South Korean women are saying “I Don’t” more so than “I Do.”
In a trend that is upending everything from the wedding business and the birth rate to the general economy, women increasingly are rejecting marriage and motherhood, according to Bloomberg.
A government statistics agency that conducted a survey found that in 2018 a slight majority of women felt that marriage was not necessary, while in 2010 a majority felt that it was.
A new network has formed in a nod to the no-marriage sisterhood – EMIF, which stands for “Elite Without Marriage, I am Going Forward.”
And one of the country’s most popular YouTube stars is Baeck Ha-na, an accountant by day whose channel champions being unmarried, and is called “Solo-darity.”
“Society made me feel like a failure for being in my 30’s and not yet a wife or a mother,” Baeck said. “Instead of belonging to someone, I now have a more ambitious future for myself.”
South Korea has the lowest birth rate in the world, and with fewer younger generations to enter the workforce, there is an ever-growing deficit in funds for pensions. This year, in fact, the number of deaths is expected to births, Bloomberg reported.
The Seoul Education Office has plans to close three elementary and middle schools, and other schools are responding to a drop in enrollment by merging.
Other areas of the country are also feeling the impact of the anti-marriage movement, seeing school enrollment drop between 26 percent and 43 percent, Bloomberg reported.
The wedding business, of course, is feeling the trend. One out of five wedding halls in Seoul has closed.
South Korean officials are watching the trend with alarm and responding with marriage-incentive policies and programs. Some of the moves involve arranging events where single men and women can meet. There are also childcare subsidies and longer paternity leaves.
Nearly two years ago, President Moon Jae-in formed the Presidential Committee on Aging Society and Population Policy to look at what the country could do about the declining birth rate.
“We are now at the last golden time to fix a serious population problem,” Moon said at the time, according to Bloomberg. “We must now focus on how marrying, giving birth doesn’t limit the lives of women.”
The concept of making marriage enticing irks many of the women who are part of the no-marriage movement.
“The government’s biggest problem is that they aren’t listening to the women — the actual subjects that have to bear the children and have to raise the children,” said EMIF’s founder, Kang Han-byul. “They try to sell this idea that a family is beautiful, having children is beautiful, when there’s many unspoken things that actually happen to the woman physically, mentally — which is why these policies will never win us over.”
Added Jung Se-young, who co-hosts Baeck’s YouTube channel: “This traditional role enforced on us from a boys-only soccer field at school, to a boys club in a company office already makes us second-class citizens, and I don’t want to be used as a tool simply for baby-making.”
In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Shin Gi-wook, a sociology professor at Stanford University and expert on Korean politics, agreed that South Korea must make fundamental changes in how it views gender roles before it can change the backlash against marriage and motherhood.
“Social support systems are not in place [and] social institutions are still male-driven and male-centric,” he said. “The multiple roles working women are expected to continue to play in the family and in society – as mums, wives, daughters-in-law… make it difficult for them to prioritize marriage and motherhood over their careers.”