Culture KOREA 101 Living in Korea

Where the K-Dramas are – What does a Korean family look like?

What does a Korean family look like? No matter what part of the world you live in, home is where the drama is, and Korean homes are where the K-Dramas are!
Tujeondo (painting of traditional Korean card game)
by Kim Yang-gi

What does a Korean family look like? No matter what part of the world you live in, home is where the drama is, and Korean homes are where the K-Dramas are!

While they exist in similar forms beyond cultural borders, some things are culture-specific, so knowing what a Korean family looks like and how it functions will shed light on some of the scenes that made you scratch your head.


Traditional (Joseon Dynasty period) Korean family has been a patrilocal stem family, a large family composed of multi-generations, typically composed of the grandparents, their eldest son and his wife, and their children living together under the same roof. Because Korea was an agricultural society that required a lot of labor force, families with multi-children were the norm.


Who wears the pants in the Korean family? It’s the males in descending order of age. The reason is largely due to the patriarchal family system built upon two major principles: male shall dominate female and elder shall dominate the younger. The importance of having male children, for only they can continue the family line led to the son preference, and sonless couples wouldn’t stop until they finally have a son, reason why there used to be families of as many as six or seven female children with the youngest male child.

Among the male children, the eldest male child, angnam 장남, was regarded as the major pillar of the family and received preferential treatment. He could inherit most of, if not all, the family estates, and had the biggest voice in decision making – a Korean drama cliché where younger male children complain to the old-fashioned dad over the unfair distribution, saying “is jangnam the only son you have?” But with great perks comes great responsibilities. It was jangnam’s duty to live with the parents after getting married, while the younger sons could separate into different residences. Moreover, jangnam was responsible for holding a jesa 제사 ceremony after his parents passed away. Not to mention he was expected to live next to the parent’s gravesite for quite some time after the funeral. In the case where there was no son, the grandson jangson 장손 assumed the role of jangnam.

RELATED : Why do Korean people offer food to the photos of the ancestors? JESA 제사 – Remembering and honoring the ancestors.

Up until the Goryeo Dynasty, women’s status in the family was on par with that of men, but with the adoption of yugyo principles, it became significantly lower, with their roles mostly limited within the domestic sphere. This was mainly due to the idea that there should be a distinction between male and female, which led to the segregation against women. The main idea of samjongjido 삼종지도, the yugyo moral code that specifies the status and role of women used to play in the yugyo culture before modern times. “Before marriage, a woman has to obey her father; after marriage, her husband; after husband’s death, the son.” This clearly depicts the women’s status/role during the Joseon Dynasty.

RELATED : From bowing to receiving stuff with two hands. Why do Koreans do what they do? YUGYO 유교- The ideology of the Korean people.

Another example is that it was only the husband who could legally divorce his wife, and there were “seven valid vices that serve as the ground for divorce,” known as chilgeojiak 칠거지악. They are disobedient towards in-laws, inability to bear a son, adultery, jealousy, hereditary disease, talkativeness, and theft.

But there were exceptions – if she has no place to return to, or if she was together during the three-year mourning period for her parents-in-law, or if she contributed to the previously impoverished family but helped amass a fortune.

RELATED – Korean Funeral – How Koreans say goodbye. Traditional vs. Modern approach.

Where your ancestors are buried can either bring good luck or misfortunes to the descendants!

Despite their lower status and limited roles, they were the object of reverence and respect. As a wife, they were in charge of the family finance and domestic matters, and as a mother, the education of their children. The female children did not receive a systematic yugyo education, but the content of their education focused on internalizing yugyo virtues granted to women. At the same time, they learned their role as a woman by learning household chores such as weaving from an early age. From childhood, boys and girls had different educational processes and roles.

Times have changed and so has the Korean society. What has been long considered as the social norm is now regarded as something unfit. While there have been significant changes in many aspects such as the women’s status and having to live next to the parents’ gravesite, there are still traces of yugyo ideas in the life of modern-day Koreans, thus creating confusion to the non-Korean viewers. But this imbalance is an honest snapshot of the Korean society which is going through a transformation. Who knows? Maybe you’re witnessing an important turning point in Korean history!

RELATED : SIN SAIMDANG – Revered as a model for a good wife and a wise mother.


jongga 종가 refers to a head house of a clan that has been continued down only through the eldest sons for generations.
불굴의 며느리 Indomitable Daughters-in-Law (MBC, 2011)

Jongga 종가 refers to a head house of a clan that has been continued down only through the eldest sons for generations. As a head house of a clan, the responsibility to carry on the clan’s strict discipline and tradition, and to take charge of important family events such as jesa (“ancestral rites”), is enormous, but they take great pride in doing it. On the contrary, it can exert the greatest influence. In Korean pop culture, the word refers to the originator of something. For example, many restaurants market themselves as having the “original recipe.”

There’s a reputable Korean brand named Jongga, known for their Kimchi products. Here are our picks.

Jongga Mat Kimchi 26.4 oz(750g) Cut Cabbage Kimchi – Imported from Korea – Fresh Naturally Fermented [Amazon]

You might also want to try JONGGA REAL KIMCHI RAMEN (PACK OF 4) [Amazon]

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