While South Korea’s racism and discrimination against migrant workers and foreign brides are not a new phenomenon, some early policies adopted by the central and local governments to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 have once again revealed the country’s deep-seated xenophobia. This paper focuses on three government policies—mask rationing, universal disaster relief funds, and local government subsidies—adopted during the first wave of coronavirus (February–June 2020), when supplies were insufficient and the economy was most severely affected. This paper highlights the fact that government policies were based on nationality, which led to the exclusion of foreign nationals, even long-time tax-paying residents. Such institutional discrimination was blatant, considering the country’s decades-long discussion of multiculturalism. This paper goes on to point out that, as a society with a very low portion of naturalized citizens, discrimination against foreign nationals not only reflected South Korea’s perceived boundaries of in-groups and out-groups, but also demonstrated the lack of a legal basis that prohibits discriminatory practices.
"Social Ties, Quarantine Policy, and the Spread of COVID-19" (with Daniel Aldrich, Timothy Fraser, Courtney Page-Tan, and Toshiaki Yoshida) COVID-19 remains a major challenge for nations around the world. Our research uses quantitative methods to try to understand the role of mobility and social networks in COVID-19 related outcomes, especially behaviors such as social distancing, voluntarism, and altruism. Through a survey of more than 800 New York City and Boston residents we seek to correlate social infrastructure (trust, bonding, bridging, and linking ties) and decisions to stay at home (or continue with normal, pre-COVID-19 times) with changes in behavior while controlling for demographic, political, and other factors. While our data analysis is still preliminary, and we have only a few qualitative interviews with which to illuminate our quantitative findings, it is clear that networks, trust, and cohesion continue to have an impact during the ongoing pandemic.
"Municipal-level determinants of suicide rates in South Korea: Exploring the role of social capital and local government policies" Suicide is a major public health concern in South Korea. While more and more studies have examined factors associated with suicidal behavior in South Korea, most have focused on either individual- or national-level determinants, ignoring variations in suicide rates across South Korean localities. This study investigates social and economic factors influencing suicide rates in 231 South Korean cities, counties, and districts from 2010 to 2015. Among these factors, the study primarily focuses on the role of social capital, as measured by the number of social organizations that have proven to be useful in solving public health problems. Moreover, in searching for policy implications at the municipal level, the study also tests the effect of municipalities’ governmental welfare spending, poverty rates, and income levels on suicide rates. The results of a panel data analysis indicate that the number of social organizations did not have a significant effect on suicide rates; however, among six types of social organizations, social/recreational organizations showed a strong negative impact on suicide rates, suggesting that not all social organizations equally created social capital that addresses community health problems. Moreover, both poverty and income are two strong predictors of municipal-level suicide rates, and municipal governments’ welfare spending significantly reduced suicide rates only in rural areas. Finally, number of social/recreational organizations, poverty rates, income levels, depression, and living in rural areas affected suicide rates among male populations, and poverty rates, income levels, alcohol use, and living in urban areas affected suicide rates among female populations.