Number of marriages in S. Korea hit to record low

Posted on : 2021-03-19 16:31 KST Modified on : 2021-03-19 16:31 KST
Population decline, economic struggles and the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the decrease
Employees of Elysian Party, an event venue in Seoul, organize tables on Sunday to reopen for business. (Yonhap News)
Employees of Elysian Party, an event venue in Seoul, organize tables on Sunday to reopen for business. (Yonhap News)

Marriages in South Korea plunged to an all-time low last year amid a combination of decline in the younger population, economic hardship and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Statistics Korea published statistics Thursday on marriages and divorces in 2020. The findings showed a total of 214,000 marriages last year, down by 10.7% (26,000) from the year before.

The total was the lowest since related statistics were first tallied in 1970. While the number of marriages has been declining for nine straight years since 2012, this marks the first time the rate has been in the double digits since 1997 (10.6%).

“We’re seeing more cases of people putting off marriage or not marrying at all amid a continued decline in the 30-something population that is the main age group in marriages, along with changing economic conditions related to marriage such as housing costs and employment,” observed Kim Soo-young, director of the Statistics Korea bureau of demographic trends.

“There were many cases of weddings being postponed or canceled last year due to COVID-19, and the number of international marriages has dropped sharply amid a steep decline in international arrivals,” she said.

At 33.2 years, the average age of males marrying for the first time was down by 0.1 years from 2019. For females, the average was 30.8, or 0.2 years higher than in 2019. The average age gap between males and females was 2.5 years, for a decrease of 0.3 years.

Amid a general population aging trend, the average ages of males and females marrying for the first time has been rising steadily. But the decline in international marriage last year resulted in a sharp drop in marriages by older men, leading to a decrease in the average age of males marrying for the first time.

Among first marriages, the proportion in which the male was the older spouse stood at 65.3%, down by 1.5 percentage points from the year before. The female was the older spouse in 18.5% of cases, an increase of 0.9 percentage points.

In terms of age difference between spouses, the most common scenario involved a male three to five years older than his spouse (25.7%), followed by a male one to two years older (25.6%), spouses the same age (16.2%), and a woman one to two years older (12.5%).

Marriages in which one of the spouses was not a South Korean national accounted for 7.2% of all marriages, down 2.7 percentage points from the years before. The decline was driven by a drop in the number of international arrivals amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The largest proportion of non-South Korean female spouses were from Vietnam (28.3%), followed by China (22.7%) and Thailand (15.6%). In the case of non-South Korean male spouses, the largest proportion were from the US (26%), followed by China (22.2%) and Vietnam (11.8%).

A total of 107,000 divorces were recorded last year, a decrease of 3.9% (4,000) from the year before. The trend was influenced by a decline in marriages and the prolonging of divorce procedures as courts were adjourned for long periods of time due to the pandemic.

The average length of marriage for divorcing couples was 16.7 years, up 0.7 years from 2019.

While the overall number of divorces was down, the number of divorces involving couples who had lived together for 20 or more years was up by 3.2% from the year before at 39,700.

In particular, 16,600 divorces involved couples who had been married for 30 or more years, an increase of 10.8% from 2019.

By Lee Kyung-mi, staff reporter

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