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South Korea

Society under Park


Namdaemun, or South Gate, Seoul, showing the contrast of the old city with the new
Courtesy Oren Hadar

The rapid pace of industrialization not only changed much of the South Korean landscape, as farmlands were converted into highways and factory sites, but also profoundly modified the social structure, social values, and behavior. As late as 1965, some 58.7 percent of the labor force was engaged in agriculture and fishery, but the percentage declined to 50.4 percent in 1970 and 38.4 percent in 1978. The percentage of workers engaged in secondary industries, including mining and manufacturing, rose from 10.3 percent in 1965 to 35.2 percent in 1970 and 38.4 percent in 1978. Industrialization led to a rapid increase in South Korea's urban population, which rose from 28.3 percent of the total in 1960 to 54.9 percent in 1979. Rapid urbanization compounded the problems of housing, transportation, sanitation, and pollution, and exacerbated other social problems.

Improved living standards and ever-increasing job opportunities accelerated the desire among South Koreans for education, particularly at secondary schools and institutions of higher learning. In 1960 about one-third of children between twelve and fourteen years of age attended middle schools; that proportion increased to 53.3 percent in 1970 and 74.0 percent in 1975. In 1960 some 19.9 percent of the population between fifteen and seventeen years of age attended high schools; that proportion increased to 29.3 percent in 1970 and 40.5 percent in 1975. By 1970 about 9.3 percent of college-age youths attended colleges and universities and the number of university graduates exceeded 30,000 a year. Eight years later, 41,680 students graduated from four-year institutions of higher learning (see Education , ch. 2).

Most workers with higher education qualifications were absorbed by the rapidly growing industrial and commercial sectors, joining the ranks of the growing middle class. Demands and rewards for people in the more prestigious fields--doctors, lawyers, economists, scientists, and managers--were increasing. The number of white-collar workers in commerce, industry, banking, civil service, and the teaching profession also rose, as did the number of small entrepreneurs and retailers.

A high proportion of those people who regarded themselves as middle class resided in Seoul, the locale for much of the nation's wealth, talent, and many of its cultural resources. As beneficiaries of the rapidly expanding economy, much of the middle class either was content with its situation or indifferent to politics. Many highly educated persons in this group who found themselves in less well-paid positions than they would have liked remained dissatisfied, and together with students and intellectuals they formed the core of opposition to the Park regime.

Rural villages also underwent changes of revolutionary proportions, particularly after 1971. As the government had emphasized industrial growth and slighted the agrarian sector, agricultural production lagged; its annual rate of growth during the 1967-72 period was only about 2.5 percent. With overall GNP growing at over 10 percent a year during the same period, the rural economy steadily lost ground, until by 1969 farm income was only a little more than half that earned by urban workers. This situation contributed to the high rate of migration to the cities and eroded political support for the president (see Agriculture , ch. 3).

This situation led the government to take active measures to increase farm productivity and income in 1971. Government subsidies to farmers were increased by setting relatively high prices for grains. Higher-yield rice varieties were introduced. Advanced agricultural technology was made more widely available through extension services and more fertilizers and credits were provided. As a result of these measures, farm productivity and farm income increased very rapidly during the ensuing years, and the rate of emigration to the cities tapered off.

The Saemaul Movement was instituted with great fanfare by Park in the fall of 1971. The movement was envisioned as a highly organized, intensively administered campaign to improve the "environment" quality of rural life through projects undertaken by the villagers themselves with government assistance. The bureaucracy, particularly at the regional and local levels, was mobilized on a massive scale to ensure that the program would be carried through to completion in all 36,000 villages. The initial emphasis was on improving village roads and bridges and replacing thatch with tile or composition roofs.

The momentum was maintained and increased in subsequent years as the Saemaul Movement evolved into a major ideological campaign aimed at the psychological mobilization of the entire country in support of "nation building." During the first two or three years, emphasis continued to be on improving the village environment, but later focus was shifted toward projects designed to raise agricultural productivity and farm income.

As local government officials were jolted out of their traditional lethargy by the continuing insistence of higher authorities that essential services be delivered to farmers, the farmers began to have ready access to agricultural extension services, rural credit, and market information. The result of improved services and increased resource allocation was that farmers became more confident of their ability to improve the village environment through their own cooperative efforts and became more convinced of the usefulness of outside official help. As a result of the Saemaul Movement, about 85 percent of villages had electricity, and about 60 percent of farm households had television sets by the late 1970s. Some 85 percent of rural children continued from free, obligatory primary schooling to middle school, and over 50 percent of these middle school pupils were entering high schools. Many farmers also acquired modern amenities that had been available only to city dwellers just a decade earlier, such as sewing machines, radios, irons, and wall clocks.

Data as of June 1990

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