Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Gender Ratio in Korea

Dear Korean,

China currently has an abnormal ratio between men and women of marriageable age. I've heard that is also true for Korea and a few other Asian countries. Has it become necessary for men to seek alternative methods of finding a bride, such as mail-order bride situations?


Traditionally, and until not too long ago, Koreans favored having a male child. But it has been at least 25 years or so since Korean culture explicitly favored boys over girls. (In fact, there currently is a strong counter-trend favoring daughters over sons, resulting in such terms as 딸바보 [parent who dotes on the daughter to the point of being foolish].) Accordingly, the sex ratio of Korean children at birth is quite normal.

In the state of nature, it is expected that around 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. Korea's newborn sex ratio is more or less in line with that figure, if slightly favoring boys. For the last five years, the number hovered between 105.7 and 106.9 (that is, 105.7 boys to 100 girls.)* The same holds true for Koreans in marriageable age: the sex ratio for Koreans between the ages of 20 and 39 is 104.7.

But one thing to always remember about Korea is:  it is a larger country than you think, and there are always pockets within the country that defies the prevailing trend. While Korea overall has a normal sex ratio among people within marriageable age, there is a strong split between cities and rural areas. In cities, the sex ratio for those between 20 and 39 years old is 102.3; in rural areas, the sex ratio for same age group is 119.6. The more rural the area is, the wider the discrepancy in sex ratio. In the most sparsely populated parts of Korea (i.e. the myeon [면] level towns), the sex ratio for those between 20 and 39 years old is 174.5(!).

(For perspective, however, note that cities in Korea hold more than six times the population than the rural areas.)

This split occurs mostly because men are more "stuck" to the town of their birth. As Korea industrialized, virtually every Korean who was able to do so left his or her hometown for a larger city in search of jobs and opportunity. In this great urbanization migration, those who were least able to leave were the firstborn sons, who were expected to tend the family farm and take care of their elderly, immobile parents.

These desperate men do tend to resort to mail-order bride-type situations, usually involving women from Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Mongolia, the Philippines, Uzbekistan, etc. (For a glimpse of how the recruiting process works for these international brides, please refer to this post.) Today, nearly 40 percent of all marriages in Korea's rural areas involves "imported" brides. Tragically, all the attendant issues that one might expect from such practice--discrimination, domestic violence, brides running away, etc.--are very much present in these cases.

*Unless otherwise indicated, all statistical information is from Korean Statistical Information Service.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.


  1. I once read that there was a time when amniocentesis testing to determine sex was commonly used by some mothers in Korea and they got abortions after finding out they were going to have a girl. I've asked about it a few times and it seems to be a subject that Koreans are very reluctant to discuss.

    Although purely anecdotal ... I offer the following personal observation:

    My nieces and nephews are almost all from a provincial city in South Kyeongsang Province. They are mostly in their young 30s now. Several years ago, I remember looking at some of their elementary school yearbooks (which BTW - were every bit as nice as most American high school yearbooks). I'm sure this was by design: each class had exactly 40 students. I happened to noticed that the classes seemed to have more boys than girls. This piqued my curiosity, so I started making note of the boy/girl ratio in each class. There were 8-10 ten 6th grade classes in each yearbook. There were only two ratios: either 24 boys/16 girls or 23 boys/17 girls.

  2. I also wonder how much the previous law that banned doctors from disclosing the gender of the unborn baby to the parents (law was removed in 2009, i think) had an impact on the general ratio too...

  3. Even at at ratio of 105/100 boys to girls that eventually leads to a huge gender imbalance. If all 100 women get married to 100 men that means 5 men will be SOL. In this scenario 2.5% of the entire population will be single men. Very unlucky single men.

    1. You're making the assumption that the gender imbalance at birth leads to a gender imbalance in adulthood. Evolution has its way of evening things out, i.e., male infants have more health problems than female infants; and adult men kill each other more often, take more risks and have more health problems, on average, than adult women.

  4. As far as I am concerned, the gender imbalance is a HUGE problem for South Korea. How is that so? Well, there are 3,500,000,000 women in the world for only ONE Lee Min Ho. How is that fair? It is not fair at all! Poor women have to struggle and fight with each other in order to catch just one glimpse of our most-beloved idol.

    Right now we can all admire him in "The Heirs", the drama that is currently airing. Who cares if he is gay? Who cares if he is 25, yet plays a high school student. All we care about is his looks. OMG. He is like drop dead gorgeous. Him and many other South Korean actors.

    I hope LMH never gets drafted. Maybe he can claim an injury (he has more than one actually). Maybe he can renounce his Korean citizenship and play in dramas as the U.S. citizen, then he doesn't have to be drafted.

    Anyway, thanks to South Korea our genetic pool when it comes to males is still pretty much varied and ... extremely pleasing to the eye.

  5. @VB Thank you for lighten up the day:-)

  6. @ David - I try very hard. And if in any way you are related to Ee Min Ho, I love you.

    "Korean men are among the most handsome people on earth and most women all over the world agree to this fact."

    Source: I hope this girl burns in HELL for not placing Lee Min Ho at #1 Hyun Bin is not handsome at all, although better looking than all the white guys. http://www.besttop10tip.com/top-10-most-popular-and-handsome-korean-actors-in-2013/

  7. Eheh, VB, you almost sound like me when I was in high school.

    I used to melt at those incredibly handsome prince charming-looking Korean faces and bodies on my computer screen. I still like them, but I've realised since a couple of years ago or so that I find much more charming the anonymous young passengers on the street rather than all of the pretty idols on the silver screen. (and I remind you I'm living in Seoul, come on and envy me ^_- ) Maybe I'm just getting old. That also leads me to prefer cinematic film actors to the TV soap opera ones and underground rock, punk, indie and such musicians to the k-pop stars. -- In fisical terms, of course, not to be mistaken. Talking about musical or other taste here would be off topic. -- And if I have to chose amongst the big (KBS size) celebrities on TV, I'd probably go looking for comedians from Gag Concert.

  8. @ Dac - I seriously envy you. In fact, I kind of hate you. I live in a land of ugly men. Not only they are incredibly ugly, they are chauvinistic pigs as well. That makes it a double whammy.They are ugly on the outside and on the inside. I think the local women should have a stack of brown bags at home so they can have sex without any serious psychological trauma. I know, the concept of beauty is very subjective, but there is human biology for heaven's sake, and some things can be measured and calculated.

    I like Lee Min Ho not because he is beautiful or a good actor (actually, he sucks at acting but no one is complaining) but for that female fantasy that he fulfills. Watching Lee Min Ho reduces cortisol production and increases oxytocin. He is so gentlemen-like, so cute and so sweet! I am sure he is not like that in real life, but that's his drama image and it is so compelling!

    So I really want one.

    No, I don't care for Kpop stars, comedians or serious musicians. I just want to see more cute and nice guys like Lee Min Ho. Here are some ideas for his next drama series:

    1. Lee Min Ho on the beach (I think 104 episodes should be enough)
    2. Lee Min Ho in the shower (54 episodes long)
    3. Lee Min Ho being Lee Min Ho (maybe a Lee Min Ho Cam?)

    Okay, before you get all upset - I am joking of course. Go and enjoy your charming anonymous young passengers on the street. Because many many women can't even do that.

    1. Thank you. Actually I have one sweet eye-candy at home too. ^_-
      But you know, I say my man is my only one, other pretty boys on the street are paintings in an art gallery.

      You make me curious, however, where do you live? If I may know, if not, I'll respect your privacy.

  9. So you are saying they have moved the Louvre to Seoul? ;)

    The ugliest men on earth are Eastern Europeans. I am still trying to figure out who is uglier, Russians or Ukrainians... Not sure, I am kind of undecided on that one. I guess I will have to go with Russians, since even Karl Lagerfeld commented on the subject.

    1. Oh, I see. Well, I'm from a country which litterally boarders between eastern and western and southern Europe geographically and both socially it can be put in any of these three groups. But I like to call it Mediterranean because it would be the most accurate, I'd say. We've got all kinds of men down there. The pretty ones, the unpretty ones, the sexist ones, the gentlemen, the womanisers, the kind liberals, gays etc.

    2. Which country borders East, West and South of Europe and can be called Mediterranean?.... Croatia? I give up. How did you find your sweet eye-candy in a Mediterranean country? Or you went all the way to Korea for the love of art (galleries)?

      Are you watching "The Heirs"? Episode 9 just came out. The ratings reached 15% in Seoul and over 13% nationwide.

    3. Bingo! It's Croatia.

      My Korean sweetey was a tourist in my hometown, and it is the sea side, and we fell in love and now I'm in Korea and we're living together. Our story is pretty much like the typical plot for a romantic film with a happy ending.

      And no, I don't watch The Heirs, I'm not really into drammas. I prefer films and cartoons. ehehehehe

  10. I knew it! So many people I know are IN LOVE with Croatia. It is a beautiful place! I think you should start your own blog if you don't have one already - your own impressions of Korea, i.e. Korea from the inside.

    Is your future mother-in-law as bad as they portray them in dramas? I hope not.

    I made a mistake, it is episode 10. If you ever see Lee Min Ho in real life - tell him I love him just the way he is.

    1. Eheh, glad to know so many people love my home country. But I just didn't feel like doing a blog exploring Korea especially because I'm not a tourist here. Yes, I know, I might be much more useful and provide much more information as an international student, but my lifestyle isn't really the one that would make me explore Korea and then write articles and post them on the internet and interact with my blog guests. I'm very busy with homework already and in the break time I just wanna relax, have fun and work on different personal projects.

      I have met my assumably future mother-in-law only once and I didn't get a bad impression, I'm more worried about the father, actually. Never met him, but I've heard he's very conservative. But then, I dunno, didn't try living with them, my boyfriend and I live alone. I mean, just the two of us. I've met his sister too and it seems like we could be friends if we were living near, she's pretty nice.

      Okay, I shall tell him. Although meeting a celebrity is not such an easy thing to happen.


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