In 1981, Korean women tied the knot at the average age of 23, but last year it was 29.1. Women with only middle or high school diplomas got married when they were 27.9 on average, and university graduates when they were 29.2.
There has also been an increase in the number of women who choose to stay single, with 47.1 percent of women in their 20s to 40s saying they do not mind if they are single for the rest of their lives. Many say Korean corporate cultures need to change to allow them to balance work and marriage.
Statistics Korea estimates that 72.8 percent of single women currently between 35 and 39 will remain single until they turn 50. This means that out of 254,000 single women in the age group, 185,000 will still be single by 2035. Among male singles in the same age group, the proportion will also be as high as 56.3 percent. The reason is that women are rarely minded to marry men who are less educated than they are.
More single men and women lead to a low birthrate, which in turn causes a decline in the economically active population. But a bigger problem is that there is a high chance that singles can end up plummeting into poverty if they lose jobs and that the state will have to shoulder the welfare expenses during their twilight years if they have no family to take care of them.
In France, where 15 million people are single, the government considers couples who have lived together for more than three years virtually married and gives them the same tax incentives, inheritance rights and social welfare benefits as married couples. If the Korean government does not address the swelling ranks of singles, the country could end up having to do what France is doing right now. Times are changing and so are social customs and attitudes to marriage.
By Chosun Ilbo columnist Park Hae-hyun