A gap too wide to be narrowedA rice cake shop in front of my apartment complex has no photo or display of rice cake samples. Instead, the walls are covered with awards. The owner has received three awards from the International Rice Cake Competition.
I was curious what his rice cake tasted like, and last year I placed an order. When I asked what kind of rice cake he had won the award for, he said that baekseolgi, steamed white rice cake, was his specialty. I wanted a rice cake in a shape of the Korean Peninsula for an event, and he said he would try. The next morning, he presented me with a masterpiece he had created the night before. It was almost too beautiful to eat. The rice cake was artwork for him. He is now 50 years old and still unmarried. He said women are inclined to think the rice cake business does not make enough money.
There are also successful single women who have a hard time finding a spouse. My friend’s daughter is an international lawyer, and she is 36 years old. Now that she is willing to get married, her age is an obstacle.
According to “Life of a Man in Seoul,” a report by the city of Seoul, the number of single men between the ages of 35 and 49 increased from 24,239 in 1990 to 242,590 in 2010. The number of single men in the age group grew by more than 10 times in 20 years.
In the same period, the number of single women increased by 6.4 times, so the population of single men is growing far more rapidly. And 52.4 percent of the unmarried men have not gone to college, while 61 percent of single women in the same age group are college graduates.
A survey by a marriage consulting service proves the statistics. Men would like to marry 27-year-old women, younger than the average age of 29.1. And women would like to marry 33-year-old men, older than the 31.9 average of men’s first marriage. Men tend to value physical attractiveness and prefer younger women, while women focus on economic stability and prefer older men. But the reality is different.
As more women pursue higher education and careers, the number of highly educated and successful single women is increasing. And the number of less-educated, low-income men is increasing in the economic slump. Therefore, highly educated women and less-educated men remain single.
Unless men and women change their attitudes about who is marriage material - if a respectable artisan like the rice cake maker is not welcomed as an eligible bachelor - Korea will continue to have one of the lowest birth rates in the world, and more and more people will stay single.
The author is a guest columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Eom eul-soon