Image: Kyunghyang Shinmun's special on women over 65. Credit: Kyunghyang Shinmun.
A recent series in Kyunghyang Shinmun 경향신문 focused on a demographic that is often neglected in the news: senior women. The series used the life story of 72-year-old Son Jeong-ae 손정애, a noodles vendor at the Namdaemun Market 남대문시장, as a launching point.
Born in 1950, Son’s legal birth year is 1954 because during the Korean War 한국전쟁, parents often did not legally register their children as many did not survive. Having moved to Seoul 서울 from Miryang, Gyeongsangbuk-do Province 경상북도 밀양, Son has been a textile worker, a small-time fashion designer and a chef.
Approximately 320k girls were born in 1954; today, they are 65 years old. Only a third of them would graduate from middle school, and a little more than 44k girls graduated from high school. Many of them worked in factories; in 1970, when girls born around 1954 would be in their teens, over 44% were employed.
In the 1980s, when the young women would be married with children, the average amount of housework for housewives was nearly 12 hours a day, seven days a week. They returned to the factories in the 1990s as their children grew up, until the East Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 led to massive layoffs.
From the 2000s to this day, these women - now elderly - are largely working in low-wage service, working as custodians, street vendors and care assistants.