International Marriage Decreasing in South Korea

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A Vietnamese bride in South Korea was found dead in July 2010 after she was struck by her Korean husband who wielded a deadly weapon. As similar cases began to rise rapidly, the South Korean government issued a “resolution to promote healthy relationship in international marriages.”

Since then, South Koreans who were set to marry a foreigner was required to take “refinement education” prior to the wedding, while dating businesses that encourage international marriages also had to go through stricter guidelines.

Foreigners with a criminal record, multiple experiences of international marriage, mental illness or financial difficulties were prohibited from obtaining visas in South Korea. As a response, the Cambodian government imposed a temporary ban on its citizens’ from marrying South Koreans.

The rigorous legal procedures have played a large part in driving down cases of international marriages in South Korea, even though more newlyweds are couples whose husbands are older than their wives.

In the past year, 22,462 international marriages have taken place in South Korea, according to Statistics Korea. Such a figure is a 7.9 percent decrease in comparison to the previous year. In fact, the number of international marriages have been steadily decreasing every year since 2008 when 36,629 weddings were between a South Korean and a foreigner.

Marriages involving a foreigner has also decreased altogether. Only 7.4 percent of marriages in South Korea last year involved a foreigner compared to 8 percent in 2014.

Of the so called “international couples,” 62.6 percent are cases in which men are South Koreans, while 22.9 percent involved South Korean women. Marriages involving an ethnic South Korean and a naturalized Korean took up 14.5 percent.

Among foreigners who married in Korea, Chinese women made up the largest number at 27.9 percent, followed by brides from Vietnam (23.1), Philippines (4.7) and Japan (4.6). Chinese also led the way among men who married in Korea at 9.7 percent, followed by Americans (7.3), Japanese (3.6) and Canadians (2.1).

As less international marriages are taking place, both birth and divorce rates are decreasing as well. The number of newborns last year from international couples were 19,729, a 6.8 percent decrease from 2014. Only 4.5 percent of South Korean newborns last year were from international couples during the same period, which is also a 0.4 percent decrease compared to the previous year.

However, the number of divorces among international marriages in 2015 was 11,287, marking a 12.5 percent decrease from 2014.

However, lowering divorce rate does not reflect that more international marriages have led to successful relationships in the long run, as almost 40 percent of those marriages ended in a divorce within five years.

Case in point, the divorce rate among international couples are far greater than the nation’s overall average. A total of 77,737 calls were made between January and June from wives of international couples, 11.2 percent of which were due to marital conflicts, according to South Korea’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.

The age gap between Korean husbands and foreigner wives has also widened. Husbands are older than their wives by at least 10 years for 37.7 percent of the international couples nationwide, which is a 0.2 percent increase. Among the general population, only 6 percent of the married couples in South Korea are those whose husbands are older by at least 10 years.

The average age of South Korean men who married foreigners last year was 45, hinting that they have either missed their chances to marry earlier on or have divorced in the past.