By Claire Lee
The Korea Herald
Jobless South Korean men in their late 20s and early 30s stay single against their will.
Unemployment affects Korean men’s marriage prospects much more so than women’s, with a vast majority of jobless Korean men in their late 20s and early 30s staying single, a study showed on Monday.
The report, released by the Korea Women’s Development Institute (KWDI), discovered that only 4.1 per cent of unemployed men aged 25-29 were married as of last year, while 48.8 per cent of unemployed Korean women in the same age group were married.
The difference was even larger for jobless men and women aged 30-34. While almost 86.7 per cent of unemployed Korean women in the age group were married, only 19.4 per cent of jobless men had legal spouses as of 2015.
At the same time, the report found that the proportion of married women among those who are unemployed is higher than those who have professional careers. For unemployed women aged 30-34, 86.7 per cent were married, while the proportion was 57.2 per cent for those in the same age group who were working.
The pattern was the opposite for Korean men. While 19.4 per cent of unemployed men in the same age group were married as of last year, 54.2 per cent of men with careers were living with their legal spouses.
Kim Young-ran, a researcher at the KWDI, said in spite of changing gender roles, men are often expected to be breadwinners of the family in Korean society.
“So accordingly, young men who are unemployed are often seen as incapable of supporting his future spouse and children,” she told The Korea Herald.
As for why a large proportion of unemployed women are married compared to working women, Kim said it is because many women end up quitting their jobs after getting married, particularly after having children in their early or mid-30s. She also said that many employers are hesitant to hire mothers with young children.
“So the ‘unemployed’ women in this data include married women who once had careers but ended up quitting after getting married for whatever reasons,” she explained. “The data also reflect the trend where many women with professional careers, especially those in their 30s, delay marriage and child bearing. That’s one of the reasons why the proportion of those who are married is smaller among working women than unemployed women.”
Kim Jun-kyu, a 33-year-old who works in Seoul, said it is “virtually impossible” for an unemployed Korean men without any savings to get married in Korea, especially because of the nation’s common practice in which the groom’s family buys the house for newlyweds.
“I think the biggest problem is that when you are unemployed, you are ineligible to apply for any bank loans,” he said. “And when you can’t get loans, it’s very difficult to get housing. I know it’s changing, but men are still expected to somehow finance the housing when getting married. Unemployed men can’t do that unless their parents have the financial means to help them.”
Kim also said he thinks there is a stigmatisation against men who are out of work. “I think having a job is still considered by society as an option, rather than a duty for many women,” he said. “But men, especially those with children, not having a professional career – or quitting their job – is not really an option, according to the social norms in Korea. Such fathers are easily considered as incapable or irresponsible.”