Sunday, August 24, 2003

Living Together Before Marriage

"A Baby Doesn't Walk Before It Crawls" Doesn't Apply Here

It was a busy weekend for me. My close friend, Mike Joo, had his 30th birthday. Mike is the one person I probably spent the most time with in Seoul, which I don't know is a good thing for me (out of love, mike). On Saturday I had to juggle Mike's birthday party with Andy O's bachelor party. With Andy's wedding coming up, along with a few others, I decided to post my recent letter to the Korea Herald. It was in response to a reporter's article on a growing trend of people living together before marriage in Korea. It probably didn't get published because it was in response to a cub reporter's article and I don't think it had much significance compared to all the recent turmoil on this peninsula. I really dont' know how strong of a growing trend it is in Korea, but I thought it was generally stupid if it was more in response to the increasing divorce rate in Korea because there are more important factors in consider in the equation. I couldn't link or paste the article here since the Korea Herald now asks for a fee to access archived articles, but you get the general content from my letter below:

Dear Korea Herald,

I was somewhat amused by your short article, "Living together before marriage" (8/13/2003), on several levels. This new trend in Korea is bound for failure. In the U.S., where this custom and notion has been practiced for several decades now has been shown to lead to a higher rate of divorce. A couple major studies, one by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, sampled thousands of couples and found that those that lived together prior to marriage had a significantly higher divorce rate. One reason discovered was that those who lived together had a lesser sense of commitment towards the institution of marriage.

Before even going down this road, I generally believe Koreans have missed a few steps in examining the increasing divorce rate. They should look at how people search and decide on a spouse. "Sons" and "sogaetings" with the added time pressure of family members might not lead to the best decisions for such a serious commitment. How can you really know someone after five dates? Or a couple months? The culture of dating and the factors involved in finding a spouse probably need to change and liberalize before such silly notions of living together are explored in this society and culture.

I especially found it amusing that the experts interviewed for the article "warn that this new trend of 'unmarried cohabitation' can result in many social problems, such as abortions, unwed mothers and a decreasing number of people marrying". Would this really be the effect of such a trend? I honestly was laughing. Maybe it's factors such as the lack of protected sex in Korea and other things?

In some ways, I believe the increasing divorce rate is a good sign because it is somewhat reflective of the growing power that women hold in this country. Less and less, they are restricted by economic factors to stay with an unfaithful or abusive husband. They are slowly increasing their positions in the workforce, so they are more independent and free to choose on whether to work through a bad marriage or just leave. Women have more options now and can fight the stigma of divorce in this country.

But these are the after-effects of bad decisions, forced marriages, those based on socio-economic factors, or a desparate sense of urgency. People need to reexamine the reasons for marriage, their own definition of love and how to find it.

Bernard Moon

I wrote a short response due to time constraints, and wanted to write a more detailed response at the time. I really don't want to add more to my response now, but I found an article from iVillage called "3 Reasons Why Researchers Say Living Together Before Marriage is Risky" on this topic that supports my response. Here's an excerpt:

3 Warnings: Living Together Might Not Be Smart

1. Higher Divorce Rate
Perhaps the most compelling and widespread argument against living together before marriage is that several researchers say it increases the risk of breaking up. Virtually all studies of this topic have shown that the chance of divorce is significantly greater for married couples who lived together first. And in 1992, the National Survey of Families and Households found that, in 3,300 families, married couples who had lived together first were judged to be 46 percent more likely to get divorced.

2. Lower Quality of Life
When it comes to living together, more research suggests that the quality of life for unmarried couples is far lower than for married couples. Researchers David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead say cohabiting couples report lower levels of happiness, lower levels of sexual exclusivity and sexual satisfaction, and poorer relationships with their parents. Annual rates of depression are more than three times higher. And, finally, cohabiting women are more likely than married women to suffer physical and sexual abuse.

3. Living Together Doesn't Necessarily Lead to Marriage
After five to seven years, 21 percent of most cohabitating couples are still doing just that -- cohabitating, without getting married. In a new study by Popenoe and Whitehead, one of the top 10 reasons why men said that they are reluctant to get married at all is because they can simply live with a woman -- and enjoy the same benefits.

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