Affordable Homes, Jobs Are Key to Tackling Aversion to Marriage

  • By Chosun Ilbo Columnist Kang Kyung-hee

    November 18, 2022 13:20

    Japanese writer Sayaka Murata has won the Akutagawa Prize, one of Japan's most prestigious literary awards, for her semi-autobiographical novel "Convenience Store Woman" depicting the life of a lonely, single woman who buys instant food at corner stores for meal and ends up working there three days a week for 18 years. "For breakfast I eat convenience store bread, for lunch I eat convenience store rice balls with something from the hot-food cabinet, and after work I'm often so tired I just buy something from the store and take it home for dinner... When I think that my body is entirely made up of food from this store, I feel like I'm as much a part of the store as the magazine racks or the coffee machine," the protagonist says.

    Forty-seven-year-old YouTuber "Dokgo Nochonggak" (Old Bachelor Who Lives Alone) lives as the name suggests alone in Miryang, South Gyeongsang Province and has 170,000 subscribers. A French broadcaster has even filmed a documentary about him. Dressed in a grungy T-shirt, he cooks instant noodles late at night and says as he eats alone. "Life is ramyeon. That's how life is," he says. "I spent W4,500 on three rolls of gimbap (seaweed rice rolls). Perhaps I spent too much since it's payday. You can eat gimbap that costs W4,500 and high-end donkatsu (deep-fried pork cutlet) and live without despairing because you're still single (US$1=W1,339)." His videos draw hundreds of supportive responses from other single men.

    Statistics Korea data shows that the proportion of Koreans who feel marriage is necessary has fallen to 50 percent. Only 37 percent of single men and 22 percent of single women feel they need to tie the knot. But unlike bachelors in western countries, singles in Korea cite a lack of money (28.7 percent) and job insecurity (14.6 percent).

    Korea's total fertility rate is the lowest in the world, but the marriage rate is not. There were 4.2 marriages per 1,000 people in 2020, ranking Korea in sixth place among member countries of the OECD. The marriage rate in France, Spain and Italy is less than half Korea's, but their birthrates are higher, because around four out of 10 babies are born to unmarried couples who live together. The birthrate out of wedlock in Korea is just 2.1 percent and in Japan 2.3 percent. In other words, Koreans still feel only married couples should have kids.

    A shortage of jobs therefore ends up causing people to hesitate to get married and leads to a sharp decline in childbirth, Japan, which experienced the predicament of a prolonged economic slump before Korea, adopted policies to get more young people to tie the knot. Korea may have to launch similar campaigns, but more fundamentally it needs to bring down insanely high home prices and create more quality jobs.

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