Singles frustrated with marriage-centric Korean social norms
By Yoon Ja-young
As a growing number of Koreans choose celibacy, they resent social norms centering on married people. They are supposed to give their married friends gifts for various life events but with no chance of the same coming back to them.
The Hankook Ilbo, the sister newspaper of the Korea Times, recently reported on people who intend to remain celibate for life. He cited the case of Kim, a 30-year-old office worker who has a group of friends from high school, most of whom are married or planning to marry.
When one of the married friends got pregnant, another friend suggested hosting a “gender reveal party” for the friend, which would cost around 300,000 won ($250). Usually prepared by an event company, the party is accompanied by a cake, balloons and other decorations to announce the gender of the fetus. Kim said she had already spent 200,000 won on a “bachelorette party” and 100,000 won as a wedding gift for this friend. She pointed out the endless events she has to celebrate for the friend, like her friend’s housewarming party, her friend’s baby delivery, and that baby’s first birthday. “As a single person, I don’t have any such event for which I can be reimbursed,” she told the newspaper.
He also cited the case of a single man who stopped attending wedding ceremonies. He said that at some point he began to wonder why he had to “spend money and time” when he would never be reimbursed.
Complaints are rising among people who have chosen to remain single, as Korean social norms still regard marriage as something “obligatory”, even though statistics show that marriage is in fact becoming optional. According to a 2020 survey by Statistics Korea, only 16.8% of Koreans think marriage is a “must”, while 41.4% consider it optional. Another survey by job portals Job Korea and Albamon showed that one in four people in their 20s and 30s plan to stay single. While men cited soaring housing prices and child-rearing costs as barriers to marriage, women highlighted the stress of getting entangled in new family relationships and having to attend events. family following marriage and the desire to focus on themselves as reasons.
The newspaper also points to the unfair treatment of those who cohabit or live together without getting married. According to a survey by the Department for Gender Equality and Family, more than half of people who cohabit with their partner said they were excluded from company benefits and state tax benefits available to families.