(Yonhap Feature) 'Single wedding' getting trendy in S. Korea with falling marriage rates
By Park Boram
SEOUL, Feb. 16 (Yonhap) -- Kim Ji-young, a freelance makeup artist in her late 30s, is on a diet for her once-in-a-lifetime wedding photography appointment in the spring. With a white gown, flower bouquet, bridal tiara and makeup, her photo will look as stunning as possible, except that there will be no bridegroom.
Despite being single, she's not going to sit out a chance to capture the bloom of her youth in wedding photography, although it will be quite out of the ordinary.
"Those who want to have a single wedding photo shoot are either not interested in getting married or expecting to get married only late in their life," said a female employee at Chae-gyeong Studio in central Seoul, where Kim reserved the so-called single wedding photo appointment.
"They still want to go on a wedding photo shoot before it's too late and when they are in great shape and younger, especially amid the social trend of late marriage," she said, declining to be named.
The ages of the growing number of customers for the studio's single wedding shot program range from those in their 20s to 30s.
The package typically includes bridal hair and makeup service, the rental of two wedding gowns, two framed photos and a 10-page photo album with a price tag of roughly 1 million won (US$876).
Jumping into the rising market for lone brides, the wedding planning affiliate of Daemyung Group, a conglomerate specialized in the resort and leisure business, launched a similar package last year.
An image capture of Daemyung Born Wedding's Web site where a special program for a single wedding is advertised. The advertisement phrase says, "You can look amazing on your own." (Yonhap)
Single weddings are the latest embodiment of the increasingly salient social and cultural trends of loners -- eating, enjoying life and traveling alone -- which are coming to define a small but growing herd of younger generation South Koreans.
The single life is also a popular theme for the television entertainment industry. Several TV channels are running series featuring the subject in many different genres, including MBC's "I Live Alone."
The reality program, launched in March 2013, follows everyday real-life scenes of single stars who have mostly passed the average age of South Koreans' first marriage.
Another reality show launched half a year ago by SBS, "Mom's Diary - My Ugly Duckling," features a group of once-sensational 40-something bachelor entertainers who enjoy themselves alone or with their similarly fated friends.
The phenomenon throws light on a whirlwind of changes unfolding on the marital status of South Koreans as well as their perception of marriage.
As of 2015, the average age of South Korean women getting married for the first time stood at 30, a steep increase from the 26.5 recorded in 2000. In the year 1990, the average stood at 24.8, according to data by Statistics Korea.
The corresponding figure for South Korean men also jumped from 27.8 in 1990 to 32.6 in 2015, meaning an average South Korean man or woman waits till the age of 30 in order to get married.
In the meantime, an increasing number of South Koreans have come to think that they can do without marriage.
As of 2008, 46.5 percent of South Korean single women regarded marriage as indispensable to their life. The number, however, plunged to 38.7 percent in 2014, according to the statistics.
During the same period, the rate of single men who hold marriage as indispensable fell from 64.8 percent to 51.8, showing the higher degree of nonchalance women have toward marital status.
The step away from marriage was also visible among older generations, with the newly coined Korean word "jolhon," which means graduation from marriage in English, used frequently in the public eye since last year. The term was first used by a Japanese essayist.
Baek Il-sub, a 73-year-old veteran actor, declared his jolhon in a TV program a year ago after 40 years of marriage. Under his current status, Baek legally remains married on good terms with his wife, but lives alone.
"At my age over 70, I am enjoying my single life without difficulties although I feel a bit sorry for my son," Baek said, citing all-by-himself dining and drinking as part of the pleasures of his new life.
Emboldened by the growing social acceptance of remaining single, a 36-year-old female office worker who wanted to be known only by her given name Jeong-un solemnly told a group of nine close friends from high school last year that it's her to turn to receive monetary gifts for a wedding even though she's not getting married.
She has paid each of them 300,000 won for their weddings, customary wedding presents for friends which are often reciprocated. And now she is the only one of the 10-member group who is still single and without any signs of marriage in the near future.
"Some of them are relocating overseas or falling out of contact, so I wanted my share of the wedding money back before it's too late," she said, adding that some of the 3 million won she would collect would be used for the purchase of her first automobile, a small shiny red sedan.
This file photo shows wedding gowns on display in a wedding fair. (Yonhap)