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Marriage in South Korea

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Title: Marriage in South Korea  
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Subject: Culture of Korea, Pyebaek, Women in South Korea, Korea, South Korea/Did you know/151
Collection: Articles Containing Video Clips, Marriage, Unions and Partnerships by Country, South Korean Culture, South Korean Society
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Marriage in South Korea

Marriage in South Korea is similar to that in the West, but has unique features of its own, especially due to the influence of Korean Confucianism.


  • Eligibility 1
    • Marriage within the same ancestral clan 1.1
  • Traditional wedding ceremonies 2
    • Bride's attire 2.1
    • Groom's attire 2.2
  • Modern style wedding ceremonies 3
    • Practices before telek 3.1
    • Wedding halls 3.2
    • Wedding feast and reception 3.3
  • Current practice 4
    • Marriages between Koreans and non-Koreans 4.1
    • Same-sex marriage 4.2
  • Type of marriages 5
    • Arranged marriage and matchmakers 5.1
    • Love marriage 5.2
    • Divorce and remarriage 5.3
  • Divorce 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9


Marriage in South Korea is a union between a man and a woman. A man over 18 and a woman over 18 years old may marry with their parents' or guardians' consent, and a person over 20 may marry freely.

Marriage within the same ancestral clan

Marriage is not for the individual but rather for the desire of the family. If one decides to get married, they must get consent from the whole family. In the past it was generally considered a taboo for a man and a woman to marry if they both have the same last name from the same ancestor. From this cultural influence, the article 809 of the Korean Civil code regulated marriages within a clan in the past, considering it as a type of exogamy. However, the Korean Constitutional Court found this piece of legislation unconstitutional and asked for an amendment by the legislative branch in a 1997 decision. Five judges found it unconstitutional and two asked for amendment by the legislative branch, whereas another two opposed the outcome of this decision. The court specifically asked the legislative branch to amend the current civil code article 809 paragraph 1 by the end of 1998, and hold further adjudication of this legislation. However, with the legislative branch not providing an additional legislation to oppose the decision by the Constitutional Court, the decision was set to be final, allowing the people within the same ancestral clan to marry each other.

Traditional wedding ceremonies

Korean wedding hollye

In ancient times, weddings (Honrye) were held in the bride's yard or house. The groom traveled by horse to the bride's house and after the wedding ceremony took his wife in a palanquin (sedan chair) to his parents' house to live. The bride and groom wore formal court costumes for the wedding ceremony. Ordinary people were permitted to wear the luxurious clothes only on their wedding day. Hand lanterns are used for lighting the way from the groom's home to the bride's home on the night before the wedding. Traditionally, the groom's family would carry a wedding chest filled with gifts for the bride's family. Wedding geese are a symbol for a long and happy marriage. Cranes are a symbol of long life and may be represented on the woman's sash. Pairs of wooden Mandarin duck carvings called wedding ducks are often used in traditional wedding ceremonies because they represent peace, fidelity, and plentiful offspring.

Bride's attire

Korean traditional wedding ceremony

The women's attire includes a jeogori (저고리; short jacket with long sleeves) with two long ribbons which are tied to form the otgoreum (옷고름). A chima (치마), a full-length, high-waisted, wrap-around skirt is worn. (See Chima jeogori or Hanbok) Boat-shaped shoes made of silk, are worn with white cotton socks. The bride's attire might include a white sash with significant symbols or flowers. A headpiece or crown may also be worn. The norigae (노리개) is a hanbok (한복) decoration which has been worn by all classes of Korean women for centuries. It is tied to the skirt or the ribbon on the jacket. The knot on the top is called the Maedeup (매듭).

Groom's attire

A jacket (jeogori, 저고리) and trousers and an overcoat are worn. The jacket has loose sleeves, the trousers are roomy and tied with straps at the ankles. A vest may be worn over the shirt. A black hat could be worn.

The wedding costume for men is also known as gwanbok for the groom.[1]

Modern style wedding ceremonies

Samsung Wedding Hall in Seoul
(video) A modern style wedding in South Korea (2007)

In larger cities, luxury hotels will have 'wedding halls' or ballrooms used specifically for wedding ceremonies. These rooms are decorated with a wedding motif and are rented to couples. Other wedding halls are independent facilities that can accommodate several different weddings at once.

Today, many couples will initially have a more 'Westernized' ceremony with tuxedo attire and white wedding gown, then proceed with a smaller-scale, traditional Korean wedding after the main ceremony.

Practices before telek

Various exchanges are crucial to the Korean wedding: gifts of household goods (Honsu); gifts of clothing and jewelry between the bride and groom (Yedan, Chedan and Paemul); gifts given to the significant kin of the groom (Yedan); gifts of cash from the groom's kin to the bride (Cholgap), and from the bride's family to the groom's friends (Hamgap); and exchanges of food and wine between the two families (Sangsu). Not all practices are still common though.

The exchanges that are still common are those of ritual silk (Yedan), given by the bride to the groom's significant kin, and the negotiation of the purchase price of the gift box (Hamgap) delivered on the night before the wedding to the bride's house by friends of the groom. Commonly, Groom prepares residence, bride prepares household goods.

Wedding halls

Whereas a hotel ballroom or church must retain the flexibility necessary for other functions, independent wedding halls are able to focus strictly on weddings, and even cater to specific themes. Weddings in luxurious hotels had been prohibited by the government in 1980, became partly permitted in 1994, and became completely permitted in 1999.[2]

In busier wedding halls, formality (except for the couple and their families) is typically relaxed compared to Western standards. There may be a buffet hall on one floor in which guests from all of the different weddings come for a meal, either before or after the ceremony, which may take no longer than 20 minutes.

The most common gift for a new couple is cash, and in the hall outside the wedding salon, representatives from the couple's families will collect and log donations.

The official ceremony in front of the guests is followed by Pyebaek, which is a ceremony among family members exclusively. The bride formally greets her new parents-in-law after the wedding ceremony. Additionally, the groom often gives a piggy back ride to his mother and then his bride, symbolizing his acceptance of his obligations to both his mother and wife.

Wedding feast and reception

The modern Korean wedding feast or reception, (kyeolhon piroyeon, 결혼피로연, 結婚披露宴) can be a mix of traditional and western cultures. At a traditional wedding feast a guest would expect to find bulgogi (불고기, marinated barbecue beef strips), galbi (갈비, marinated short ribs), a variety of kimchi (pickled cabbage with a variety of spices, with other ingredients such as radishes, seafood). There will be many accompanying bowls of sauces for dipping.

The meal is always accompanied with a vast quantity of white, sticky rice (밥) as well as gimbap (김밥), which is rice, egg, spinach, crab meat, pickled radish, and other ingredients rolled in seaweed and sliced into 1-inch rounds. Mandu (만두), dumplings filled with cabbage, carrot, meat, spinach, garlic, onion, chive, and clear noodle. These dumplings may be deep-fried or steamed. Soup will be offered, very frequently a kimchi type, or a rice cake soup (rice dumplings with chicken broth), or doenjang jigae, a fermented soybean paste soup.

Also popular are a light broth boiled from dried anchovies and vegetable soups rendered from dried spinach, sliced radish or dried seaweed. Steamed rice cakes (tteok) sometimes embellished with aromatic mugwort leaves or dusted with toasted soy, barley, or millet flour are presented as a tasty ritual food.

A large variety of fruits, such as Korean pears, and pastries will be offered for dessert. A spoon and chopsticks are used for eating.

Current practice

As of 2009, according to Korea National Statistical Office, the average age of first marriage is 31.6 for men and 28.7 for women.[3] In a large number of marriages, the male is older than the female. This age disparity is usually intentional. In 2013, the average cost of a wedding per person surpassed 50 million won.[4]

Marriages between Koreans and non-Koreans

In recent years, the number of mixed marriages in Korea has increased substantially due to a number of factors, among them the high number of Koreans studying abroad or traveling and the number of men who, unable to find a Korean wife, are marrying foreign nationals. As the world becomes more interconnected with the development of the internet, dating network sites or social network sites provide a medium for couples to interact.[5] International marriages now make up more than 9% of all marriages in Korea. The bulk of 'mixed' marriages are between Korean men and foreign women, but there are also many Korean women marrying men from other countries. Following the tradition of Korea, inter-race marriage was rare but more recently, there is increased number of inter-racial marriages.[6][7] The circumstances of the marriages tend to differ depending on the gender of the Korean spouse as well as their economic capacities. International marriages in Korea have tripled since 2003 with the number of foreign wives numbering about 125 000 in 2012 with an estimated 8% of Korean men, especially those in rural areas, marrying non-Koreans. In total, in 2012 there are 144 681 registered spouse of Korean national with 125 031 (74.8%) wives and 19 650 (25.2%) foreign husbands. There were 29 762 inter-racial marriages which makes about 9.0% of total number of marriages in South Korea. The nationality of non-Korean brides differ from Vietnam (34.3%), China (33.9%), Philippines (9.3%).[8] The most common explanation for this phenomenon is that there is a lack of South Korean women who are willing to marry men living in rural areas.

Since there is lack of population of women in rural areas of South Korea, some men rely on marriage brokers and agencies to set up a marriage with a mail-order bride, mostly from southeast Asian countries like Vietnam and Cambodia, as well as China. Marriages between South Korean men and foreign women are often arranged by marriage brokers or international religious groups. Men pay money to match-up and meet their spouse on the moment of their arrival to South Korea. There is mounting evidence to suggest that there is a statistically higher level of poverty, violence and divorce in the Korean men married to foreign women cohort.[9][10][11] Currently divorces between Koreans and foreign spouses make up 10% of the total Korean divorce rate. Although these marriages can be successful, in some cases immigrant wives are mistreated, misunderstood and separated from their Korean husbands In November 2009, Philippine Ambassador to South Korea Luis Cruz warned Filipina women against marrying Korean men. He said in recent months that the Philippine Embassy in Seoul has received complaints from Filipino wives of abuses committed by their Korean husbands that caused separation, divorce and abandonment.

As language and cultural differences become an issue many foreign brides do suffer from cultural differences and abuse which also affects the social integration of their children. The children of inter-racial marriage families called "Damunwha" meaning multicultural family, face discrimination and identity crisis as they try to assimilate into Korean society.[12] Since negative social perception of foreign marriage agencies and brides exist as well as strong conformity of one-race Koreans, these children suffer from lack of sense of belongingness.[13]

As a means of reducing future problems, the government is setting up programs for men who are thinking of marrying a foreign woman through a collaboration between the Ministry of Gender Equality and the Ministry of Justice.[14] Also, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Family Affairs is offering programs to help foreign wives to adjust to Korean society through Healthy Family Support Centers nationwide.[15]

Multicultural Family Support Centers in South Korea are operated and funded by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. The aim and purpose of these centers are to provide family education, counseling and cultural services for multicultural families, to support the early settlement of immigrant women in Korean society, and to help multicultural families enjoy stable family lives.[16] By collaborating with local cities and provinces, the Support Centers manage to provide basic but necessary services to local women such as Korean language and cultural education services, translation and interpretation services, childcare support services, child education support services, employment & venture support services.

Same-sex marriage

Same-sex marriage is not legally-recognised in South Korea. Homosexuality is strongly criticized in mainstream Korean society, and many Koreans consider homosexuality to be a Western phenomenon. However, recent blockbuster movies such as The King and the Clown have raised the issue of homosexuality in Korea, and homosexuality is slowly becoming more accepted. Despite the illegality of same-sex marriage in Korea, though, more and more gay couples are marrying in private ceremonies, especially since the coming-out of popular Korean actor Hong Seok-cheon in 2000. Movie director and producer Kim-Jho Gwang-soo received much media attention for tying the knot with Kim Seung-hwan, the head of the gay film distributor Rainbow Factory in September 2013.[17] Kim Jho held a public, non-legal wedding ceremony with film distributor David Kim Seung-hwan (his same-sex partner since 2004), in Seoul on September 7, 2013, the first of its kind in the country which does not recognize same-sex marriages. [18]

Type of marriages

Arranged marriage and matchmakers

A brand of arranged marriage is popular in South Korea. Koreans usually refer to this type of marriage as seon (선). Generally, parents arrange a meeting, but it is ultimately up to the couple to decide if they want to marry. However, the parental pre-screening means that the meeting has a much higher chance of success than a typical blind date, should the couple decide to wed. The reason why this type of marriage is prevalent in Korea is that marriage in Korea is not just a matter of a bride and groom but a merging of two families. Because the potential spouses are pre-screened by the family, there is much less of a chance of family opposition to the marriage.

It is rare that a single seon leads to a marriage; many succeed in finding a suitable spouse only after dozens of seon meetings with different individuals. Following the initial meeting, the couple typically date for several months to a year before the actual marriage. The distinction between an arranged marriage and a "love" marriage is therefore often blurred, although in an arranged marriage the families tend to be more closely involved throughout.

Matchmakers are also common in South Korea. Families present their son or daughter to a matchmaker, or a single man or woman arranges a meeting with a matchmaker, to analyze their résumé and family history for the purpose of finding a marriage partner who is compatible in social status and earning potential. Koreans keep precise lineage records, and these are listed on the matchmaking résumé. Today, almost all single people meet their matched partner prior to the marriage and have more say about the match than was previously allowed. Matchmakers earn a fee for their services.

Love marriage

"Love" marriage, as it is often called in South Korea, has become common in the past few decades. The expression refers to the marriage of two people who meet and fall in love without going through matchmakers or family-arranged meetings. Most often, the bride and groom first met on a blind date arranged by friends, on a group date, at their workplace, or while in college or university. South Korean families accept this type of marriage more readily than they used to.

Divorce and remarriage

Divorce, historically almost nonexistent, first appeared in significant numbers during the 1970s, and is now more known to occur. Rapidly changing attitudes toward divorce, as well as such other issues as marriage, childbearing, and cohabitation, show a South Korea in the throes of social transformation. As of 2004, 458 couples divorce each day, at an average age of 41.3 years for men and 37.9 years for women.

Remarriage is becoming more common in South Korea. According to South Korean government statistics reported in the Korea Times newspaper, the number of remarriages went up 16.1 percent to 44,355 in 2004.[19] The number of elderly Koreans remarrying has doubled since 1995.[20] The number of divorces reached 114,707 in 2012.[21] The South Korean marriage agency Duo first began advertising its remarriage services in 2006.


One in three South Korean marriages ends in divorce, and some couples fly to Reno, Nevada to get a divorce faster than through the Korean legal system.[22]


  1. ^ Hanbok
  2. ^ "Daum 미디어다음 - 뉴스" (in 한국어). Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  3. ^ "mk 뉴스 우리나라 부부 자화상 통계 분석". 2010-05-19. Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  4. ^ "Average cost of getting married hits over 50 mln won per person". The Korea Observer. 22 October 2013. Retrieved 22 October 2013. 
  5. ^ Shin, Hae-In (2006-08-03). "Korea Greets New Era of Multiculturalism". The Korea Herald. Retrieved 2012-04-20. 
  6. ^ 한족여성 최다 (in Korean). News. 
  7. ^ 2007/02/22
  8. ^ 
  9. ^ international couples suffer poverty
  10. ^ 2005 October
  11. ^
  12. ^ 
  13. ^ [5]
  14. ^ [6]
  15. ^ 
  16. ^ [7]
  17. ^ Tae-hoon, Lee (8 September 2013). "Korea celebrates first public gay wedding". The Korea Observer. Retrieved 22 October 2013. 
  18. ^ Kim Jho Gwangsoo
  19. ^ [8]
  20. ^ "::: The Korea Times :::". Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  21. ^ "Number of divorces hit 114,781 in 2012". The Korea Observer. 20 October 2013. Retrieved 22 October 2013. 
  22. ^ Quickie Divorce BBC News accessed 14 November 2014

Wedding Massal

Further reading

  • Norimitsu Onishi, Divorce in South Korea Striking a New Attitude, The New York Times, 21 September 2003
  • Dennis Hart (2003). From Tradition to Consumption: Constructing a Capitalist Culture in South Korea. Seoul: Author.  
  • Kendall, Laurel (1996). Getting Married in Korea: Of Gender, Morality, and Modernity. University of California Press.  

External links

  • Norimitsu Onishi, Korean Men Use Brokers to Find Brides in Vietnam, The New York Times, 22 February 2007
  • Paul Wiseman, Asian men seek brides from poorer nations, USA Today, 27 February 2008
  • Differences between South & North Korean Wedding
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