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Multicultural marriages fall, birthrate rises

Asian countries' stern restriction on marriages with Korean men fuel decline, officials say

The number of marriages of international couples in South Korea declined for the second consecutive year, while the birthrate for such families continued to rise, according to a government report.

Statistics Korea said in its report released on Thursday that the number of multicultural marriages stood at 29,224 in 2012, down 4.8 percent from 30,695 from a year earlier. The figure reached 35,098 in 2010.

Data showed that the proportion of multicultural partners out of total marriages also dropped from 9.3 percent in 2011 to 8.9 percent in 2012.

Married migrants, the majority of them Asian women, frequently struggle to adjust to the differences in language and way of living, while the low income levels of their husbands appear to be raising the risk of divorce.

“Though marriages between Korean men and foreign women dropped, those between female Koreans and male foreigners increased last year,” said an official of the state statistics agency.

He said the fall in the number of Korean men and foreign women was attributable to the recently toughened restrictions imposed on commercial marriage brokers in countries like Vietnam, the Philippines and Cambodia.

Some migrant women face domestic violence and other problems, sometimes resulting in divorce, caused by their and their spouse’s poor understanding of each other’s cultures.

On the contrary, the birthrate for Korean-foreigner couples climbed by 4.1 percent from 22,014 to 22,908 over the corresponding period.

While the ratio of multicultural children to total births stayed at 2.9 percent in 2008, the figure rose to 4.7 percent in 2012.

The educational background of multicultural families has improved. About 41 percent of husbands and 35 percent of wives were college graduates in 2012, compared with 33 percent and 28 percent, respectively, in the previous year.

By nationality, Koreans accounted for 71 percent of the husbands, followed by Chinese with 9.2 percent and Americans with 5.5 percent. Among the wives, Chinese took up 29 percent, followed by Vietnamese with 23 percent and Koreans with 22 percent.

Marriages spanned 5.4 years on average as of last year, compared with 4.9 years in 2011 and 4.7 years in 2010.

Meanwhile, the number of divorces between interracial couples also fell over the same period ― by 5.2 percent from 14,450 in 2011 to 13,701 in 2012.

Observers say, however, the figure could be because the number of divorces dropped together with the decline in multicultural marriages.

They say the realities of intercultural marriages are often challenging, not just here but in other countries as well. In Japan, divorces between interracial couples accounted for 7.6 percent of all divorces last year, while the marriage rate among them was 4.9 percent.

They highlight economic factors, stressing that the proportion of multicultural marriages is higher in provincial areas with a high agricultural population.

A joint poll by Statistics Korea and the Ministry of Health and Welfare showed that more than 60 percent of mixed-nationality families were living on a monthly income of less than 2 million won ($1,800), and about 20 percent of them on less than 1 million won.

By Kim Yon-se (