Marriage in South Korea

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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.


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[edit]

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[edit]

Korean wedding hollye


Traditional Korean weddings are based around and centered around traditional Confucian values. Every aspect of the wedding, from the arrangement of the marriage to the ceremony and post celebrations, had important and elaborate steps to go along with them. In traditional Korean culture, like many traditional cultures, marriage between a man and a woman were decided by the bride and grooms elders. As in Confucian values family and the customs of a family is placed above all. Marriage is considered the most important passage in one's life. This is not only the union between two individuals but two families. Additionally, a marriage was a way, particularly among elite families, as a way of developing and/or maintaining a social status. For these reasons, a significant amount of time was spent in preparation before finally performing the actual wedding ritual. The first step is called the Eui hon, or ‘matchmaking’, this is when both the bride and grooms families discuss the possibility of marriage. Various factors are taken into consideration such as: social status, personality, appearance, academic and/or agricultural (industrial) achievements, as well as material harmony as predicted by a fortuneteller."In general the Eui hon is determined when the bridegroom-side sends a proposal letter of marriage and the bride-side sends a reply letter which permits this marriage."[1] Once the response from the bride is sent back to the groom, if agreed, the groom then sets up a date for the ceremony. This second step is called Napchae, or ‘date setting’. The grooms year, month, day, and hour (according to the lunar calendar), which is known as Saju, is written on a paper and wrapped in bamboo branches and tied with red and blue thread. Lastly, the package is wrapped with a red and blue cloth and sent to the brides family. The birthdate of the groom is sent to a fortuneteller which sets the date based on the Saju. That date is then sent back to the groom. The last step in pre-ceremonial traditions is called the Napp’ae, or exchanging valuables. Once the date is set the groom then sends a box to the bride which is known as a Ham. In the Ham there is typically three items. The Hanseo, the Ch’aedan, and the Honsu. Of the three the most important is the Hanseo, or marriage papers. This is given to the bride in dedication to wed only one husband. The wife is expected to keep this paper forever; upon death the papers are buried with the wife as well. The Ch’aedan is a set of red and blue cloths which is used to make clothes. He red and blue is a representation of the Yin/Yang philosophy. Lastly the Honsu, is a variety of other gifts given to the brides family. This can include household goods, jewelry and clothes.[2]


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[edit]

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. 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[edit]

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.[3]

Western style wedding ceremonies[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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.[4]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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.[5] 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.[6]

Marriages between Koreans and non-Koreans[edit]

Since the 21st century, interracial marriages in South Korea have grown rapidly and has become highly diverse today - The number of countries represented by foreign husbands and wives have increased from 88 countries in 2001 to 143 countries in 2015.

In the 1990s, many brides from neighboring Asian nations such as China and Vietnam have originally immigrated to farming communities in South Korea's countryside. Since the 2000s, the trend spread nationwide and diversified to include all women in East and Southeast Asia. For example, in 2001 there were 5,700 Japanese wives married to Korean men living in South Korea - Their immigration to Korea more than doubled to 11,631 in 2015.

Foreign husbands have also increased significantly. In 2001, there were only 967 foreign husbands living in South Korea. In 2015, 2433 American, 1218 Japanese and 1109 Canadian husbands had settled in the country, along with many from a diverse number of European nations. Korean women have also married significantly more South Asian men from countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India or Iran than Korean men marrying women from these countries. This was also true for African men, such as those from Nigeria, who have visited Korea more often than others. Many husbands from these countries have settled in the country after coming to Korea originally for work experience or study.

Korean men married significantly more women from Post-Soviet states such as Russia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Belarus than vice versa. This was also true for wives from many Central American nations, some South American nations and all East Asian and Southeast Asian nations.

However, other Asians immigrating to the country to marry Koreans have been consistently declining since 2007, while Western husbands and wives settling in the country with Koreans instead have been consistently rising in the same period.[7]

Foreign husbands and wives married to Koreans living in South Korea as of 2015[8]

Rank Nationality Husbands Wives  % Female
1  Vietnam 884 39,442 97.8
2  China 4,665 37,880 89.0
3  China (Ethnically Korean) 7,188 15,901 68.9
4  Japan 1,218 11,631 90.5
5  Philippines 313 15,720 98.0
6  Cambodia 44 4,448 99.0
7  United States 2,433 745 23.4
8  Thailand 74 2,730 97.4
9  Mongolia 104 2,215 95.5
10  Uzbekistan 75 2,066 96.5
11  Canada 1,109 185 14.3
12  Russia 81 1,053 92.9
13    Nepal 146 895 86.0
14  Pakistan 776 103 11.7
15  Taiwan 73 732 90.9
16  United Kingdom 721 69 8.7
17  Indonesia 72 572 88.8
18  Kyrgyzstan 10 462 97.9
19  Australia 316 66 17.3
20  France 301 58 16.2
21  Bangladesh 296 50 14.5
22  Laos 1 301 99.7
23  Sri Lanka 294 60 20.4
24  New Zealand 220 21 8.7
25  Germany 294 60 16.9
26  Hong Kong 43 196 82.0
27  Kazakhstan 12 223 94.9
28  India 149 28 15.8
29  Malaysia 20 131 86.8
30  Russia (Ethnically Korean) 8 136 94.4
31  Nigeria 136 0 0.0
32  Myanmar 35 84 70.6
33  Iran 105 9 7.9
34  South Africa 93 19 17.0
35  Ireland 98 9 8.4
36  Turkey 72 24 25.0
37  Peru 35 57 62.0
38  Mexico 36 49 57.6
39  Italy 68 11 13.9
40  Ukraine 15 62 80.5
41  Morocco 41 36 46.8
42  Spain 48 24 33.3
43  Brazil 31 40 56.3
44  Singapore 22 48 68.6
45  Netherlands 41 6 12.8
46  Poland 21 25 54.3
47  Egypt 39 4 9.3
48   Switzerland 35 6 19.4
49  Sweden 27 12 30.8
50  Romania 6 23 79.3
51  Belarus 5 21 80.8
52  Colombia 10 15 60.0
53  Norway 21 3 12.5
54  Belgium 20 3 13.0
55  Hungary 9 13 59.1
56  Austria 12 8 40.0
57  Denmark 15 1 6.3
56  Argentina 5 10 66.7
57  Tunisia 7 7 50.0
58  Paraguay 2 12 85.7
59  Jordan 11 3 21.4
60  Finland 6 7 53.8
61  Ghana 11 1 8.3
62  Algeria 2 10 83.3
63  Ethiopia 4 8 66.7
64  Israel 8 4 33.3
65  Bulgaria 6 6 50.0
66  Albania 8 3 27.3
67  Greece 10 1 9.1
68  Chile 4 6 60.0
69  Czech Republic 5 4 44.4
70  Portugal 8 1 11.1
71  Guatemala 0 9 100.0
72  Uganda 9 0 0.0
73  Cameroon 6 3 33.3
74  Syria 6 3 33.3
75  Kenya 6 2 25.0
76  Honduras 2 6 75.0
77  Dominican Republic 2 6 75.0
78  Yemen 4 4 50.0
79  Tajikistan 1 7 87.5
80  Ecuador 4 4 50.0
81  Tanzania 6 1 14.3
82  British Virgin Islands 1 6 85.7
83  Bolivia 0 6 100.0
84  Moldova 2 4 66.7
85  Armenia 2 4 66.7
86  Croatia 5 1 16.7
87  Latvia 1 4 80.0
88  Uruguay 1 4 80.0
89  Venezuela 1 4 80.0
90  Turkmenistan 0 4 100.0
91  Afghanistan 5 0 0.0
92  Cuba 3 2 40.0
93  Slovenia 4 1 20.0
94  Nicaragua 0 5 100.0
95  Serbia 3 2 40.0
96  El Salvador 1 3 75.0
97  Democratic Republic of the Congo 4 0 0.0
98  Costa Rica 4 1 20.0
99  Madagascar 0 4 100.0
100  Ivory Coast 4 0 0.0
- Others 47 25 34.7
- Total 23,107 126,765 84.6

In the past, some rural men relied 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. Some of these kinds of paid marriages accompanied language barrier issues along with foreign brides financially taking advantage of the Korean husband, divorcing and leaving the country.[9][10][11] As a result, in 2013 the government passed a bill that enforced strict requirements for the F2-1 marriage visa, including the bride passing a compulsory Korean language test at beginner level and requiring the Korean husband to have an income above a set threshold. Any international marriage broker agency was required to prove 100 million won in capital to the government to be authorized for business, along with providing verified information on the couple's past marriage history, health status, jobs and so on. If any of the information was incorrect or misleading, the burden of proof will be put on the broker agency and compensation must be provided to the customer.[12]

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.[13] 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[edit]

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. Despite the illegality of same-sex marriage in Korea, though, some gay couples are having non-legal private ceremonies. Movie director and producer Kim-Jho Gwang-soo had a private non-legal ceremony with Kim Seung-hwan, the head of the gay film distributor Rainbow Factory in September 2013.[14] 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. [15]

Type of marriages[edit]

Arranged marriage and matchmakers[edit]

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[edit]

"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[edit]

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.[16] The number of elderly Koreans remarrying has doubled since 1995.[17] The number of divorces reached 114,707 in 2012.[18] The South Korean marriage agency Duo first began advertising its remarriage services in 2006.


One in three South Korean marriages ends in divorce and much of it is attributed to more Koreans marrying foreign brides. Some couples may fly to Reno, Nevada to get a divorce faster than through the Korean legal system. Those deciding to head to Nevada are met with disappointment by some in the Korean legal system. A lot of measures have been put in place to get married couples to think twice before going their separate ways. "It's sad to see people fly off to the US because they can't even be bothered to do that."[19]

Further reading[edit]

  • 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. ISBN 89-88095-44-8. 
  • Kendall, Laurel (1996). Getting Married in Korea: Of Gender, Morality, and Modernity. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-20200-7. 


  1. ^ "Seoul City Tour | South Korea Package Tour(Travel) | DMZ Tour". Retrieved 2015-12-06. 
  2. ^ Kendall, Laurel (1996-05-01). Getting Married in Korea: Of Gender, Morality, and Modernity. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520916784. 
  3. ^ Hanbok
  4. ^ "Daum 미디어다음 - 뉴스" (in Korean). Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  5. ^ "mk 뉴스 우리나라 부부 자화상 통계 분석". 2010-05-19. Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  6. ^ "Average cost of getting married hits over 50 mln won per person". The Korea Observer. 22 October 2013. Retrieved 22 October 2013. 
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ international couples suffer poverty
  10. ^ 2005 October
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ [1]
  14. ^ Tae-hoon, Lee (8 September 2013). "Korea celebrates first public gay wedding". The Korea Observer. Retrieved 22 October 2013. 
  15. ^ Kim Jho Gwangsoo
  16. ^ [2][dead link]
  17. ^ "::: The Korea Times :::". Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  18. ^ "Number of divorces hit 114,781 in 2012". The Korea Observer. 20 October 2013. Retrieved 22 October 2013. 
  19. ^ Quickie Divorce BBC News accessed 14 November 2014

External links[edit]