Less and later marriage in South Korea

Sociologist Hyunjoon Park sheds light on why marriage rates are falling in South Korea, particularly among highly educated women and low-educated men.

The marriage rates in South Korea—and in other wealthy East Asian countries like Japan and Taiwan—are declining. Fewer people are tying the knot, or are waiting longer to do so. In a new article in the journal Demography, Hyunjoon Park, Korea Foundation Professor of Sociology in the School of Arts and Sciences, and co-author James Raymo of Princeton University, summarize their research on the effects of the changing marriage climate in South Korea.

Raymo and Park based their research on two five-year periods, 20 years apart (1985-89 in comparison to 2005-2009). Examination of the data show the marriage rates have significantly declined between the two periods. Raymo and Park’s research found a particularly interesting decline among highly educated women and low-educated men.

Why is this happening?

More and more women are earning college degrees, while men are not keeping pace, explains Park, who is also director of the James Joo-Jin Kim Program in Korean Studies. The educational composition changes within a society that is characterized by a strong gender-based division of labor (women stay home with children, while men work) and substantial gender inequality is resulting in a disproportionate marriage market.

“In societies with strong gender-based divisions of labor like South Korea, highly educated women tend to want a partner with equal or more education than themselves,” says Park. “For South Korean women who attended university, we see an almost 10 percentage point decline in terms of the predictive probability of marriage by age 45, and only half of low-educated men—those who did not attend high school—are getting married by age 45.”

With more women achieving higher rates of education, partners of equal or greater education levels are becoming harder to find.

This story is by Katelyn Silva. 

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