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 firstname.lastname@example.org.