Last year over a fifth of South Korean farmers and fishermen who tied the knot did so with a foreigner states The Economist . The province of South Jeolla has the highest concentration of international marriages in the country—half of those getting married at the peak a decade ago. In those days, the business of broking unions with Chinese or South-East Asian women boomed, with matches made in the space of a few days. Not long ago placards in the provinces sang the praises of Vietnamese wives “who never run away”. Now, on the Seoul subway, banners encourage acceptance of multicultural families.
Critics say making marriage more difficult will only serve to speed up the greying of the workforce. The pool of eligible women will shrink, says Lee In-su, a marriage broker in Daegu in the south-east. Most foreign brides come from rural areas lacking language schools. Meanwhile, competition for brides from China, where men also outnumber women, is fierce.
In fact, the number of Korean men taking foreign brides is dropping, from 31,000 a year in 2005 to 18,000 last year. And nine-tenths of matches are now urban, says Mr Lee. Vietnamese girls no longer want to languish in the Korean countryside, says Kim Young-shin of the Korea-Vietnam Cultural Centre in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital. They like watching Korean dramas and listening to K-pop—urban pursuits.