Women compose 80% of defections

In a May 28th article, the Choson Ilbo reported the DPRK’s National Defense Commission (NDC) is trying to make it harder for women to defect by more stringently enforcing domestic travel restrictions.  According to the article:

The North Korean regime has reportedly ordered border guards to stop all women from traveling on railways and roads to the North Korea-China border. The order, which targets all girls and women between 10 and 60, came recently from the powerful National Defense Commission.

Whether the story is true or not remains to be seen, but the article does highlight the significant gender imbalance among North Korean defectors:

More than 400 defectors arrive in South Korea every month, and about 80 percent of them are women.

There are several reasons given for this lopsided sex ratio.  I have supplemented the list of those items and classified them below:

On the supply side (push factors):

1. Women, as the primary bread-winners in the DPRK’s markets (the place to go for unsanctioned rumors), are exposed to more information about the outside world.

2. The DPRK’s efforts to reign in market activity have made many women despondent.

3. Women, who in many cases do not need to appear at an official job every morning, face lower monitoring costs, and thus have an easier time disappearing.

Demand side (pull factors):

1. Since there is a market for North Korean women in China, smugglers have an economic interest in facilitating defections.

2. It is easier for North Korean women to marry South Korean men than for North Korean men to marry South Korean women.

Of course Haggard and Noland have done systematic surveys of North Korean defectors.  You can learn more here.


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