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Marriage in South Korea

Marriage in South Korea

Marriage in South Korea is similar to that of the western counterparts, but has unique features of its own.


  • 1 Eligibility
    • 1.1 Marriage within the same ancestral clan
  • 2 Traditional wedding ceremonies
    • 2.1 The bride's attire
    • 2.2 The groom's attire
  • 3 Modern style wedding ceremonies
    • 3.1 Pratices before weddings
    • 3.2 Wedding Halls
    • 3.3 Wedding feast and reception
  • 4 Current practice
    • 4.1 First marriage
    • 4.2 Sociopolitics of marriage
    • 4.3 Wedding gifts
    • 4.4 Marriages within chaebols
    • 4.5 International Marriages of Koreans and Non-Koreans
    • 4.6 Brides Imported from China, Vietnam and Other Countries
    • 4.7 Same-sex marriage
  • 5 Type of marriages
    • 5.1 Arranged marriage
    • 5.2 Love marriage
    • 5.3 Matchmakers
    • 5.4 Remarriage
    • 5.5 Marriage agencies
  • 6 Divorce
  • 7 References


Marriage in South Korea is a union between a man and a woman. A man over 18 and a woman over 16 years old can marry with their parents' or guardians' consent, and a person over 20 can marry freely.

Marriage within the same ancestral clan

Main article: Article 809 of the Korean Civil Code

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. (5 judges found it unconstitutional and 2 asked for amendment by the legislative branch and 2 opposed to the outcome of this decision) The court specifically asked the legislative branch to amend the current civil code article 809 para 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 clans to marry each other.

Traditional wedding ceremonies

Traditional Wedding
Traditional Wedding

In ancient times, weddings 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 (cart) 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 ducks 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.

These customs are still in practice today.

The bride's attire

The women's attire includes a jeogori (저고리, short jacket with long sleeves) with 2 long ribbons which are tied to form the otgoreum (옷고름). A chima (치마), a full length, high waisted wrap around skirt is worn. (See Chima jeogori or Hanbok) Boat shaped shoes make 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).

The groom's attire

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.

Modern style wedding ceremonies

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 wedding after the main ceremony.

Pratices before weddings

Various exchanges that are so crucial to the Korean wedding. Those 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) though not all practices are still common.

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. Indeed, her final chapter is dedicated to a wonderful economic anthropological consideration of the obligations and expectations of the various parties to the transaction of the gift box price. It is also in this chapter that considerations of the groom and his friends--the male side of getting married in Korea--receive attention.

Wedding Halls

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 government in 1980, became partly permitted in 1994, and completely available for the general in 1999.[1]

In busier wedding halls, the formality (outside 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 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.

Wedding feast and reception

The modern Korean wedding feast or reception, (kyorhon piroyon, 결혼 피로연) 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, bap) as well as gimbap (김밥), which is rice, egg, spinach, crab meats, pickled radish, and other ingredients rolled in seaweed and sliced into 1-inch rounds. Mandu (만두), dumplings filled with cabbage, carrots, meat, spinach, garlic, onions, chives, and clear noodles. 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 guk, a fermented soybean paste soup with clams.

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 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

First marriage

As of 2007, according to Korea National Statistical Office, the average age of the first marriage is 31.1 for men and 28.1 for women.[2]

Sociopolitics of marriage

In a large number of marriages, the male is older than the female. This age disparity is usually intentional. The woman always seeks a man who is at least equal to if not higher than her in socio-economic status. Rarely does an arranged marriage happen where the man is lower in socio-economic status than the woman, either in socio-economic status, class or by height.

Wedding gifts

If someone brings a gift to the wedding, it is not expected that the gift will be opened immediately. The Korean custom is to open gifts in private.

Marriages within chaebols

(Korean) A diagram of marriages between chaebols
(Korean) A diagram of marriages between chaebols

Families of large conglomerates or chaebols such as Samsung Group, LG Group, SK Group, Hyundai Group, etc. are closely connected with marriage chains interlinking each other.

International Marriages of Koreans and Non-Koreans

There were 43,121 international marriages between Koreans and non-Koreans in 2005, up 21.6 percent from a year earlier, according to Korea National Statistics Office data published in the Korea Times newspaper on March 30, 2006 [3]. Fourteen out of 100 couples who married in 2005 were international couples. The largest group of South Koreans marrying foreign spouses has been men who marry Chinese, Vietnamese or Filipina women. South Korean women who married foreign men have most often married Chinese or Japanese. Close to twelve percent of those marrying foreigners married Americans in 2005.

Brides Imported from China, Vietnam and Other Countries

In recent times, about one third of South Korean men in rural areas married women from abroad, according to Korea National Statistics Office data published in the Chosun Daily newspaper on March 30, 2006 [4].

Brides have come to South Korea mainly from China, Vietnam, and in a distant 4th, the Philippines[5]. The most common explanation for this phenomenon is that there is a lack of South Korean women who are willing to marry men living in rural areas. Chinese citizens who are ethnic Koreans (called "Joseon-jok" by South Koreans) and Vietnamese are preferred as imported brides, although there are also a significant number of ethnic Chinese brides as well. Joseon-jok from China have the same ethnic background as Koreans, thus easily explaining their popularity. It is said among South Koreans that Vietnamese and Chinese brides are popular for many rural South Korean men because of their appearance and also the likelihood that they have experience in farming. Also, many Koreans believe women from these countries are more capable of adapting to their new environment compared to women from other countries, and become dedicated and loyal wives.

Economic factors play a strong role in these marriages, as it is usually less educated Korean men from rural areas who marry mostly less educated and poor foreign brides.

Marriages between South Korean men and foreign women are often arranged by marriage brokers or international religious groups. There is mounting evidence to suggest that there is a statistically higher level of poverty, violence and divorce in the Korean men married to foreign women cohort [6], [7][8].

Same-sex marriage

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. However, recent blockbuster movies such as The King and the Clown have raised the issue of homosexuality in Korea, and homosexuality is becoming more accepted. Despite the illegality of same-sex marriage in Korea, though, more and more gay couples are marrying in private ceremonies, especially since the coming-out of popular Korean actor Hong Suk-cheon in 2000. The first public gay marriage was on March 7, 2004. [9]

Type of marriages

Arranged marriage

Arranged marriage is popular in South Korea. Koreans usually refer to this type of marriage as Seon (선). Generally, parents arrange a meeting. 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 extremely 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.

Love marriage

"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, although it is not uncommon for romantic relationships to end without resulting in a marriage because of family opposition. Surveys indicate that the majority of young Koreans would rather end a relationship than to marry despite parental opposition.


Matchmakers are 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 resume 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 resume. 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.


Remarriages are 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. [10] The number of elderly Koreans remarrying has doubled since 1995.[11] The South Korean marriage agency Duo first began advertising its remarriage services in 2006.

Marriage agencies

The top three marriage agencies in South Korea are Duo, Sunoo and Piery.


Divorce, once almost nonexistent, first appeared in significant numbers in the 1970s, now it is very common. Rapidly changing attitudes toward divorce, as well as such other issues as marriage, childbearing and cohabitation,­ show a South Korea in the throes of a social transformation. Still anchored in Confucian values of family and patriarchy, South Korea is fast becoming an open, modernized 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.

As of 2004, 458 couples are getting divorced each day. The average age of the divorce is 41.3 years for men and 37.9 years for women.

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