Who were the first professional women in Korea? According to Goguryeobongi in Samguk Sagi record, Jeju pearls were offered for kings, indicating diving was active prior to the three kingdom era. In , when the number of Haenyeo reached the most, Jeju girls started their shallow water diving around 7 or 8 years old of age. The Haenyeo become experts around 18 years old. Senior Haenyeo passed down their knowledge, wisdom and diving techniques to their junior Haenyeo.
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Known for their independent spirit, iron will and determination, the haenyeo are representative of the semi-matriarchal family structure of Jeju. By the 18th century, female divers, at this point commonly referred to as haenyeo, outnumbered male divers. For instance, in the 17th century, a significant number of men died at sea due to war or deep-sea fishing accidents, meaning that diving became the work of women. Whatever the reason, as sea diving became a female-dominated industry, many of the haenyeo subsequently replaced their husbands as the primary laborer. Because so many families relied on the haenyeo for the majority of their income, a semi-matriarchal society developed on Jeju with the haenyeo at the head of the household. While certain elements of a matriarchal society surfaced in Jeju, they were not enough to completely overcome the predominance of Confucianism.