THE UNITED STATES AND KOREA: A CROSS CULTURAL COMPARISON
Marriage and family texts consistently detail the family’s influence on the development of adolescent sexuality, and eventual mate selection, either through elements of homogamy (Lauer and Lauer, 1991), or family tradition (Lamanna and Reidmann, 1991). However, those same sources offer a sometimes sobering view of the low probability of remaining in marriage relationships for a lifetime, at least among contemporary couples in American society. Our purpose is to examine some similarities and differences between two polar cultures – Western (U.S.) and Asian (Korean) – in areas of mate selection, romantic ideals, and attitudes toward sexuality in relationships. In the United States it is generally understood that in mate selection the norm is relatively free choice on the basis of romantic love (Hutter, 1981).
In fact, the American way of love would seem to traditional Asians to be almost indistinguishable from what the Chinese term “licentious-ness” (Hsu, 1981). Since ancient times the Asian emphasis in regard to man-woman relations has been that of procreation and responsibility to extended kin, a similarity to American norms until the beginning of the “sexual revolution” (Nock, 1987). Consequently, sexual gratification or sexual attraction never entered into matrimonial issues (Bardis and Das, 1978). Marriage was regarded primarily as a social arrangement between two families and emphasized family, rather than individual needs (Queen and Habenstein, 1974). In the United States today, young adults are assumed to make marriage choices freely and individually on the basis of romantic love.
In contrast many Asian cultures traditionally regard marriage as the social arrangement that binds two families, so the marriage of children is much too important to leave to them alone (Queen and Habenstein, 1974). The emphasis is on family needs, not individual needs. Whether or not these traditional values are operating today is an empirical question addressed here. In Western society three trends mark cultural differences (Molnar, 1987). First, twice as many marriages – almost half – end in divorce today as did two decades ago. Second, young women are postponing marriage – fewer women than ever before will married. Third, divorce does not necessarily imply disillusionment with marriage. In fact roughly 18 percent of all marriages are actually remarriages (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1978). These trends seem to imply the need to distinguish what we mean by “family” and consequent familial influence.
Newcomer and Udry (1984) show there to be significant transmission of attitudes and behaviors between mothers and daughters, positing biological as well as sociological mechanisms in this intergenerational transmission of behaviors. Inazu and Fox (1980) conclude that indirect influences are more powerful than direct influences along attitudinal lines. Focusing on the reciprocal influence process which occurs between parents and young adult children, Leslie, Huston and Johnson (1986) found that young adults’ work harder to influence their parents’ acceptance of their choice in marriage partners and dates, depending on the degree of relationship development. Parental reaction was largely associated with how much their children had tried to influence them. Dominant parental control has been demonstrated as the essential feature of traditional marriage in Asian cultures.
Salaff (1973) and Ribao (1986) conclude that free marriages in traditional Asian society are more likely only among the political elite, the geographically mobile, in urban areas, and among the highly educated. Traditional types of marriage and the customs accompanying them still have strength among the masses in the countryside, although new ways seem to gradually be taking hold there. Thus major changes may be evolving for Chinese young adults in the area of mate selection. However, these young adults are faced with conflicting demands in respect to relationships and obligations to their families of orientation.
Central to this study is the empirical question of cultural differences between theoretically “modern” societies and those having more “traditional” social structure. One place to begin this investigation is to measure differences in cultural beliefs surrounding love, marriage, the “proper role of women”, personal perceptions of sexuality, and the importance of parental influences in mate selection. These factors are termed attitudinal dependent variables.
While measuring attitudes in cross-section is not truly developmental in method, we make the assumption that development has taken place in the lives of respondents to have them arrive at measurable perceptual places.
Three questions arise.
• First, are there cultural differences between traditional Asian cultures and modern Western cultures in terms of widely held views on love and marriage?
• Second, are these differences enhanced by parental influence?
• Finally, we attempt to identify a predictive model, dealing with the cumulative and relative impact of independent factors of culture, age, gender, perceived parental influence, and religiosity, on an array of attitudinal dependent variables?
Samples of college age young adults were simultaneously drawn from three distinct geographical populations. In the United States, students enrolled in freshman and sophomore general college courses were given the opportunity to respond to a questionnaire “dealing with love and relationships”. This Western sample consisted of 204 responses from the Northeastern U.S. and 271 responses from the Southwestern U.S., both with an average age of 25 years. The Asian sample was randomly drawn from the student roster at a large university in South Korea (N = 534, mean age = 24.4 years).
For Research Question #1 – Attitudes about Love will be measured using several questionnaire items: “How much time should you spend with your partner before marriage?” (measured in months), “What age is best for you to marry?” (in years), “Love is:” (1 = absolutely essential for marital success, 2 = good for a marriage but not essential, 3 = not at all related to successful marriage.).
Equality of Women (Feminism) items serve as measures of traditional gender role orientation. These are four Likert scaled agree/disagree items that are summed into a composite score, and include: “Women should only run their homes and leave politics to men.”, “Women should be virgins until marriage.”, “Men should be virgins until married.”, and “It would be good if girls could be as free as boys in asking for dates.” Scores ranged from 4 (low feminism) to 20 (high feminism).
Personal Perceptions of Sexuality are measured using a Guttman scaled response pattern to the questions: “What level of commitment is necessary before you would approve of each behavior below? — holding hands, hugging, kissing, and sexual intercourse (Commitment — 1 = do not approve, 2 = if I was friends with the other person, 3 = if I had dated the other person for some time, 4 = if I was in love with the other person.). Two additional questions are used here: “Which is the closest statement to your feelings about sexual intercourse before marriage?” (1 = it is necessary for the relationship, 2 = it neither helps nor hindersthe relationship, 3 = it is not good for the relationship.), and “What is the relation between sexual attraction and love?” (1 = sex satisfies a physical need only, 2 = sexual attraction usually happens first, 3 = sexual attraction and love are the same thing, 4 = love usually happens before sexual attraction.).
For Research Question #2 – Parental Influence on Mate Selection: Respondents were asked to offer their opinion regarding the extent to which parents should be allowed to influence any person’s choice of husband or wife. Scores could possibly range from 1 (Parents completely decide) to 5 (Individual completely decides).
For Research Question #3 – Demographic Factors were collected: Standard items such as gender, age (in years), religious affiliation, and U.S. or Korean status were asked. Since the concept of religion holds great potential influence in decisions about love and marriage, at least in Western society, two dummy religion variables were constructed. The first simply reveals the presence or absence of religious affiliation, the second reveals whether or not the respondent’s religious affiliation has changed since childhood.
For research question #1, a simple t-test means comparison is used to guage fundamental differences between Western and Asian cultures on dependent variables. For research question #2, independent variables (Culture and Parental Influence) were entered into an analysis of variance on the ten dependent variables achieving significant differences in means testing. For research question #3, multiple regression analysis was used to guage the relative influence of all independent variables on dependent variables that achieved statistical significance in the second question.
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Inazu, Judith K., and Greer L. Fox. 1980. Maternal Influence on the Sexual Behavior of Teenage Daughters. Journal of Family Issues, 1, 81-102.
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