Baby boomers in Korea who are now in their 50s have a lot on their minds. They are facing an average retirement age of 53, while they can no longer depend on their children to take care of them in their old age. Their most pressing concern is getting their children married, preferably while they are still earning money so they can afford a ceremony. They also think that congratulatory money offered by coworkers can be used to help pay for the ceremony. But this becomes impossible after retirement. Adding to the frustration is the fact that baby boomers' children are old enough to get married, yet still dependent on their parents, with no plans to start their own families or move into their own places like young adults in the West.
The latest statistics compound the frustrations felt by baby boomer parents. Last year, the average marrying age was 31.4 for men and 28.3 for women. More and more Koreans are choosing to marry later in life. In 1981, Korean men got married at an average age of 26.4 and women when they were 23.2. This means in 27 years, the average marrying age has been pushed back five years. Three out of 10 Koreans between the ages of 25 and 34, which are considered prime marrying years, are single. In the affluent Gangnam district of southern Seoul, 81.3 percent of women between 25 and 29 years of age are single, while 44.4 percent of women aged 30 to 34 are single.
With more and more women getting married later in life, couples with older wives are rising, while the numbers of couples with older husbands are declining. Among the couples that wed last year, 16 percent saw older women marry younger men. This is a large increase considering the fact that such couples only comprised 9.6 percent of all marriages 10 years ago. Among women aged 35 to 44, 3.5 out of 10 end up tying the knot with younger men. Such women fit the label of "Gold Miss," with good jobs and competitive incomes. They usually prefer younger, more docile companions. David Popenoe, founder and co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, said marriage is a profitable institution that creates wealth. The cost of living is cheaper for couples than for singles, while productivity increases by sharing household work. When it comes to creating happiness, being married is worth US$100,000 per year, according to a recent paper by economist David Blanchflower of Dartmouth College. That means for a widow, widower or divorcee to feel as happy as a married person, their annual income needs to rise by $100,000 a year. Married people also live longer than single people.
Japan is also seeing a surge in the number of people delaying marriage. This trend has given rise to so-called "dating academies," reflecting the view that young Japanese do not know how to court each other. In Fukui Prefecture, the regional government pays subsidies to around 200 matchmakers. If more and more people put off getting married, the birth rate declines, which could be disastrous for a country. And people naturally tend to put off marriage when economic conditions are tough. It looks like more and more Korean parents may soon be telling their children to move out and live on their own if they are not going to get married.
By Chosun Ilbo columnist Kim Dong-seop