In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Korean Americans

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Korean American Women
  • Korean Ethnic Church

Social Work Korean Americans
Yoonsun Choi
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0141


Korean immigrants, like many other immigrants from Asia and Latin America, arrived in the United States in greater numbers as a result of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Korean Americans are the fifth-largest Asian group and live mainly in metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles; New York; New Jersey; Washington, DC; San Francisco; and Chicago. They are disproportionately drawn from the educated, urban, middle-class population of South Korea. The Korean immigrant community is characterized by its strong ethnic attachment and solidarity, which is reflected in its economic, social, and cultural adaptation, as well as its family culture and interactions. Three distinct characteristics of the community have contributed to this solidarity: the homogeneity of culture and common language, Korean ethnic churches (75 percent Protestant), and the high concentration in small businesses that are labor intensive and heavily dependent on kinship laborers (for example, grocery or liquor stores, imported goods, dry cleaning, and manicure services). One of the notable recent changes in the Korean immigrant community is the significant increase in the number of the “1.5” generation (those who immigrated during adolescence) and second-generation (US-born) Korean Americans. This emerging group creates and practices a culture that is distinct from their parents’ culture. Unlike their parents who are concentrated in the small-business workforce, the younger generation tends to work in the mainstream economy and is also culturally more integrated into the mainstream. However, this emerging generation has not completely discounted the older generation but is trying to accommodate the perspectives and resources of their parents while integrating new cultural traits. Despite their parents’ reluctance, interracial marriages are common among young adults, especially among Korean American women. This new trend is likely to change the characteristics and dynamics of the Korean immigrant community in significant ways.

Introductory Works

The books cited here, such as Hurh 1998 and Kim 2004, provide a general overview about Korean Americans, including the history of Korean immigration and the immigrant community as well as various challenges that the immigrant community had to face in regard to race relations, acculturative struggles, economic adjustment, and generational changes in recent years. Hurh 1998, in particular, well describes the culture of origin—the traditional and contemporary Korean culture in the larger context of Asian culture—and how it influences Korean immigrant families and community. Chun, et al. 2005 showcases Chicago as an example of how Korean immigrants have settled in one of the major urban cities. Park 1997 and Min 1996 investigate how Korean Americans have economically fared (or struggled) and analyze the sociocultural and economic backgrounds of Korean immigrants that led them to create small businesses as their main mode of economic settlement. These books provide useful information on the macro context of the Korean immigrant adaptation, as well as a contextual foundation for a better understanding of the various aspects of this immigrant community’s adaptation including their prospects for future generations.

  • Chun, Hyock, Kwang Chung Kim, and Shin Kim, eds. Koreans in the Windy City: 100 Years of Korean Americans in the Chicago Area. New Haven, CT: East Rock Institute, 2005.

    Focusing on Chicago and surrounding areas, this book describes Korean American history and demographics, several topics in immigrant life experiences (e.g., Korean churches, religious orientation, family configuration, and domestic violence), younger generation, and the Korean ethnic community.

  • Hurh, Won Moo. The Korean Americans. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1998.

    Provides an overview of Korean Americans including Korean ethnic roots; historical overview of Korean immigration to the United States; economic, cultural, social, and family adaptation; intergroup relations; and psychological adjustment of the immigrant community. This book would be appropriate for undergraduate and graduate courses as a general introduction to Korean Americans.

  • Kim, Ilpyong J., ed. Korean-Americans: Past, Present, and Future. Elizabeth, NJ: Hollym International, 2004.

    Describes Korean American’s past (e.g., history of Korean immigration from 1903 through 2003), to the present (e.g., increased roles among the young, women, and Korean adoptees), and future (cultural changes and political participation). This book also deals with intergenerational conflict and cooperation among Korean American community organizations.

  • Min, Pyong Gap. Caught in the Middle: Korean Merchants in America’s Multiethnic Cities. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

    Investigates the racial dynamics that exist among Korean merchants, the African American community, and white society. Min explains how the “middleman” economic role they often occupy leads to racial conflict.

  • Park, Kyeyoung. The Korean American Dream: Immigrants and Small Business in New York City. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, 1997.

    Examines Korean Americans’ concentration in small business with qualitative interviews in Queens, New York, to trace its historical bases and explore the transformation of Korean cultural identity. This book identifies the concept of anjŏng as a particular concept of success through which Koreans make sense of the American ideology of opportunity.

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