South Korea is a country deeply affected by the Confucian culture and the concepts of ‘family’ and ‘patriarchal society’ are important in Koreans’ daily lives. However, like other countries (e.g., Hong Kong and Japan), the attitudes towards marriage are changing. Below are some recent changes in marriage trends that are noteworthy:
Trend #1: Marriage losing appeal to Koreans
According to a survey conducted by Statistics Korea, 43% of respondents did not consider marriage a ‘must’ (vs. less than one-third in 2008). According to the Seoul metropolitan government’s survey on women in Seoul, 40% of women in Seoul considered marriage optional. Nearly half of the women in Seoul aged between 25 and 39 were single as of 2010 (vs. 20% in 1995). The survey by Statistics Korea also reported that 47% of respondents were willing to live with their boyfriends or girlfriends, something that was looked down upon in the past due the the Confucian culture.
This change may be due to the increasing financial independence of women as more women now have their own careers, the huge marriage expenses and the impact of Western culture (which somehow diluted the impact of the Confucian culture) on the younger generation.
Trend #2: Declining interracial marriages
According to Statistics Korea, the number of interracial marriages has been declining since 2010, and in 2013, the number of interracial marriages dropped by 7.8% to 26,948, accounting for 8.3% of the total number of marriages (a drop of 0.6% from 2012). For interracial couples, 68.5% of the males were from Korea, followed by China (9.2%), the U.S. (6.6%) and Japan (5.1%), and 29% of the females were from China, followed by Korea (23.5%), Vietnam (22.6%) and Philippines (6.5%).
Recently, owing to social problems arising from interracial marriages, e.g., domestic violence due to communication problems or a lack of financial means to support the family, the Korean government has tightened up visa requirements for interracial marriage couples. Starting from April 2014, the government has implemented new visa requirements for foreigners who wish to marry Koreans and live in South Korea, e.g., basic Korean language skills of the foreign partner and financial proof of the Korean partner.
Trend #3: Women marrying younger men
In Korea, men call their elder sisters “Noona” (누나), and as an extension, men also call close female friends who are older “Noona”. In recent Korean dramas, there are many cases of young men falling in love with “Noona” – such dramas are commonly known as “Noona romance”. For example, in the drama, “I Can Hear Your Voice” (너의 목소리가 들려), the couple have a 10-year gap; in “Witch’s Romance” (마녀의 연애), the couple have a 14-year gap, and in “Secret Love Affair” (밀회), the couple have a 20-year gap – to name just a few. In fact, Noona romance does not just happen in dramas, it can also be found in reality.
According to Statistics Korea, in 2012, the percentage of married couples in which the woman is older than her husband was 15.6% (an increase of 4% from 2002). For first marriages, the percentage of couples in which the husband was older than his spouse dropped from 74% in 2002 to about 68% in 2012. The reasons cited by Statistics Korea for this trend were participation of women in the workforce and women’s increasing social status.
While I was studying Korean in Seoul, I have spoken to some male Korean university students and most of them did not mind having older girlfriends. In fact, some even wanted to have older girlfriends since they considered older girlfriends more mature but still pretty and attractive. Perhaps Noon romance may just be reserved for pretty Noona! 🙂
Trend #4: Simplicity first – goodbye to expensive traditional customs
In South Korea, traditional wedding customs can be costly. According to statistics provided by Duo Marriage Information Co., average total expenses of about US$246,000 were spent on preparing the marriage, out of which about US$177,000 were spent on purchase of new home and about US$45,000 on purchasing furniture and household items by the bride for the new home and wedding gifts.
As a result, there is a trend towards simplifying the wedding customs in South Korea. For example, there are more couples dropping the traditional expensive gift exchange process between families of the bride and the groom and inviting only close friends and family members to the wedding ceremonies. Moreover, other types of wedding like chapel wedding and house wedding have also become popular.
Reminder: The next post will be published on 8 December 2014. Watch this space!
” “Must get married?” 43% of Koreans say no way“, Arirang News, 2014-11-28 – more detail on the survey by Statistics Korea on Koreans’ changing marriage attitudes
Yoon Ja-young, “Multiracial marriages on decline“, The Korea Times, 2014-11-19 – more detail on the survev by Statistics Korea on interracial marriages
Connie Kim, “Korea’s changing wedding culture“, Arirang News, 2014-08-29 – more detail on the statistics provided by Duo Marriage Information Co. and the changing wedding customs
“40% of women in Seoul see marriage as optional“, Arirang News, 2014-06-20 – more detail on the survey by the Seoul metropolitan government
Kim Min-ji, “Women marrying younger men in Korea, signaling a shift in long-held traditions“, Arirang News, 2013-10-30 – more detail on the survey by Statistics Korea on women marrying younger men