Friday, November 7, 2014

20+ Divorces: Gnashed Teeth in Seoul

One of the societally significant outcomes of South Korea’s liberalizing cultural turn in the final decade of the 20th Century and on into the 21st has been the rising tide of divorces involving older couples. Although it remains a minority of overall cases, in 2012 the number of such divorces, which are defined as those involving couples married for more than twenty years, first crossed a watershed, surpassing as it did the number of those involving couples married for less than four years. The difference between the two cohorts continues to expand.

According to an article published on October 23 by the Chosun Ilbo utilizing data from the South Korean judicial system, 32,433 of the divorces registered in 2013 were of couples with 20 or more years of marriage under their belt. This figure represented 28.1% of all (115,292) divorces, considerably more than the 27,299, or 23.7%, “sub-4” divorces. In 2012 the two cohorts were less divergent at 26.4% and 24.6% of all divorces respectively, suggesting that what we are seeing is a burgeoning trend. The sense of a paradigmatic shift is reinforced by the point that “sub-4” divorces have been in marked decline since reaching a nadir of more than 40,000 cases in 2003 (when divorce laws were liberalized, inciting an across the board spike in numbers). Conversely, the number of “middle-aged divorces” has shown a relatively consistent upward trend since 2005.

Drilling down into the figures, reporter Choi Yeon-jin finds that no fewer than 47.2% of this particular variety of divorce in 2013 was caused (or at least registered as caused) by “differences of personality.” For those familiar with South Korean societal trends, this is not a surprising statistic; it has been apparent in divorce statistics for some years that one or both of some older South Korean couples, people who apparently would not have previously considered seeking divorce due in large part to a lingering stigma attached to both being divorced and being the child of a divorced couple, are now seeking to end dysfunctional marriages.

Other causes of divorce among this cohort are considerably less significant: the second highest percentage, 12.7%, of couples put the collapse of their relationships down to economic considerations. A further 7% stipulate bad relations with the family of their partner.

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