Politics

Number of South Korea marriages edges up in 2023 after 11 years of falls

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SEOUL — The number of marriages in South Korea rose in 2023 for the first time in more than a decade, lifted by pent-up demand from couples delaying nuptials during the pandemic, but the data did not point to a sustained rebound in a rapidly ageing society.

The slight rise in marriages last year comes after South Korea’s fertility rate, already the world’s lowest, continued its dramatic decline in 2023, as women concerned about career advancement and the cost of raising children delayed childbirth or decided to not have babies.

A total of 193,657 couples got married last year, up 1.0% from 191,690 a year earlier and the first increase since 2011, Statistics Korea data showed on Tuesday.

That compares with a 0.4% drop in 2022, when South Korea started to ease restrictions on social gatherings put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. The curbs had seen the number of marriages slide 9.8% in 2021 and 10.7% in 2020.

The 2023 figure, however, remains well below the 239,159 marriages seen in 2019 and compares with an annual figure of more than 320,000 recorded 10 years earlier.

A government official said that couples delaying nuptials was a factor contributing to more marriages in the second half of 2022 and the first half of 2023.

“In the second half of 2023, however, marriages fell year-on-year, indicating that people who had been delaying marriage due to COVID-19 have now mostly got married,” the official told a briefing.

The 2023 increase was also well below the jump in neighboring China, where marriages rose 12.4% last year, as more couples tied the knot after delays due to the pandemic.

Most South Koreans cite high housing costs as the biggest hurdle for getting married. Marriage is seen as a prerequisite for having a baby in the Asian country.

A recent survey of 500 South Koreans aged between 19 to 23 showed 50.4% of respondents did not plan on getting married or having children, Yonhap news agency reported.

The government has vowed to bring in “extraordinary measures” to tackle the low birth rate, with political parties promising public housing and easier loans for young South Koreans ahead of the April legislative election.

Marriages with a foreign national rose sharply for a second straight year, climbing 18.3% to 19,717. — Reuters