Korea’s #NoMarriage Movement
The population of South Korea is rapidly declining and no amount of government effort or spendings can alleviate this threat of demographic decline. In direct correlation, marriage levels are plummeting as more people desire to break free from society’s pressures in pursuit of their careers and other personal interests. The common agreement is that Korea has too many long-standing social obstacles that discourage women from returning to work, and the financial burden of raising a child in such a competitive country is swaying people away. Broad streamed television and social media serve as platforms for the anti-marriage movement amidst the detrimental consequences that are already evident in our economy. Population decline will inevitably continue unless deeply-rooted customs are reformed.
South Korea is facing record low birth rates in history and less individuals are believing marriage as a necessity. Korea’s National Statistics Agency revealed in April that the expected number of babies per woman dropped to 0.98 in 2018— a staggering 7% drop from the previous year. Seoul reported its lowest fertility rate as of yet at 0.76, indicating that government efforts to encourage birth rate has been largely unsuccessful. South Korea’s national total fertility is the lowest among OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries, which accounts for most developed nations. Government reports predict that the number of people dying in 2019 will outpace the number of people born; the replacement level fertility rate of 2.1 simply isn’t being met and the Korean demographic is shrinking.
The main cause of the birth decline is due to greater appeal in single lifestyle and independence. Koreans are starting to view marriage as a restrictive element that limits their freedom by inevitably increasing emotional, mental, and physical burden. Some have even voiced that dating is a waste of time and effort, attributing to desperate postgraduates prioritizing job security and personal well-being over romantic relations. The monetary burden of raising a child can’t be unfactored, and reaching sustainable financial security to raise a child in a competitive educational society like South Korea is costly. The desire for couples to wait for security until marriage is reflected in the shift of marrying age groups, which indicates more people marrying in their early 30s instead of their 20s.
A government survey showed that people who believed in marriage decreased from 64% in 2010 to 48.1% 2018; a great portion of those are women who are repelled by the idea of compromising their jobs and living as a home-maker. With Korea’s sexist stereotypes still prominent, pressure is placed on women to quit their career once their baby is born. Even after deciding to return to work, women often face heavy discrimination and criticism by their co-workers and relatives for failure to complete increased responsibilities.
The anti-marriage movement is quickly catching fire through YouTube channels (ie. 혼삶비결SOLOdarity) and social media groups that promote and highlight the advantages of not marrying. Even popular romantic-comedy dramas such as “Because This is My First Life” (2017) and “Search: WWW” (2019) depict perspectives of anti-marriage characters and hint criticism at those that don’t understand their reasons. These modes of exposure convey a message that marriage as a social norm is oppressive, and that pressures from parents and friends is demanding too much control of one’s life.
The repercussions of declining birth rate is already apparent in the drop of student enrollment and decrease in wedding-related stores. Widespread closures of elementary and middle schools are being enacted due to a shortage of students. This is especially evident in rural communities, where numbers are dwindling to only a handful of students in each town. The principal of a Gangjin Country elementary school states he even went around town searching for kids who’d enroll into first grade, highlighting the desperation of faculty in increasing student size. In correlation, declining marriage rates have caused 20% of wedding halls in Seoul to close and wedding planners are running out of clients. The wedding industry is facing difficulty in maintaining business, and nothing can be done to prevent these shops from closing. Economists even warn that businesses targeted to children must be refashioned to avoid bankruptcy, since there won’t be enough demand within a few years.
Long term consequences are more daunting, with economic fallout and decrease in GDP unavoidable if population starts trickling down. Statisticians predict that in about a decade from now, able-bodied, productive individuals will fall below 2.5 million, while the elderly population will rise to 4.5 million; simply put, there won’t be enough of the younger population to support the elderly. Overall military enlistment will fall as general male population declines, and longer years may be required than the current 21 months of mandatory service to maintain an effective military. Labor force would also decline, and as less candidates are being considered for college, working professionals will also drop. Failing to solve this threat would greatly jeopardize Korea’s national economy and security.
Efforts by the Korean government have reaped no progress. Increasing subsidies and sponsoring matchmaking events aren’t persuading people to marry— the generation is simply unappealed. Attempts to urge women to marry and raise more children are no longer working simply because they’re too aware of its implications. There are too many intricacies within the social system that contribute to this demographic threat, and the norms currently intact have pushed the generation to extremes. Academic competition, difficulty in employment, and unspoken norms all contribute too much in depicting marriage as an added burden to both genders. Unless marriage and child-bearing is promised to be less of an added weight, the threat of demographic decline is unavoidable.