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‘Small weddings’ drive aims to solve low fertility

In its attempt to raise the nation’s fertility rate, the government said Tuesday it would start supporting “small weddings” to alleviate the burden of pricey ceremonies in hopes that more marriages will lead to more childbirths.

The Gender Equality Ministry signed an MOU with the heads of the country’s four biggest religious bodies ― the Christian Council of Korea, Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, Won-Buddhism and Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seoul ― to collaborate on promoting the so-called “small weddings,” to encourage more people to get married without worrying about the cost of the ceremony.

Upon signing, the four religious bodies agreed to offer their cathedrals and temples for use as wedding venues at a cost ranging from 200,000 won ($185) to 300,000 won. The organizations also plan to promote the importance of “spending less on weddings” via their broadcasting networks including PBC and WBS.

“Today’s wedding culture, which consists of expensive wedding halls, costly furnishings for the newlyweds, and monetary gifts for the ceremony, is one of the biggest reasons why many young people either avoid or put off their marriages. We are even using terms such as ‘wedding-poor,’” said Gender Equality Minister Kim Hee-jung.

“We are determined to change today’s (wedding) culture into one that opts for more affordable ceremonies.”

The marriage rate is considered to be an important factor in Korea’s fertility rate. Along with its general fertility rate ― 1.18 children per woman ― Korea also has one of the lowest out-of-wedlock birthrates in the world, marking 2.1 percent in 2010.

This means most Koreans do not generally have children unless they are married, but the number of those who put off marriage has increased dramatically.

More than 50 percent of Korean men born between 1976 and 1980 were single for the period of 2006 to 2010, whereas only 13.9 percent of those born between 1956 and 1960 were not married at that age, according to Statistics Korea.

While the youth unemployment rate is soaring, Korean couples spent an average of 238 million won ($216,000) on their wedding ceremonies in the last two years, according to wedding consulting firm Duowed. Meanwhile, the average annual income of a young university graduate and a full-time employee is 30 million won.

Cho Sung-ho, a researcher at Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, said he isn’t sure if the Gender Ministry’s MOU with the religious sector would lift the fertility rate.

“Wedding venues are just one of hundreds of things that cost money when one prepares to get married, such as housing and money gifts for the parents,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s about ‘spending less’ on weddings and giving up what you want to have in your milestone event. I think the first step should be learning that weddings and marriage aren’t the same thing, and that great weddings don’t guarantee happy marriages. I think changes will naturally follow once the public accepts that.”

By Claire Lee (