Marriage ain’t what it used to be

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Marriage ain’t what it used to be

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A few days ago, I received a wedding invitation. The bride was the eldest daughter of a friend from college. My friend’s wife had gotten pregnant before they were married, and the bride was that baby. Previously, I have always been invited to the weddings of children of people who were older than me. I had complicated, harried feelings about the wedding of a child of one of my contemporaries.

My son is, in fact, a year older than the age at which I got married. As late marriages, and even remaining single, are common trends these days, marriage is not something he worries about. When I ask him whether he has any plans, he says bluntly, “Why should I get married when marriage seems to give headaches to everyone?” There is no way of knowing what he really thinks. Someday, he may come up to me and say, “Actually, father, I am living with my girlfriend.” What if he drops that bombshell all of a sudden? The thought gives me a chill.

While my generation thought the only form of union for two people was marriage, young Koreans are open to the idea of living together without officially tying the knot. According to a survey conducted by the University News Network, 80 percent of college students are positive about the idea of living together. However, not many people actually choose to do so because their parents may oppose it and other people will look at them skeptically. There is a discrepancy between the perception and the reality.

In western culture, cohabitation is common. Only half of adults between the ages 25 and 45 are officially married in major European countries. The rest are either single or living with partners. In France, such a lifestyle is so common that 87 percent of married couples started living together before tying the knot. Cohabitation is recognized as a legal form of a civil union. In France it is called PACS, or “civil pact of solidarity” introduced 12 years ago. By signing a PACS and submitting it to a court, a couple - same-sex or otherwise - is granted the same duties and rights of people in civil marriages, including areas like social security, taxation, leases, liabilities and inheritance. It is different from marriages in that the couple may split without going through the complicated process of divorce. The forms of civil unions that two adults may choose have become diversified to include marriage, PACS and cohabitation.

The Korean Development Institute, a government-sponsored research institute, published a report that Korea’s negative perception of cohabitation and extramarital births needs to change in order to solve our low fertility rate. In addition to a change in perception, we also need to consider recognizing cohabitation as a form of civil union as France does. This would not only help the country’s fertility rate but also give more choices to individuals who are cautious about the fetters of wedlock and aware of the miserable lives led in many traditional marriages.

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok
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