Oct 9, 2010
Not the marrying kind
More S. Korean women shun the altar in favour of career and single life
Marriage is a declining institution in South Korea, a trend that began at least since 1990, when the marriage rate for every 1,000 residents was 9.3. It went down to 7.0 in 2000 and hit a record low of 6.2 last year. It is more often the fairer sex that is recoiling from marriage. Figures show just six out of 10 South Korean women believe marriage is a must, compared with eight out of 10 men. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
SEOUL: Attractive, assertive and financially secure, Ms Park Min Kyoung seems like the ideal wife.
But the 41-year-old is single by choice and has no plans to get married any time soon - one of an increasing number of South Korean women who are shunning marriage in favour of their careers and the single life.
According to the government-run Statistics Korea website, South Korea last year recorded the lowest marriage rate at 6.2 marriages for every 1,000 people. Singapore's is slightly higher at 6.6 last year.
Marriage is a declining institution in South Korea, a trend that began at least since 1990, when the marriage rate for every 1,000 residents was 9.3. It went down to 7.0 in 2000.
'If I can find someone who really loves me, I can marry. If not, I don't need to get married. I don't want to do it for money or because I'm lonely,' said Ms Park.
It is more often the fairer sex that is recoiling from marriage. According to recent figures, just six out of 10 South Korean women believe marriage is a must, compared with eight out of 10 men.
Statistics Korea has blamed economic uncertainties for scaring people away from the altar. Ms Park does not dispute this, but thinks the real reason goes much deeper - to how South Korean men are still not treating women as their equal.
'South Korean men are so dominating. They don't know how to treat women. And in South Korea many things are really different from other countries,' said Ms Park, bemoaning the pervasive favouritism for men in her society.
Professor Lee Jae Kyung, director of the Korean Women's Institute at Ewha Womans University, shares her view: 'Because of gender division of labour and inequality in the patriarchal family, many South Korean young women feel marriage is unfavourable to women.'
Graduate Lee So Ra, 24, thinks traditional Korean cultural norms are turning women away from marriage. She says it is the woman who is usually expected to make all the sacrifices in a marriage.
'First of all, I cannot get my career. I would have to take care of his family and him and his child,' Ms Lee sketches her marriage scenario. 'If I come home, my future husband would just be lying down on the sofa, I guess, because that's what my father did.'
Unsurprisingly, South Korea's declining marriage rate has corresponded with a big drop in births in recent years. It now has one of the world's lowest fertility rates - on average only 1.15 children are born to each South Korean woman over her lifetime.
That spells trouble for the country's pensions and welfare system as it would be strained by an ageing population.
Inflexible work practices also make career-minded women like Ms Lee cagey about getting married. 'If I go to a small company and I get pregnant; if I take a rest from my work, maybe they will take away my desk,' she said.
All the perceived minuses of marriage add up to one conclusion for both Ms Lee and Ms Park: If they walk down the aisle, it will be with a foreigner. Ms Park has dated many Western men and argues that they are less domineering than most South Korean men.
Ironically, on the other side of the equation, South Korean men are looking for foreign spouses in the event that they cannot find one at home.
Marriages between South Korean men and Vietnamese, Filipino and Chinese women have become common in recent years, although these have steadily declined over the past five years.
KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK