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New marriages bounce back buoyed by international couples

Brides from Vietnam, grooms from US take up largest share of foreign national spouses

By Park Han-na

Published : March 19, 2024 - 15:47

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A bride and groom with wedding rings on their fingers (123rf) A bride and groom with wedding rings on their fingers (123rf)

One in 10 couples who tied the knot in South Korea last year included a partner of foreign nationality. The growing number of international marriages helped the total number of newly married couples last year to rebound for the first time in 12 years.

The number of international marriages stood at 19,700 in 2023, taking up 10.2 percent of the total number of newlywed couples -- 193,700 -- tallied last year, according to Statistics Korea on Tuesday.

The number of international marriages grew by 18.3 percent from the previous year, showing strong growth compared with the total number of new marriages, which inched up by 1 percent on-year.

“The surge of international marriages stemmed from the changes in perceptions and values regarding marriage with foreigners as well as the increase in the number of foreigners entering the country for marriage-related reasons after the waning of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Lim Young-il, the head of the demographic trends department at Statistics Korea.

Of the 19,700 international marriages, the couples comprising a Korean national husband and a foreign national wife totaled 15,000, up 22.5 percent from 2022 data, while couples with a Korean wife and a foreign husband increased by 7.5 percent to 5,000.

Vietnamese national wives took up the largest share of 33.5 percent in the total number of foreign wives married to Korean husbands, followed by Chinese national women with 18.1 percent and Thai women with 13.7 percent.

Of the husbands of foreign nationality in last year's international marriages, 27.7 percent were from the United States. Another 18.4 percent were from China and 4.4 percent were from Thailand.

The waning of the pandemic prompted a rebound in the overall number of marriages last year for the first time in 12 years, as many couples had postponed their weddings amid the COVID-19 travel restrictions and social distancing measure.

“The number of marriages steadily increased from the second half of 2022 to the first half of 2023, and with the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, it appears that the postponed marriages have taken place,” Lim said.

By age group, the largest increase in the number of marriages occurred among men and women in their early 30s. Compared to the previous year, the number of marriages including men aged 30-34 increased by 2.7 percent, while those including women in the same age group increased by 5.8 percent. For those aged 35 to 39, there was an increase of 0.9 percent in the number of marriages including such men and of 0.8 percent in the number of marriages including such women, compared to the previous year.

The average age of first marriages here was 34 years for men and 31.5 years for women last year, up 0.3 years and 0.2 years, respectively, from a year ago, reaching an all-time high.

Over 30 years ago, the average age of first marriages was 27.8 years for men and 24.8 years for women in 1990 when the statistics agency began to compile related data, but it has steadily risen.

The number of divorces last year was 92,000, down 0.9 percent from 2022. The figure has been sliding since 2019.

“Divorce cases have been decreasing, as the overall number of marriages is going down,” Lim said.

The average age for divorce was 49.9 years for men and 46.6 years for women, similar to in the previous year. Compared to 10 years ago, the 2023 figures by gender have increased by 3.7 years and 4.2 years, respectively.

The average duration of marriage for divorced couples was 16.8 years, a decrease of 0.2 years from the previous year, but an increase of 2.7 years from 10 years ago.