The Race of Single People

This post will be my first that is based around a translation, one of a September 2006 Chosun Ilbo Article, which can be found here.

This post brings up some interesting issues in its content, but I also think it can be considered somewhat revealing of the attitudes some Koreans have to marriage, relationships and being single, but I’ll discuss that further after the translation.

싱글족은 ‘더블족’

집에서 독립한 지 1년 된 회사원 정(26)씨는 지난 25일 퇴근길에 동네 할인점을 찾았다. 정씨는 소포장 야채와 1인용 디저트 케이크, 음료수 샀다. 정씨는 사온 물품을 소형 냉장고(85리터)에 넣은 뒤, 밥을 하는 동안 3킬로그램짜리 소형 세탁기에 빨래를 넣었다. 식사를 끝낸 뒤에는 인터넷을 통해 커피포트 기능이 있는 미니 오븐 토스터기를 점찍었다. 정씨는 “혼자 식사를 준비하는 데 편할 것 같아 골랐다”고 말했다.

Ms Jeong (26) – a company employee who left home a year ago – visited her local discount store on her way home from work last month on the 25th. Ms Jeong bought a small packet of vegetables, a desert cake for one and a [soft] drink. After she’d put the things she bought in her small size (85 lr) refrigerator, Ms Jeong loaded her washing into her 3kg small volume washing machine while cooking the rice. After she’d finished her meal on the internet she singled out a mini oven toaster with a coffee pot function (Seamus: ???). Ms Jeong said, “I chose it because it looks like it’d be convenient for cooking alone.”

부모로부터 일찌감치 독립해 혼자 사는 ‘조기 독립’과 적령기 넘겨서까지 결혼을 늦추는 만혼(晩婚), 이혼 등이 늘면서 혼자 사는 싱글족이 급격히 늘고 있다. 통계청의 2005년 조사에 따르면 미혼 비율은 25-30세 전체 인구 중에서 70.6%, 31-34세 인구 중에서 30.2% 각각 차지하고 있다.

As the ‘early independents,’ who became independent from their parents early, those who get married late who put off marriage until after the appropriate time, and the divorced increase in number the numbers of the single race who live alone is increasing rapidly. According to a 2005 study by the National Statistical Office, unmarried people account for 70.6% of the total population aged 25-30, and 30.2% of the total population aged 31-34 respectively.

싱글족이 중요한 소비 주체로 떠오르면서 가전업체와 식품업체는 싱글을 위한 제품을 본격적으로 만들기 시작했고, 백화점이나 할인점 등 유통업체도 이들을 잡기 위해 발벗고 나섰다.

At the same time as the single race is emerging as an important consumer group, home electronics and food businesses have started to make products for singles on a large scale, and distribution businesses such as department stores or discount stores have also been enthusiastically working to ensnare them.

혼자 사는 싱글족은 소포장, 소형, 다기능 제품을 선호한다. 가전업체들은 이런 추세를 반영해 혼자 사는 사람을 위한 미니 세탁기, 미니 가습기를 내놓고 있다. 대우 일렉트로닉스는 4평형, 6평형 에어컨을 내놓았고, 작년 여름과 비교해 50% 이상의 매출 신장세를 보였다. 하이얼이 내놓은 미니세탁기(2.6-3.3킬로그램)의 경우 한달 평균 1,000대 정도가 팔려나가고 있다.

The single race, who live alone, prefer small packs, small sizes, multi-function products. Reflecting this trend home electronics businesses are bringing out mini washing machines and mini humidifiers for people who live alone. Daewoo Electronics have brought out 4 pyeong and 6 pyeong size air conditioners, and they have seen a sales growth rate of over 50% compared with last summer. In the case of the mini (2.6-3.3 kg) washing machine brought out by Haier, they are selling at a rate of around 1,000 a month on average.

온라인 쇼핑몰 디앤샵의 경우, 올 상반기 싱글 침대의 판매가 작년 같은 기간과 비교해 100% 신장했다. 온라인장터 옥션에서는 싱글을 위한 가전, 가구 판매량이 3년 사이 140% 증가했다.

In the case of online retailer D&Shop (Seamus: I don’t get it either…), sales of single beds in the first half of this year have increased 100% percent compared with the same period last year. At online marketplace Auction, the sales rate of home electronics and furniture for singles has increased 140% within 3 years.

우리홈쇼핑은 요리를 좋아하는 젊은 싱글의 취향을 맞춘 ‘셰프라인 컨벡션 오븐’을 전략적으로 내놓았다. 기존 가스오븐보다 크기를 20% 정도 줄이는 대신 전자레인지와 오븐, 그릴의 기능을 모두 갖췄다. CJ 관계자는 “혼자 사는 사람을 위해 ‘반공기 햇반’을 올해부터 출시하기 시작했다”면서 “매달 30%대 성장률을 기록하고 있다”고 말했다.

Woori Home Shopping has strategically brought out their ‘Chef Line Convection Oven’ (Seamus: So… an oven?) to suit the tastes (get it?) of young singles who like to cook. Instead of reducing the size of a pre-existing [standard] gas oven by about 20%, they equipped it with all the functions of an electric microwave, an oven and a grill. A CJ representative said, “from this year we have started selling ‘Half [size] Haetban (반공기 햇반) for people who live alone,” while “we are recording a growth rate of 30% [lit. a percentage in the 30s] every month.”

유통업체들은 구매력이 높은 싱글족을 위한 마케팅에 집중하고 나섰다. 롯테닷컴 김진익 이사는 “싱글들은 구매력이 높고 트렌드를 주도하는 경향이 있어 유통업체들은 그들이 좋아하는 제품을 주시한다”고 말했다.

Distribution businesses have started to focus on marketing for the single race, which has a high purchasing power. Kim Chin-ik, director of Lotte.com, said that “because singles have a high purchasing power and have a tendency for trend setting, distribution businesses are focusing on the products they like.”

현대백화점은 최근 자사카드를 이용하는 고객 170만명을 분석한 결과, 미혼을 포함한 싱글족이 36%인 것으로 분석하고 있다. 특히 2006년 상반기 30~34세 전체 매출에서 싱글 고객의 매출 비중이 71.6%에 달하는 것으로 파악했다. 현대백화점 이희준 마케팅팀장은 “싱글을 위한 모임(클럽 유피)을 만들어 유대감을 높이고 있다”면서 “이런 모임을 전국 점포로 확대할 계획”이라고 밝혔다. 롯데백화점은 2년 전부터 싱글을 위한 상품 개발에 대한 연구에 착수했고, 본점 지하매장에 이들을 위한 전문 식품 매장을 마련했다.

The results of a recent analysis by Hyundai Department Store of their 1,700,000 loyalty card users shows that 36% are of the single race, including those not married (Seamus: More on why they included this last clause later). In the first half of 2006, especially, among all sales in the 30-34 age range, the sales figures for single customers reached 71.6%. The head of Hyundai Department Store’s marketing team, Lee Hui-jun, while saying “we are organising a gathering for singles (Club UP) and so rousing their sense of closeness,” revealed that, “we are planning to expand these gatherings across all our stores in the country.” As for Lotte Department Store, they commenced research into developing goods for singles from 2 years ago, and they have prepared the basement sales floor in their principal store to be a sales floor of speciality foods for them (singles).

Source.

GS홈쇼핑은 싱글족을 위한 전문숍을 만들었고, 이 전문숍은 하루 1만명이 방문할 정도로 인기 테마몰로 부상하고 있다. GS이숍은 싱글을 끌어들이기 위해 무인경비서비스, 이사서비스 같은 서비스 상품에 이어 싱글보험숍까지 신설했다.

GS Home Shopping have made a speciality shop for the single race, and this speciality shop is being rewarded as a famous ‘theme mall’ (Seamus: A mall doesn’t refer to a building in Korean) through being visited by 10,000 people a day. Following on from service products to draw in singles, such as electronic security service [lit. no-person security service] and executive service, the GS e-shop even established a Singles Insurance Shop.

연세대 경영대 이동진 교수는 “싱글족 시장은 계속 성장할 것으로 예상된다”면서 “이들을 공략하기 위해서는 싱글족이 지향하는 가치관이나 라이프스타일에 대한 분석과 체계적인 접근이 필요하다”고 지적했다.

Professor Lee Dong-jin of Yonsei University Management School, while saying that “it is expected that the single race market will continue to grow,” indicated that, “in order to capture these people we need an analysis of the values the single race hold or their lifestyle, as well as a systematic approach.” [End]

Source.

So, that’s the article. I think it’s worth noting that it is listed in the economics section of the website, so obviously the author was attempting to analyse this from a business perspective, which I take to be the simplest and probably best explanation for why the whole article is about how people can make money from people who are different from them. I certainly wouldn’t say that this article is about thinking of ways to help single people – but then it’s never claiming to be that either.

The first thing that struck me (apart from thinking I was about to read about the disease) was that they refer to single people as the 싱글족 (sing’geuljok/shing-gŭlchok), which just strikes me as being very cold, and translates literally as the single race by the most common usage of the character 족 (族, jok/chok). It can also, admittedly, be used to mean a group, class or tribe, and is used in the words 민족 (minjok/minchok), meaning a race or people – where 민 means humans/people and 족 means race/group, so literally a race/group of people; and  가족 (gajok/kajok), meaning family – where 가 means house or household and 족 means again group, so literally the group of a house. Therefore we could say that 싱글족 is a race or group defined by being single.

But who does the author of this article really think they are? Presumably that’s what this passage was for: “the ‘early independents,’ who became independent from their parents early, those who get married late who put off marriage until after the appropriate time, and the divorced.” I admit, this article is not spectacularly well or always clearly written, but this is the author’s description of the single race or group within Korean society. For the record, that’s not quite how I would define single people myself, and I’d be surprised if many of my readers did as well.

I take issue with two of the terms used in this description, partly because they reveal a certain level of ignorance about people in general, I feel, and also because they seem to reveal the author’s somewhat negative attitude towards this new “race,” and I suspect she may not be the only one in Korea who feels that way, which is disappointing. Firstly, then, the “early independents,” who leave home early. What does she mean by “early?” I completely understand the practical reasons why most Koreans can’t leave home until they’re married or they have a very well-paying job, but surely there’s a difference between understanding a practical and unavoidable limitation and thinking that it’s a social requirement, or at least very shingihae, as this author seems to think it is. Surely when someone is ready to leave, that’s the best time, as long as it’s financially possible anyway. What I would venture the author is getting at, however, is that unmarried people should be at home – this is the Chosun Ilbo, after all, one of Korea’s major conservative, right-wing newspapers. We’ve already seen that the Chosun Ilbo are not huge fans of working women here, so it doesn’t surprise me that they would want to present these singles as strange, against the grain and social oddities.

Next, we have the term 만혼 (manhon), which means late marriage. For me, the use of this term in this context by this paper reflects the biggest problem with this whole article, and perhaps the views of Koreans who tend to have the same perspective as the Chosun Ilbo. That is, how is it that single people only fall into one of three categories? Those who cheekily left their parents before they got married, those who have been married and got divorced, and those who haven’t yet married – the manhons. It seems ridiculous to think like this, but I feel it is a large part of what might be called “Korean culture,” or perhaps more accurately “Korean tradition,” to think that getting married is an inevitability, and not a personal choice, but a social requirement. What about those who are perfectly happy being “single,” whether dating, looking for someone or not? There are certainly plenty of them, and one would assume there must be people like this in Korea too, especially among the younger generations. Or people in long term relationships who have no desire to get married? Or homosexual couples who legally cannot? Or those who cohabit but aren’t married? The author completely ignores these possibilities. Perhaps she’s doing it on purpose, for whatever reason. Perhaps it’s never occurred to her, which is perhaps more worrying, or perhaps it’s part of an agenda to make people look unfavourably on this single race. I don’t want to speculate as to which – if any – are true, but personally I feel at least one of them is just from the tone of the article.

So, what does marriage mean for Koreans? That’s such a big one, it really deserves its own post, and hopefully I’ll get around to writing it, although you can find some discussion of it on these posts by The Korean:  here, here, here and here. Wikipedia has an article here. Korea Orbit talks about the marriage process here. An interesting academic article on the position of women in international marriages in Korea can be found here. Of course The Grand Narrative has to be in there, see here, here and here. This post here is from a female perspective from the blog Blonde in Saigon, er, Bundang. What a lovely load of links: enjoy!

And as I said, hopefully I’ll be blogging more about this subject in a future post, but for now I’m very interested to here what you think, either about the article itself, my view of it or the topic in general.

14 Responses to “The Race of Single People”

  1. Chris Backe Says:

    Nice post – we need to catch up in person sometime🙂

    It seems ridiculous to think like this, but I feel it is a large part of what might be called “Korean culture,” or perhaps more accurately “Korean tradition,” to think that getting married is an inevitability, and not a personal choice, but a social requirement.

    It IS a social requirement – and a social threat if people don’t get married, make babies, and care for their elderly. That immigration has never been a significant portion of the population means population growth must come from within. People should have the ability to be single and happy, married and happy, married to two people and happy (provided open communication and full knowledge), or monk / nun-like if they want.

    That is, how is it that single people only fall into one of three categories? Those who cheekily left their parents before they got married, those who have been married and got divorced, and those who haven’t yet married – the manhons

    My new Korean word for the day. While Westerners may not have the social impetus to get married, it’s often seen as a way to legitimize one’s status as an ‘adult’ – similar to buying a house or the like. If I may be so bold, what additional categories of singles exist elsewhere? They either live with their parents or they don’t; they either desire marriage or they don’t; they like the opposite gender or the same gender.

    • Seamus Walsh Says:

      Ah, perhaps I haven’t worded that bit as well as I should. Basically, the first character, which implies the lateness, means that marriage is an inevitability, as opposed to people who have made a conscious choice not to get married. This limits the author’s notion of single people to young people who are too young to be married (but presumably will be), people who are going to marry late because they haven’t already, and divorcees. Therefore, no room for homosexual partnerships, people opting to be single, couples with no intention of getting married etc etc. Through this the author implies that everyone either is married, has been married or will have to be sooner or later, thus making it a social requirement as opposed to personal choice. Of course we can’t claim all Koreans think like this, but this newspaper represents the views of a large number of people I would say.

      • Seamus Walsh Says:

        * Because late marriers does not mean people who don’t won’t get married, just people who haven’t done so yet. But they will… Oh they will…

  2. Chris Backe Says:

    Kicking, screaming, and being dragged by mommy and daddy down the aisle to someone ELSE kicking, screaming, and being dragged down the aisle by mommy and daddy… Sounds like a match made in heaven… and a wedding I’d PAY to see.

  3. Seamus Walsh Says:

    Absolutely! And as for meeting up, I agree, but seeing as I’m not back in Korea until the summer we’ll have to wait a while! I’m really annoyed I can’t get to any of the 2S2s though, it’s starting to shape up as a big thing by the looks of it, have fun this weekend!

  4. The Korean Says:

    I don’t actually read it as the author being negative toward single-족, either explicitly or implicitly; to me it reads very neutral.

    • Seamus Walsh Says:

      I agree the writing style is quite neutral, I think it’s the content and what’s not actually written that is somewhat negative. Although the main thing for me is not negativity but just a lack of understanding. As it’s supposed to be an economics/business article I can understand this point of view, but I don’t particularly like the way singles are seen as an outsider group who can just be manipulated to make money for other people, but mostly I just think it reveals how such inevitable portions of society are perceived as “counter” and “other,” in a way that doesn’t really benefit anyone. But you’re right, it’s not a hugely controversial or particularly critical article in itself.

    • thekorean Says:

      I think I understand your concern — the article analyzes this new breed as if it is discussing the lifestyle habits of a newly discovered species of birds in the Amazon.

      But I don’t think that attitude is particularly against single people. Koreans just like categorizing and stereotyping, regardless of the category. Korean society never had a severely bad experience by categorizing people (as United States and Europe did,) so it doesn’t occur to them at stereotyping lead to real injury. And in fact stereotyping doesn’t lead to real injury in Korea, because people are also accustomed to being stereotyped.

  5. Gomushin Girl Says:

    I’m a little wary of translating 족 here as “race” . . . while it can carry that connotation, in colloquial Korean it can also be used more as “group” or more jokingly as a “tribe” (an example of this is the 오렌지족, usually translated as “Orange Tribe”, a group of supposedly dissolute wealthy youngsters overrunning 강남 with their ostentatious lifestyles back in the 80’s and 90’s. 어머나!). I personally would stick with the amazingly obnoxious “singletons” of Bridget Jones diary fame.

  6. Andrew Says:

    Interesting post! Thanks for the thoughtful translation.

    As a note, the “race” character is used similarly in modern Chinese (and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were in Japanese as well).

    http://www.sino.gov.tw/en/print.php?id=200879707006e.txt&table=2

    The name “strawberry tribe” is used to refer to Taiwan’s supposedly “soft and easily crushed” youth, who lack the resolve of their elders. The wording follows the same rules as for “biological” or “national” races: 草莓族 caomei zu (strawberry tribe), versus 朝鮮族 chaoxian zu (korean race), for example. In fact, the phrase “singles race” is also well established in modern Chinese: 單身族 danshen zu. I don’t get the feeling that it’s any more alienating in Chinese than similar names in English, like “Generation X” or “Gen Y”.

    Oh, and on the topic of society’s thoughts on staying single: I would think that virtually every group of humans frowns upon permanent or extended singledom. American society certainly does. Bachelor uncles are always the subject of furious gossiping, and the “biological clock” is a very familiar topic to all single women.

    That’s not to say the Koreans might not take it a little further than others.

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