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Hierarchy Levels of Gender and Age Impacts on Communication Between Siblings Within Confucian Based South Korean Families

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Hierarchy Levels of Gender and Age impacts on Communication Between Siblings within Confucian Based South Korean Families

Research in the Disciplines, 355:201:G3

        Confucian based East Asian countries have this tradition in which sons are much more favored than daughters within the family. Among the countries that practice Confucianism, gender and hierarchy tend to cause conflicts in communication between siblings within patriarchal families.

Siblings in the whole world face conflicts from communication or rivalry at least once in their lifetime. Particularly, communication conflicts tend to arise frequently between siblings with different genders than those with the same gender. Within all kinds relationship, trustworthiness is a number one factor that can either strengthen or weaken the relationship. Similarly, sibling relationships are strongly based on “keep[ing] secrets, honor[ing] promises, and be[ing] trustworthy” (Rotenberg, 1984, n.p.). According to Gamble, Yu, and Kuehn (2011), constructing a scale of trustworthiness between siblings can be identified with three fundamental bases. The three bases of trust are: “(1) reliability… (2) emotional… and (3) honesty… these three components comprised our assessment of trustworthiness specifically in relation to a sibling” (p. 608). In more depth, reliability is referred to the “fulfillment of a promise,” emotional is referred to the “reliance on others to refrain from causing emotional harm,” and lastly, honesty is referred to “telling the truth and avoiding deceit” (p. 608). Trustworthiness may mean different things depending on the types of families, however, when this is looked through a broader lens, it is most likely that siblings’ relationships are strongly connected with the trustworthiness which are based on reliability, emotion, and honesty.

There are many reasons as to why the conflict arises, but one of them is the different communication style of male and female. Because the focus of men and women differ when they speak, they interpret the words in completely different ways even though they are thinking the same thing. This then, develops into misunderstandings that cause conflicts in the end. Tannen (2010) states that when people talk, males tend to focus on “competition,” whereas females tend to focus on “connections.” In other words, “men’s talk tends to focus on hierarchy – competition for relative power – where-as women’s tends to focus on connection – relative closeness or distance” (n.p.). Because the focuses between the two genders are different, it makes it hard for both to be on the same page all the times when they are having conversations. This does not apply to one specific nationality, but it applies to the two genders from all around the world. So this gender difference in style of communicating can be one of the factors that causes siblings’ conflicts within a Confucian based Korean family.

Despite the fact that males and females’ talks are shown to be different, all conversations are actually a combination of competition and connection; as Tannen states, “the two are not mutually exclusive but inextricably intertwined” (n.p.). Strictly speaking, males and females’ styles of conversation are reaching the same goals, just in different ways. Also, sometimes men use connection and women compete as they talk. Furthermore, women, too, focus on hierarchy and men focus on connection inside their conversation. Even though the two different genders sometimes share each other’s style of talking, they often result in misinterpretations. Conflicts especially arise from the style of hierarchy because the concept of hierarchical competition between siblings often gives rise to sibling rivalry as well.

In South Korea, the two genders do not just have different style of communicating, but males and females receive different attention in society, especially in the family. Due to the concept of Confucianism practiced in South Korea, “family order is the ideal model for the whole world order” (Cho & Shin, 1996, n.p.). The concept of family is viewed as to be the strongest regardless of age, living areas, marital status, and gender (n.p.). Inside this “family order” of Confucian value, son preference and discrimination against daughters are known to be very strong within a family. Because of this trend of Confucian value, once the sex-selective technology became available, South Korea showed the highest level of sex-selective abortion (Das Gupta, Jiang, Li, Xie, Chung & Bae, 2003, p. 157). This article states, “although the proportion of sons desired remained constant, the number of daughters that could be accommodated within these ideal family sizes dropped sharply” (p. 159). Furthermore, Kim (2002) reasons that, “the sex ratio at birth as estimated as 109.4 in 1985 and reached 115.5 in 1994. This implies that there has been a substantial excess of sons over daughters at birth” (p. 866). With the access to “sex-selective” technology that was highly popular in Korea, these families were able to determine which gender the baby is and get abortion if the baby turned out to be a “daughter.” Because this action was common to most of the families, the fertility rate began to decrease as well because everyone was choosing to abort the baby unless it was a boy. In fact, the son-selective reproduction was strong enough to “likely result in negative health impacts on mothers due to repeated abortions or miscarriages” (p. 876). So, as a result, few families that were concerned with drastic fertility declines and women’s health, began to accept at least one daughter in order to balance out the sex composition of the family (Das Gupta, Jiang, Li, Xie, Chung & Bae, p. 160).

Son preference has been strong in social and cultural roots in Korean families. “Korea is a very clear example of a strongly patriarchal society, one which can be expected to generate strong son preference that will influence fertility decision” (Larsen, Chung & Das Gupta, 1998, p. 317). Due to the concept of Confucianism, Korea, along with many other East Asian countries, prefers male offspring more than female offspring. There are many reasons to why sons are more preferable and important in the family. The reasons are as following: “for continuity of the lineage, for performing ancestor worship rites, and for providing support at old age” (p. 317). Addition to these reasons, inheritance is one of the reasons as well (Das Gupta, Jiang, Li, Xie, Chung & Bae, p. 160). The concept of hierarchy, adapted from Confucianism, appears here. The level is determined by the age in most cases, where oldest ones are highest and youngest ones are lowest. However, in the patriarchal Korean families, the first thing to consider when determining the hierarchical level is gender, where males are always higher than females regardless of the age. So the reason why sons are preferred and favored within the family is because they are responsible to successfully perform the tasks that have been given to them for being the son of the family. Actually, when there is more than one son within the family, it is the oldest one that has the greatest role for continuing the lineage, performing ancestor worship rites, providing support for parents at old age, and inheriting the largest share of the property (p. 167).

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