Getting married in South Korea? Bring a lot of cash!

Fri Apr 27, 2012 4:26pm EDT
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By Eunhye Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) - The Beatles may have sung "all you need is love," but in South Korea a couple wanting to get married also needs cash, a lot of it - nearly $200,000, or more than four times the average annual income.

The sky-high costs stem from a combination of cultural traditions that mandate expensive pre-wedding gifts between families, such as mink coats and diamond rings, along with a decades-old custom that the groom must fork over money to provide a home.

The average cost for a wedding in 2011 rose about 270 percent from 1999, while the inflation during the same period rose 45.5 percent. Total costs far outstripped the average annual household income at around 48.3 million Korean won ($42,400), according to government data.

Thus, young couples seeking to unite in wedded bliss are forced to borrow from parents or take out loans. With candid discussions of money a cultural taboo in Korea, many are reluctant to speak about the high cost of exchanging vows.

"Korean society is very tightly knit, and people here are very concerned about how others view them," said Harris H. Kim, a sociology assistant professor at Ewha Womans University.

"The wedding works as a status symbol, like a marker of where you stand in the society," he added.

One 27-year-old woman working in the financial industry, who like many others asked to remain anonymous, said her parents paid nearly 90 percent of her 140 million won ($122,900) wedding costs.

"We had to use our parents' money, which probably came from the sacrifice of their own retirement savings," she said.   Continued...

Newlyweds give three cheers during a mass wedding ceremony at Sun Moon University in Asan, south of Seoul October 14, 2009. REUTERS/Segye Times /Handout