2019 is shaping up to be a year of growing pains in South Korea. With the rise of women demanding equality and launching their own #MeToo movements, it’s time to tackle another important yet contentious topic: marriage.
A recent Bloomberg article stated that the Korean economy is taking hits as both marriage rates and birth rates have decreased over the years. The government has launched a committee to solve this continuing problem. Women are speaking out on this topic as they grow tired of the societal pressure to marry and have children rather than pursuing their own goals. This is even more timely as a recent study found single motherless women have been considered the happiest subgroup. The #NoMarriage movement has arrived, everyone.
Welcome to our latest The Community Speaks!
Wendilynn: I realize that I’m looking at the culture from the outside, so there are things that seem just demented to me that a Korean woman will understand better than I do. But a few things that I consider making things harder on Korean women than it should be is the way that a woman becomes a second-class citizen in her own family when she marries, especially to her in-laws.
A Korean friend of mine viewed it like slavery. She wasn’t looking forward to having to follow everything her mother-in-law said. Then there is how you lose your own name and everyone refers to you by your kid’s name. A woman’s value is only worth what her children and spouse accomplish. That’s messed up.
Women aren’t considered as valuable as men, and so only men do all the bowing at funeral tables for their ancestors. Thanks to the idea that women shouldn’t contradict a man, women are being beaten and/or killed by their domestic partners for just telling them no. Then you have the workplace inequality where older women aren’t considered valuable employees and add the spycam crap on top of that … geee, can’t imagine why Korean women are just swearing it all off. Exactly what’s in it for them?
Ashley: While living in Korea and studying this very topic through a program at Yonsei University, I’ve learned that the movement has been gaining momentum since the early 1990s. There was genuinely a time when the country was referred to as the “Marrying Country,” but statistics as recent as 2015 from the Korean Statistic Office reported that single-person households comprise over 27% of total households in Korea. Yes, some of these households could be senior citizens, but it still stands that many are of reproductive and (usual) marrying age. The historically fixed gender roles simply don’t appeal to as many people when other options are available.
Although no data supports this, I believe that the generation that’s grown up with the advantage of being able to travel abroad freely (seriously, the nation had restrictions until Jan. 1, 1989) have much to do with this cultural shift about marriage. Being able to avoid the financial and emotional hardship of raising a child and visiting and/or living places where family, choice and independence are presented in different ways has opened many people’s minds to new options. It’s hard to think the same way as everyone else when you step outside of the box and see new things.
Wendilynn: A lot of Korean parents take their kids to be educated outside of Korea if they can afford it. It’s cheaper, there’s less bullying and you get credit for being educated outside the country when you come back. There is a lot of emphasis in the job market for people to have educations from outside the country, and that exposes people to other ways of living their lives.
I’ve talked to many people in their 30s who talk about not having enough leisure time to enjoy what they like to do. They almost sound confused if you ask them if they have any hobbies. They are a rich country now. They don’t want to work to death to have it; they want to enjoy the leisure time that comes with it.
Jess: What personally sticks out to me is that South Korea is still struggling with how they address mental health. The country still has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, and mental health is still a taboo subject. So instead of furthering information to help save lives, you’re still pushing marriage and having children.
While I’m single with no kids, I think I can safely say that marriage and raising a child is no picnic. Those are massive stressors that can make a difficult situation or a preexisting mental problem worse.
Then there’s how much kids struggle in the school system. Another huge problem that people are speaking up about. The bullying, the pressures to conform and do well or you’ll be a failure and possible familial pressures. But no, let’s try to convince people to get married and pop out babies.
Wendilynn: I cannot believe that the government’s answer to the marriage and baby crisis is to hold matchmaking events. Let’s ignore the real reasons and pretend it’s a lack of opportunity. *shakes head*
What are your thoughts on this #NoMarriage movement in South Korea? How do you think this will affect the culture in the future! Let us know below. We’d love to hear from you!