Open Questions – The Discrepancy Between Belief and Action


It is one thing to believe something but another to act in accordance with that belief. This is an insight that might be as old as the discipline of Philosophy. Philosophers like Plato and Aristotle already thought about how it can (or cannot be) that human beings know or believe something, yet do the opposite and called it “acrasia”. But how is that relevant for the Korean context and contemporary gender issues more particularly?

When Statistics Korea published their 2020 Social Survey, they found something that might remind us of acrasia or something similar. What their survey shows is that there is an odd-seeming discrepancy between Koreans’ attitudes towards sharing housework between heterosexual married couples and actually doing so.

Source: Statistics Korea, 2020.

In 2020, 62.5% of people thought a couple should equally share housework. This percentage went up by 3.4% from 2018. In the meantime, only 20% of married couples equally shared housework in reality.

(Statistics Korea, 2020)

The graph shows how more than 60% of people believe that housework should be shared equally between (heterosexual) couples. In comparison, only 20% actually do so. Now, one might simply put the stamp “acratic” on it and leave it at that. But we would not have learned much from that. So, how can it come to be that there is this striking difference between thought and action?

Since this is a text under the banner of “Open Questions”, it does not declare an answer to that question. However, there might be some starting points to get closer to a more sound understanding.

One such starting point is that of looking at the general labour market. Here it shows that some common practices encourage a strong division in paid and unpaid labour.

As the OECD puts it:

The combination of long working hours, long daily commutes and the socialising after work culture means that fathers, in particular, have little time to spend with their families on a daily basis. This contributes to a strong division of paid and unpaid work between the partners: on average, Korean women spend close to three hours more on unpaid housework each day than men do […].

(OECD, 2019, p.88)

So what might this mean for the question raised?

Maybe, the answer lies in that while Koreans might want to share housework more equally between (heterosexual) couples, they find themselves limited by their working environment constraints. This would mean that the discrepancy is not explained by a lack of intention but by a lack of practicality. If this is true, and if one would have the goal to change the actual sharing of housework, what would one have to do?

Under these conditions, one would have to change the working environment so that the working hours would be reduced, commutes would be less, and after-work socialising would be more compatible with reproductive labour.

At the same time, other factors could impact the decision not to share housework equally. Following the Confucian tradition in the Korean context, women have been associated with housework for centuries (read more in this article). So possibly, sharing housework unequal is simply reproducing tradition.

While no definite answer can be drawn here, one thing should be pointed out: the potential. There might be some explanations for how it comes to be that belief and action do not line up. However, putting the attention back to the Social Survey, one can see that the belief is there. It should be in everyone’s interest to enable households to share their housework equally if they want to do so. As this article shows, getting there might not be easy, but it also shows that it is worth further working on.


Last Updated on 15 March 2021 by The Korean Context

By Miro Leon Bucher

Miro Leon Bucher is a graduate student in Social- and Cultural Anthropology and Philosophy at the University of Cologne. His research mainly focuses on the impact of Confucianism on contemporary gender issues in urban South Korea.

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