Spiralling Wedding Costs Send South Korean Couples Into Debt

April 30, 2012South Koreaby EW News Desk Team


South Korean couples must fork out an average of nearly $200,000, or more than four times the annual average household income, in order to get married, said a report by Reuters on Friday, with the sky-high cost said to stem from a combination of cultural traditions and soaring inflation.

According to the report, the average cost of a wedding in South Korea has risen by 270 percent since 1999, while inflation grew by 45.5 percent during the same period.

The average annual household income though is just around 48.3 million won ($42,400), causing many young South Korean couples to be forced into borrowing from their parents or taking out bank loans if they wish to get married.

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One 27-year-old woman working in the financial industry said that her parents paid nearly 90 percent of her $122,900 wedding costs.

"We had to use our parents' money, which probably came from the sacrifice of their own retirement savings," she said.

Kim, a 30-year old kindergarten teacher, added that her husband, had to take out a $39,800 loan from the bank, in addition to financial aid from their parents, in order to pay for a wedding with 600 guests.

But the ceremony alone takes up just a small portion of the money. South Korean cultural traditions for instance dictate that a groom must fork over money to provide a home before a couple can get married. With housing prices more than 2.5 times higher than it was in 2000, 70 percent of the total cost of a wedding goes into purchasing a house.

Additionally, families of the wedded couple are expected exchange pre-wedding gifts before the ceremony can take place. Traditionally, these gifts tend to be just good silk for new clothes or simple jewellery, but this has since extended into items such as mink coats and diamond rings.

"None of that expensive jewelry is actually useful or beautiful, and you know you'll just regret using the money for that after you're actually married and need money for your married life," said Kisun Lee, a 29-year-old consultant.

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Still, while many couples are less than happy about the high costs, few openly complain about it.

According to Reuters, having discussions about money is considered to be a cultural taboo, meaning that little is being done to adjust the wedding costs.

"Korean society is very tightly knit, and people here are very concerned about how others view them," said Harris H. Kim, a sociology assistant professor at Ewha Womans University.

"The wedding works as a status symbol, like a marker of where you stand in the society," he added.

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