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Singles frustrated by Korea's marriage-centric social norms

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By Yoon Ja-young

While an increasing number of Koreans are choosing the single life, they are irritated by social norms centered on married people. They are supposed to offer their married friends gifts for various life events, but without any chance of seeing the same come back to them.

The Hankook Ilbo, the sister paper of The Korea Times, recently reported about people who intend to remain single for life. It cited the case of Kim, a 30-year-old office worker who has a group of high school friends, most of whom either are married or are planning to get married.

When one of the married friends got pregnant, another friend suggested that they throw a "gender-reveal party" for the friend, which would cost around 300,000 won ($250). Usually prepared by an event company, the party comes with a cake, balloons and other decorations to announce the fetus' gender. Kim said that she already spent 200,000 won for a "bridal shower" and 100,000 won as wedding gift money for that friend. She pointed to endless events that she has to celebrate for the friend, such as her friend's housewarming party, the delivery of her friend's baby and that baby's first birthday. "As a single person, I don't have any such event for which I can be paid back," she told the newspaper.

It also cited the case of one single man who has stopped attending wedding ceremonies. He said that he at some point started wondering why he has to "spend money and time" while he will never be paid back.

Complaints are increasing among people who chose to remain unmarried, as Korea's social norms still regard marriage as something "required" even though statistics show that marriage is actually becoming optional. According to a 2020 survey by Statistics Korea, only 16.8 percent of Koreans think marriage is a "must," while a full 41.4 percent view it as optional. Another survey by job portals Job Korea and Albamon showed that one in four people in their 20s and 30s plan to remain unmarried. While males cited soaring housing prices and child-rearing costs as hurdles for marriage, females pointed to stress over getting entangled in new family relationships and having to join family events as a result of marriage and the desire to focus on themselves as the reasons.

The newspaper also points to unfair treatment of those who cohabit or live together while not getting married. According to a survey by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, more than half of those who cohabit with their partner said they were excluded from company welfare and state tax benefits offered to families.


Yoon Ja-young yjy@koreatimes.co.kr


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