from the kitchen to the table, women could not eat properly. But as eating together became common and the homemaker became a regular member of the table, "mom" was no longer a servant but a princess. The princess dress worn by the shopping show host sends the message that says, "Take care of yourself, not just your family."

Mirror of Modern Family Culture

Home shopping shows, which deal with many household items, is the perfect mirror that reflects Korea's family culture. A show host who set a record for selling $ 42,000 worth of merchandise in one minute claimed in her book, "Observing home shopping shows the zeitgeist of that country."

Examining the home shopping show lineup enables one to glean the impact on Korean family caused by two-income households, 40.1 percent of all families in Korea according to Statistics Korea. Last year, CJ Oh! Shopping put shows selling side dishes at 7 a.m. on Fridays. Normally, this time was reserved for older generation who tend to wake up earlier, selling health supplements or hiking equipments. This also went against the prevailing thought that food sales is most suited for 3~4 p.m. when the viewers begin to feel hungry. This idea was based on the recognition that two-income couples, who usually eat outside on their own, tend to eat together starting Friday evening. With the assurance of same-day delivery which guaranteed the side dish would arrive for dinner if ordered before going to work, the ratings nearly doubled.

One can also read the trend that both husbands and wives are sharing child-rearing responsibilities. Hyundai Home Shopping began airing shows selling science picture books after 10 p.m. instead of the traditional time slot for children's goods, which is between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. This show was designed to target the time when young father, who have high interest in education, return home from work. The result was a massive hit. As the orders from young fathers who grew up with nature and science documentaries such as the Animal Kingdom or the National Geographic rushed in, there was a 20 percent increase in sale compared to airing the show in the regular slot.

Home shopping also shows that the traditional boundaries of gender roles are crumbling down. In 2007, GS Shop starred a male shopping host to sell Loofen, a food waste dryer. He said, "Husbands! Do you have a hard time riding the elevator with the dripping, smelly food trash bag every morning?" and emphasized that the food waste dryer was for the "husbands". By focusing on the message of alleviating the annoyance of the husbands who take out the trash, the sale climbed over $ 6 million in a year.

A representative from GS Shop said, "Men in their 30s and 40s are approaching 30 percent of those who purchased the food waste processor in the last two years," and added, "Considering that home shopping channels are watched by women in their 30s and 40s, it is a product with a very high male purchase ratio." 

Husbands Clean, Grandfathers Take Care of the Diapers

CJ Oh! Shopping's show "We are Really Married", starring actual married couple Kim Su-Jin and Dr. Pyo Jin-In symbolizes the changes in the father's place in the family. The show, which sells household items and children's goods, often shows demonstrations of Mr. Pyo, the husband, using the merchandise. Cleaning the sofa or the carpet with ultraviolet antibacterial cleaner or playing with their son with blocks made of natural wood and magnets, all fall on Mr. Pyo. Song Ho-Jae, program director for the show, said "We wanted to reflect the trend that husbands have an increased responsibility for homemaking and child rearing."

If the captions for educational materials for infants and young children seem a little larger than usual, the show is targeting grandparents who take part in raising and educating their grandchildren. Hyundai Home Shopping found that, based on its Internet sales result, the most popular item among men in their 50s and 60s was none other than diapers. A representative of Hyundai Home Shopping said, "There are more cases of grandparents buying diapers and books for their grandchildren instead of the parents, who tend to be out working."

The home shopping companies that read this trend has pulled forward the shows for educational material for young children to weekday morning, when grandparents tend to be watching television. GS Shop representative said, "In the last two years there has been a 20 percent increase in customers in their 50s and 60s who purchased educational material for young children," and added, "Considering this trend, we make the caption for such items larger than normal, in consideration for old people's eyesights."

(Original article in Korean here)

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  1. Awesome article. I really am awed by the power of Koreans to change their attitudes about stuff like this collectively in a short period of time. Westerners tend to make changes individually, which slows down widespread social change a bit, but Koreans--man, each generation re-writes the rulebook! Wild!

  2. First off, using home shopping networks and their various machinations and buying statistics seems an excellent way to assess family trends----I mean that sincerely. I've been working on a project leading to research within the Japanese familial culture; especially in those family/marriages of an international nature, i.e., British/American/Australian women married to Japanese men. By and large the Japanese husbands/fathers are considered (by their foreign spouses) useless with regard to participation in the household duties and indeed, with regard to parenting. So, I do think Korean men pull way ahead by becoming active, i.e., taking an active role in the family....not just being a money earner. (Regarding Japanese men---these traits of uselessness were true whether the wife was working outside the home (most were) or not. Koreans definitely pull ahead culturally in my humble estimation.


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