Pairing off in changing times"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
That quote from Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” dates to the early 19th century. Today, it might be closer to a universally acknowledged truth that a single woman in possession of a good career must be in want of a husband.
Park Kyoung-ju, a 30-year-old venture capitalist, is one of many Korean women of her general age looking for eligible men now that their careers have been firmly established. She says she expects a prospective husband to help out with the household chores ― “I have no tolerance for full-time homemakers, male or female,” she says ― and that she doesn’t care if he makes less money than she does.
That would more or less suit Kim Phil-kyu, 28, a writer and cartoonist who is looking for a high-powered career woman to be his bride. “If she wants to pursue her professional life and does not have time for home duties, I’m willing to support her and be the homemaker,” Mr. Kim says. “I want to have a comfortable life.”
Such ideas about marriage roles were unheard of in Korea two decades ago, and might even have been regarded as shameful to hear from a man. But things have changed.
“In the past, there was a strict division of labor between men and women, with the husband being the breadwinner and the wife being the homemaker,” said Kim Seung-kwon, senior researcher at the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs.
“But as the division of labor broke down in recent decades, there has been a lessening of responsiblity on the part of men to make a living to feed the family,” Mr. Kim said. “There is no sense of guilt for men who want to stay home.”
Lee Woong-jin, founder and CEO of Sunoo, a professional matchmaking agency, agrees. “There is even the term ‘shutter man,’ which refers to a husband who takes care of the household while his wife makes a living,” he said. “These days, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Mr. Lee, who recently published a book of dating tips for women titled “There’s No Such Thing as a Glorious Single,” says women are taking on more roles that society traditionally considered masculine. It’s less unusual now for women to propose marriage to men, he said in an interview.
“Realistically speaking, I believe our society has achieved ― to a greater degree ― gender equality when it comes to marriage,” Mr. Lee said. “One clear example is that nowadays when a couple gets married, they make their home near the wife’s family rather than the husband’s family, which shows that power has shifted to the woman,” he said.
But Mr. Lee argues that this shift has not come without consequences for women. In his book, he asserts that a growing number of women have waited too long to get married because they have focused on their careers.
Indeed, there are more single women in their 30s than single men, though overall, Korea has slightly more males than females.
“Successful women find it hard to get married because they are looking for men who are as successful or more successful than themselves, who are also slightly older,” Mr. Lee contends. “But those men have already settled down with women who are slightly younger than themselves.”
Indeed, some career women in their 30s say they are finding it difficult to get married, and are feeling as though they have missed the boat.
Koh I-yang, 31, an accountant who works for an investment firm, says it is harder for her to date now than when she was in her 20s, primarily because of the age factor.
But, she adds, “I won’t stoop to marry someone I don’t like just because of my age. I’d rather stay single than get married to just anyone.”
Song Min-jung, a “couple manager” at Duo, another matchmaking agency, says that isn’t unusual. “Women marry late because they just won’t give up,” she said. “Because they have waited to be successful, they don’t want to compromise.”
Korean men and women alike are waiting longer to get married. In 1993, the average age for men who married was 28.1 years old, and for women, it was 25.1. By 2003, the average age rose to 30.1 for men and 27.3 for women, according to the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs.
Mr. Kim says the main reason women are marrying later than they used to is that more of them are better educated, and have a corresponding desire for career achievement. Mr. Lee concurs, and cites the “feminist influence,” which he says has taught women that career success should come before matrimony.
“That’s why I recommend that women in their 30s find younger men as suitable mates,” he said.
“In our society, people invest so much time, effort and money into getting into a good college and finding a decent job, but marriage is much, much more important than either of those,” Mr. Lee said. “I can’t understand why people won’t make the same kind of effort to get married that they do with college admissions and job applications.
“You shouldn’t just wait for the perfect match to show up,” he said. “You’ve got to do the searching.”
He says that attitudes have changed dramatically in the 15 years since he began his matchmaking business. For one thing, there are more dual-income families. “Men these days prefer a woman who has a job to one who doesn’t, no matter how gorgeous she is,” Mr. Lee says.
Ms. Song, who has been a couple manager for seven years, agrees.
“Since the IMF crisis hit, I believe there has been a conspicuous change in perception by men,” she said. “More and more men prefer women with professional careers or financial soundness. In the past, female doctors were the most unpopular lot, but now they, along with public officials and teachers, are the most popular.”
Another change, Mr. Lee says, is that the traditional emphasis placed on remaining a virgin until marriage is no longer an issue for women.
“It is antiquated to discuss virginity nowadays. Premarital sex has become natural as part of the human relations process,” says Mr. Lee.
After matching up thousands of couples, Mr. Lee says he has noticed that there are some conspicuous traits related to divorce.
“The longer you date someone, the more likely you will not divorce your spouse for financial reasons or due to a conflict with the in-laws. But if you cheat on your spouse, you are likely to get divorced,” Mr. Lee contends.
The opposite also holds true, he said: “If you date someone for a short time and then get married, you are likely to divorce your husband for financial reasons or because of a conflict with the in-laws rather than for infidelity.” The divorce rate has been rising steadily over the past decade, and Mr. Lee says spousal cheating has become rampant.
Mr. Lee admits that he has contemplated divorce during his 15-year marriage.
“Marriage includes elements of hell and heaven,” Mr. Lee adds. “However, if you decide never to get married, it’s one thing you’ll regret for the rest of your life.”
Mixed results from a matchmaking machine
Can a computer find your perfect match? Sunoo seems to think so. The matchmaking agency is launching a commputerized “Harmony Matching System” this summer, which “quantifies” one’s eligibility. Punch in your data, and it will give you your Physical Attractiveness Index, Family Background Index and Social and Economic Index. These scores are then combined to produce the comprehensive Objective Spousal Index.
I supplied information about my academic background, my family background (including my parents’ current jobs), income, height and weight, hobbies and other information. My “couple manager” at Sunoo told me to wait half an hour. It was nerve-wracking.
My Objective Spousal Index came in as 84.7 out of 100. Over 80 is good, but to be “the best among the eligible” requires a score over 90. To me, the astonishing thing was that my OSI was brought down by the fact that I’m a reporter ― a profession that Korean men don’t like in women, I was told.
What profession would make me the most attractive? Teaching, because it would leave me more time for household duties. So I’ve got a choice to make, apparently: give up my profession, or be shunned by men. ―Choi Jie-ho
by Choi Jie-ho
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