Arranged marriage to foreign brides is increasingly prevalent in South Korea, and has drawn substantial comment from both local media and policy makers. International marriage brokering is hardly unique to South Korea, however, and is now prevalent in all of the developed countries of East Asia. This paper studies the marriage markets in five developed East Asian countries, and after empirical analysis, finds that income differentials affect a country's status as a bride importer or exporter. Accordingly, developments like China's rapid income growth are likely to induce severe competition for brides between Korea and other East Asian countries, resulting in a shortage of foreign brides. This paper suggests that policies to improve gender equality in household production can reduce the demand for foreign brides in Korea, helping Korea to cope with the upcoming shortage of such brides.
Immigration, Marriage, International Marriages, Cross-Border Marriages
Marrying a foreign bride has been a swiftly growing trend in Korea since the early 1990s. As shown in Figure 1, arranged marriages between Koreans and non-Koreans (hereafter "international marriages") were nearly unknown until recently, accounting for less than one percent of new marriages prior to 1994. Their prominence, however, has since rapidly increased, and marriages between Korean grooms and non-Korean brides accounted for 8 percent of new marriages in 2007. This kind of marriage has many important socio-economic implications for Korean society. Since most of these brides are not ethnic Koreans, and are generally less educated than Korean women, the constant inflow of a large number of foreign brides has changed the demographic composition of Korean society in ethnicity, gender composition, and labor supply.
Due to the high prevalence of international marriages and their social and cultural implications, government agencies and the media have paid close scrutiny to the new phenomenon of arranged marriages between Korean grooms and foreign brides. The government has also introduced numerous policies to help foreign brides assimilate into Korean society. Such policy discussions invite more fundamental and important questions including "What types of women come to Korea as foreign brides?" "Can Korea continue to meet its demand for foreign brides in the future?" "What risk factors may reduce the supply of brides to Korea?" and "What can Korea do if the supply of foreign brides decreases?"
This paper aims to supply partial answers to some of the above questions by analyzing the marriage markets in Korea and other more developed East Asian countries (Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong). My findings indicate that marriage to foreign brides is common in all five countries, and that the major countries supplying brides (i.e. "bride exporters") are held in common between them. This implies that any shock or disruption affecting the flow of brides in any of these bride exporting countries will directly affect the supply of foreign brides for Korean men.
I further examine the empirical process that explains what countries have become major bride exporters to Korea. My results indicate that the relative income gap between Korea and the bride exporting country in question is an important factor. This means that other things being equal, if China, the major bride exporter, catches up economically with Korea, a smaller number of Chinese women will be willing to marry Korean men (as well as men in other developed East Asian countries). Moreover, since Korea and other Asian countries import brides from the same source, Korea will face severe competition for foreign brides from these countries.
Finally, this paper investigates the economic factors that have caused Korea to import brides from other countries and argues that gender inequality in household production is a major factor that discourages Korean women from getting married. …