Tuesday, September 23, 2003
South Korea's divorce rate climbs
A story published today by the New York Times reports that only a decade ago, Sunoo, one of South Korea's largest matchmaking services, had no divorced clients. Few Koreans divorced, and deep social prejudice forced those who did to resign themselves to a life alone.
Today, with a surging divorce rate that now ranks among the world's highest, divorced clients account for 15 percent of Sunoo's membership. But as with other agencies that match people looking to marry, Sunoo keeps its divorced members in a largely separate category.
"South Korea is in a transition," said Lee Woong-jin, 38, the agency's chief executive. "It's a reality that divorce is rising and will probably continue to rise. At the same time, we are adhering to traditional values."
Rapidly changing attitudes toward divorce — as well as such other issues as marriage, childbearing and cohabitation — show a South Korea in the throes of a social transformation.
The divorce rate last year was 3 cases for every 1,000 people, government statistics show, up from 2 per 1,000 in 1997. By comparison, according to the most recent figures, the European Union's average is 1.8 and Japan's 2.3. The rate is 4 per 1,000 people in the United States.
Meanwhile, the marriage rate — lower than the United States' and higher than Europe's and Japan's — has been declining. People are marrying later and having fewer children. Last year, the birth rate was 1.17 children per woman, even lower than Japan's 1.32.
In addition, more young couples are defying a longtime taboo against living together, though they largely keep the fact hidden from parents and co-workers.