Fulbright Forum – June 13, 2014

Sangita Annamalai

An Examination of Healthcare Access of Migrant Brides in South Korea

This project proposes an ethnographic study of immigrant brides’ access to healthcare by investigating factors affecting the access to healthcare of the immigrant brides. I proposed to do this using a combination of analysis of the 2009 National Survey of Multicultural Families as well as structured qualitative interviews with migrant women and doctors regarding their understanding of healthcare access.

Within the past two decades, the Korean society as a whole has experienced significant demographic changes including fewer children being born, an increase in the average age of the general population, and an increase in marriages between Koreans and immigrants. In 1960 South Korea’s fertility rate was above both China’s and Japan’s at an astounding 6.16 (China’s was 5.47 and Japan’s was at a direct replacement rate of 2.0). Since
then South Korea has dropped to become the lowest of the three countries to 1.24 (last recorded in 2011).

This demographic change is in large part due to the modernization of Korea coinciding with more women leaving the countryside and moving into the cities to earn money. As a result, Korea has welcomed an influx of immigrant brides to help solve the birth rate problem. According to population data, as of 2007, such international marriages constitute 11% of the total amount of marriages in South Korea. This amount is 3.12 times the amount of international marriages accounted for in 2000. A worrisome problem is the ease of access to a hospital or healthcare facility with these crippling social factors. Thus it is critical to identify the specific barriers preventing women from accessing proper healthcare.

When working with the women and leaders of migrant issues, a few such barriers have been identified. The obvious barriers point towards language and cultural differences, but there are more policy-based barriers as well. Some of these barriers lie within the nuances of whether or not the woman is currently married to a Korean man, and whether or not the woman has birthed a child. This project seeks to understand how the health policies can be changed to better address these barriers. Though this is just one fraction of the socio-cultural issues present in this recent marital phenomenon, it’s a crucial point that must be acknowledged quickly as the population is rapidly changing and South Korean laws should reflect that change.


Sangita Annamalai was born and raised in Northern California and received a B.S. in Molecular and Environmental Biology from UC Berkeley. While studying health from a microscopic level, she also maintained a steady interest in women’s health. During college, she stumbled upon a love of Korean culture, and combined these two interests with her current research project in Korea.