When I was in primary school, my aunt, who lived with us at the time, would be scolded by my grandmother every time we sat down to eat for not being married. I later learned that she was only 26 at the time. From 1993 to 2003, the average age women in Korea tied the knot was pushed back further and further. In 1993, the average age of first-time grooms was 28 and for first-time brides 25. Last year, it was 32 for grooms and 29 for brides.
In Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," Juliet's mother is 30.
It is no surprise that people get married later and later. We live in a country where it is no easy task to tie the knot. The average age of grooms in Seoul, surrounding Gyeonggi Province and the southern port city of Busan is higher than in other parts of the country. And those three areas boast the highest real estate prices in the nation.
Indeed, the age at which men marry for the first time began to rise above the nationwide average between 2002 and 2004, when the job market became more competitive and housing prices soared following the 1998 Asian financial crisis.
The average age of brides increased more steadily. As of 2013, it was highest in Seoul, followed by Busan, Jeju, Daegu and Gyeonggi Province. Except Jeju they are all large cities. In Seoul and Busan, the average age of first-time brides has already surpassed 30.
The problem is that this trend has continued unabated for the past two decades. We need to turn back or at least halt it. Taming real estate prices is a huge can of worms and ought to be resolved gradually. But what can be done sooner is to increase the number of wedding facilities that can be used for smaller-scale wedding.
Weddings in ordinary families would normally involve around 100 to 200 guests from both sides. However, most wedding halls don't take reservations unless there are 300 or more guests. There are some public facilities that have been made available for wedding ceremonies, including the National Library of Korea and Seoul Citizens Hall, but they are not enough.
It is good news that Gyeonggi Province has decided to make the governor's residence in Suwon available for weddings starting next month. The province spent more than two months renovating it so that it can host weddings. The residence features a 1,100 sq.m garden making it ideal for outdoor weddings, and is just 20 minutes from Suwon City Hall by car and half an hour by bus.
There is only one requirement to use the facility, which is for the couple to pay for the wedding themselves without assistance from their parents. Gyeonggi Province will take applications by e-mail.
In 1993, 400,000 couples tied the knot and 720,000 babies were born. In 2013, 320,000 couples were married and 440,000 babies were born. A decline in the nation's GDP by that margin would have triggered a major crisis. But the declining number of marrying couples poses a far more serious threat. We need to make it easier for couples to tie the knot at lower costs and with less pomp.
By Kim Soo-hye from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk