Forecasting the Twenty-First Century: Divorce Rate in South Korea

According to the China Daily (2006), Monday morning is the busiest time of the week at divorce courts in South Korea as couples queue to end their marriages after bouts of weekend bickering. It seems that divorce can be done at whim when triggered by fits and bouts of anger. The clerks are generous in helping couples complete the needed filing forms. These couples just need to pay a few thousand won which is just equivalent to a few dollars. Once these have been submitted, the divorce is effective at once on the spot. From 1993 to 2003, the divorce rate in South Korea has not only doubled but increased to an alarming 250 percent.

The rate is higher than that of the European Union although statisticians believe this to be true because of a high rate in Europe’s unmarried cohabitation lifestyle. South Korea’s 2. 8 percent rate of divorce cases is only second to the American 4 percent rate. The easy way out through divorce seems to be in its starkest rate and can be shown when two young television stars called it quits only 12 days after their recent wedding, their very public and acrimonious divorce shone a rare spotlight on the underside of marriage in South Korea. (Onishi 2007)

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There are valid reasons to a South Korean divorce. A specific example would be the case of a Korean who got married to her foreigner husband from the Middle East. Her husband who was used to Islamic practices, promised to be faithful. However, because of the nation’s permission to polygamy cases, he was not able to keep his monogamous vows. The South Korean court easily granted the woman’s request for a divorce when she filed it because she found out that her husband had married another woman in Saudi Arabia. (Korean Married to Polygamist Gets Divorce 2000)

However, simpler reasons such as religious beliefs have also become good enough for the South Korean court to grant divorce to a couple. In the year 2000, a couple of Christians named Namgung and Kim were wed and Namgung promised that after their marriage she would not partake in any religious activities. (Court Rules Against Religious Spouse in Divorce Suit 2004) However, Namgung went to church services after giving birth to their son. What blew the marriage was when Namgung abandoned traditional rituals and took their son to the religious ceremonies.

Kim filed the divorce but Namgung got the blame and lost custody of their son. Twilight divorce, cases between spouses who have lived to be very old with each other and want freedom from the ties of marriage, is also common in South Korea. A seventy-three year old woman filed said she cannot maintain her marriage anymore because of her seventy-six year old husband’s beatings and extra-marital affairs. (Record Divorce Suit Filed Against Chaebol Owner 2000) The woman won the case and got her settlement in the amount of W100 billion (around US $100 M)!

Reasons for Divorce Although it is easy to assume that the convenient system makes for the high Korean divorce rate, many sociological factors seem to encourage it more. Still anchored in Confucian values of family and patriarchy, South Korea is fast becoming an open, Westernized society — with the world’s highest concentration of Internet broadband users, a pop culture that has recently been breaking taboos left and right, and living patterns increasingly focusing on individual satisfaction. (Parker 2003)

Sociologists, Yean-Ju Lee and Larry Bumpass (2006) made a study on the reasons why divorce has had an exceedingly high increase in the past years. They have noticed that the onset of this divorce hike in Korea appears to coincide with the times of economic crisis since 1997. They believe that economic stability can matter in married life. Their study has acknowledged some theories on the subject. The “income effect” theory states that when a husband has high income, the marriage is seen as more stable.

With more resources, the family is able to afford a better way of life which leads to better satisfaction and less incidence of divorce. Another theory, the “independence hypothesis” believes that the woman’s income can negatively affect her marriage. It is based on the role specialization theory wherein the family utility can be maximized when the husband and wife share in the different responsibilities in raising the family. It is assumed that the husband’s role is to find ways to earn money while the wife is responsible for the upkeep of the household.

Therefore, when women work to earn money, the marriage gets weaker because the economic dependence of the woman is also lessened. It also assumes that the higher the salary or income of the woman, the greater possibility of a marriage break up. There is also the “role arrangements hypothesis” which states that it is not the matter of income generated by the wife that affects marriage. This theory believes that the roles that the partners previously assumed are altered when the woman becomes employed and this becomes the cause of a divorce.

This theory also concludes that if a woman is promoted, her role in the marriage is also altered and this increases the chances of a break up. There is another theory that was derived from the role specialization model. This is called the “role strain hypothesis” which believes that when a married woman gets a job, family member, not just the husband, are also affected with stress. To understand this, one must realized that in a common South Korean family, even when a woman works, she is still responsible for the household chores.

The husbands of these women do help but their assistance is not so different from the aid given by the husband of a woman who is unemployed. This causes a strain in marriage because the wife is taking in more responsibility than she can handle. This is very difficult especially for those women who work longer hours. Sociologists believe that the high rate of divorce for women who are employed may be affected by these women’s efforts to find jobs while they are already planning to divorce their husbands.

There is however the “wife’s income effect” which opposes the other theories in that when the wife earns, she can also bring stability to the marriage just like in the cases of husbands who earn more. Another law that is expected to hold an effect on the rates of divorce is the Anti-Adultery Law. The current law practically forces those committing an extra-marital affair to divorce their spouses regardless of their willingness to continue their marriage. (Jin Woo, 2007) There are lawmakers who have already tried to abolish this law back in 1994 but failed due to public unrest.

The situation in Korea today is similar to America in the late 1960s. (Hayes 2004) Many believe that with what had happened in the U. S. in the very recent past, Korea should be able to avoid the same bad results. Conclusion or Recommendations Although many theories attempt to make the reason to divorce understandable, it seems that women’s liberal thinking is playing a big role in these situations. It is worthwhile to note that women are already accepted as equals of men however, South Korea must do everything that is possible to control its accompanying negative effects.

One of these bad results is the destruction of families. Further effects of broken homes are already evident in the United States’ problems of criminality, mental health, addiction to drugs and alcohol, teen pregnancy, depression, suicide cases, juvenile violence, etc. As Senator Hillary Clinton, in her oft-cited book It Takes a Village, noted: “Recent studies demonstrate convincingly that while many adults claim to have benefited from divorce and single parenthood, most children have not.

These kids who are usually torn between their parents and the eventual step families are more prone to have emotional and behavioral troubles than their counterparts in whole families. Divorce was once seen as a solution to couples who cannot live in peace. Therefore, it should have its good effects on the children because of the settling of arguments between their parents. However, in most cases, divorce is handled inappropriately by both parties leaving their children in the middle of a battlefield. This results to serious problems with the youth and its next generations.

With the trend of statistics tripling in every decade, one can expect a quarter or even half of South Korea’s married population to be divorced by the year 2050. It is believed that the law has the most power to change this trend. “Too many angry couples come to court for a divorce after an argument erupted over the weekend,” said Judge Yoo Jae-bok of the Taejon Family Court. (South Korean Divorce, Quick and Cheap 2006) He believes that divorce rates can be lessened if the marital disputes are relieved by counseling and cool off periods first before couples are allowed to divorce.

In 2003, there are judges who have demanded that the couples who are seeking divorce from them seek counseling first or wait for a few weeks before making the ultimate decision. It seems that this has lessened the rate of divorce in its own way. The 157,100 cases in 2003 decreased to 128,500 in 2005. South Korea’s development industrially seems to be taking its toll on the family life. Lawmakers and married people themselves must reconsider their decisions because in the end, the freedom of choice on marriage may be detrimental to their children’s freedom to live a peaceful and happy life.