The average cost of a wedding has surpassed W200 million (US$1=W1,126) for the first time. Including the receptions, gifts or dowry, home furnishings and honeymoon, couples spent an average of W208 million last year on getting married, according to a survey of 310 newlyweds conducted by a matchmaking firm Sunoo and commissioned by the Chosun Ilbo.
When a similar study was conducted in 2009, the average cost stood at W175.4 million, showing growth in excess of W30 million over a three-year period. Sunoo has tracked the cost of weddings every two to three years since 1999, and the results clearly show that expenses are rising too quickly for young couples to handle.
During the decade following the Asian financial crisis in late 1997, the average wages of Koreans in their 20s and 30s increased two-fold on average, but wedding costs jumped three-fold from W76.3 million in 1999 to W208 million in 2012. The cost of a wedding has almost doubled since 2005.
The parents of couples had to pitch in to cover the shortfall. Chun Sang-jin at Sogang University said, "More couples are turning to their parents since they cannot manage the costs on their own." Heightened expectations, the desire to be ostentatious and the indulgence of doting parents all lead to this trend of expensive weddings.
The cost of weddings has surged by tens of millions of won every four or five years. It hovered below W100 million as of 2001, then grew to W134.9 million in 2003 and W172.4 million in 2007.
By and large, the surges were related to rising real estate prices. But while the cost of buying a home tripled from W42.62 million to W142.2 million over the 2003 to 2007 period, the cost of organizing a wedding more than quadrupled from W4.57 million to W17.22 million over the same period.
Prof. Yoo Sung-yul of Baekseok University, who oversaw the latest study, said, "Richer people tend to flaunt their wealth and power through lavish weddings, and more people in the middle class are jumping on the bandwagon to keep up with the Jones."
The growing burden imposed by lavish weddings is partly to blame for the declining number of couples tying the knot every year. In 1999, 360,000 couples got married. But by 2010, the figure had dropped to 320,000.