Korea is undergoing such rapid demographic changes that many relevant statistics keep producing new records. Those on marriage are no exception.
Latest figures show that in 2015, the number of marriages stood at 302,800, the lowest since 2003. The ratio of the number of marriages to every 1,000 people dropped to 5.9, marking the first time that it has gone below six.
The record-breaking spree continues: the average age of Korean men tying the knot for the first time reached a record high of 32.6 years, with that of women also growing to 30 years. The women’s average hit the 30-year mark for the first time.
Government officials blame the decline in the number of people in the marriageable age group and the extended economic slump for the record-shattering changes.
As we fail to tackle these problems collectively, the nation’s birthrate remains at the lowest level in the world, denting its economic vitality and accelerating the pace of aging.
The bigger problem is that the pace of the changes will accelerate in the years to come. The 2015 Korea Social Indices released by the government showed that 56.8 percent of Koreans see marriage a “must,” compared with 68 percent in 2008. It too is the first time that the rate dropped below the 60-percent mark.
There are a combination of reasons why Koreans in their 20s and 30s delay or give up marriage -- the staggering jobless rate which is hitting the youth harder, and the expenses for wedding, housing and child rearing and education which are unaffordable to many.
This calls on the government, society and businesses to muster all what they should. Sadly, they are not doing their job properly. Rather, some are still stuck in anachronistic practice, as seen in the case of Kumbokju, a Daegu-based distiller of soju which pressured a woman to quit because she was getting married.
There will certainly be more employers who dare have no qualms about discriminating against married female workers. The case raises the urgency of launching a nationwide inspection of workplaces.
Demographic challenges like changes in the marriage culture cannot be addressed easily and in a short period of time. We need a comprehensive package of plans on the short, middle and long terms. Ending worksite discrimination against married women should be one of the first steps.