Amanda Ferguson and Mikaela Durfur, Sociology Department
A wide scope of research has been done on family structures in the United States and Western culture. Research has moved from studying divorce extensively to researching cohabitation, just as extensively (Kennedy and Fitch, 2012). Korea, due to their strong cultural focus on traditional families, is only recently beginning to change to become more similar to the family structure trends of the Western world (Park and Raymo, 2013; Park, Choi and Jo, 2015). A good deal of the research on Korean families focuses on the effect of the family structure on education (Kim and Byun 2013). Very little on nontraditional family structures, or their effects on individuals, has been done in the Korean setting. Research in the United States on these topics has been and continues to be thorough. It is relevant to note, however, that often families are categorized into one type of structure for research purposes, when really these families have experienced one or more transitions from one structure type to another (Osborne and Mclanahan, 2007). Examining the effects of such transitions can more accurately portray family structure as more fluid instead of as a single category. This in turn could shed more light on the effects of these transitions on all members of the family, although we will be focusing especially on adolescent children. Our hypothesis is that when an adolescent has experienced more transitions within their family structure (i.e. married parents to divorced, single to married, etc.) their stress levels will be higher overall as they lack a solid family base, even temporarily.
In our research, we examined the potential relationship between family transitions and adolescent stress by using 5 waves of the Korean Youth Panel Survey, a study of Korean students starting at age 13 in 2003 and continuing through age 18 in 2008. Using the changes in reported family status (living with biological mother and father, vs. only a biological mother etc.) we were able to track the family transitions happening in each wave of data. We then ran regressions on the total number of transitions experienced up to the time of each wave and the corresponding stress indicators for that year, measured by externalizing and internalizing behavior.
Our results indicated that the relationship between family transitions and stress was not significant for the first two waves. However, in wave 3 our analysis showed the transitions affecting external signs of stress (fighting, throwing things, etc.). We continued to see the effects being significant on external stress through waves 4 and 5. Also in wave 5, family transitions significantly affected the internal signs of stress as well (feeling lonely, angry, suicidal, etc.). In all cases, experiencing one more transition pushed the stress score up anywhere from a third to a half of a point, even when other factors such as gender and age were calculated in as possible background influences. As a side note, in waves 2, 3, and 4 having more siblings pushed the internal stress scores up slightly, as did being male. In wave 5, father’s lack of education also slightly affected internal stress, while amount that mothers worked at a job affected external stress.
Our analysis seems to indicate that family transitions in Korea only have an effect on internal or external stress behavior when the students are in their later teens. This partially supports our hypothesis of a negative relationship between family transitions and stress levels. This family structure research is part of a larger project examining the effect of transitions on behavior using data from several different countries. We will be interested to see if our conclusions from Korea hold with other data sets from other parts of the world, especially when other known family stressors such as socioeconomic status or time spent on homework are used as controls.
Korean family structure has been severely understudied due to its strong adherence to the traditional mother and father base. This leaves a large hole in the research. We focused our research on finding out if a correlation exists between changes in family structure and adolescent stress. Our conclusion is that family transitions affect adolescent stress levels in Korea, but internal stress only in their later teen years, with external stress levels also being affected when they are approximately 18 years old. Our hope in completing this study is that first, awareness can be raised for stress affecting Korean teenagers with families in transition, and second, that more doors can be opened to exploring the fluidity of family structure across time and its effects on members of affected families.
Osborne, Cynthia and Sara Mclanahan. (2007) “Partnership Instability and Child Well Being.”
Journal of Marriage and Family 69(4): 10651083
Kennedy, Sheela and Catherine Fitch. (2012) “Measuring Cohabitation and Family Structure in the United
States: Assessing the Impact of New Data From the Current Population Survey” Demography 49(4): 1479-1498
Kim, Kyungkeun and Sooyong Byun. (2013) “Determinants of Academic Achievement in Republic of Korea.”1337 in Korean Education in Changing Economic and Demographic Contexts edited by H. Park,
K. Kim. Berlin, Germany: Springer Science & Business Media
Park, Hyunjoon and James M. Raymo. (2013) “Divorce in Korea: Trends and Educational Differentials.”
Journal of Marriage and Family 75(1): 110126.
Park, Hyunjoon, Jaesung Choi and Hyejeong Jo. (2015) “Living Arrangements of Single Parents and Their Children in South Korea.” Marriage & Family Review , DOI: 10.1080/01494929.2015.1073653