The other day at the Marked for Life release event, during the question and answer period Charles Hawkins asked me about the songbun of market participants. It is an interesting question with no obvious answer (to me at least). “Market participants” encompasses a lot of people—at the high end–large scale production and wholesaling–one presumably has participants that reflect a mix of “good” songbun and questionable songbun due to family connections to people outside of North Korea. Participants at the retail end, are disproportionately female and drawn from different social strata, as shown in a recently release report on gender, forthcoming in World Development.
But the good thing about empirical research is one can always go back and re-examine the data. So stimulated by Charles Hawkins’ question, I did just that. Our survey respondents who indicated that they earned all their money in the market (or alternately, earned half or more of their money in the market) did not appear to have statistically significant different songbun than the overall sample. This basic result held for all market participants, men, women, married women, housewives etc. If anything, there appears to be a slight tendency for the market participants to have better songbun than the overall sample. Women reported not being sure of their songbun at a somewhat higher rate than men.