More career women are opting for younger men in Korea

May 7, 2014

Such couple accounted for 41,300 cases (16.2 pct.) of the total marriages in 2013 

JTBC's "Secret Love Affair" tells the story of romance between a woman in her 40's (played by Kim Hee-ae) and a man in his 20's (Yoo Ah-in). / Newsis

JTBC’s “Secret Love Affair” tells the story of romance between a woman in her 40′s (played by Kim Hee-ae) and a man in his 20′s (Yoo Ah-in). (Newsis)

By Park Jin-hai, Yoon Sung-won

Kim Seo-young, 39, a high school teacher, married nine years ago. At the time of their wedding, their drama-like love story was the talk of town.

“I met him when he was 15. I was teaching at a high school in Gyeonggi Province,” she said. “Of course, I had never imagined such a drama romance, a teacher marrying her student, could be possible in real life.”

Kim, then 24, knew him through a four-week training session for student teachers and after the short stint she returned to her regular life and friends. A few students kept in touch with her through emails, but her husband was not one of them.

“One day a message was sent onto my Cyworld, a social networking service, saying that he is my former student. Later, I learned that he had had a crush on me all along and was looking for my whereabouts since graduating the high school. Then the rest is what others can expect,” she said. “Despite initial denials and hesitations, due to the nine-year age gap, we ended up getting married.”

Her case is hardly normal — in monotonous Korea it would be called a rarity– but, nowadays more love stories like hers are being presented as the new norm within small screens and beyond.

The jTBC’s “Secret Love Affair” tells the love story of a 40-year-old woman with a man half her age, while the recently premiered tvN’s drama “A Witch’s Love” also depicts a 39-year-old successful career woman dating a 20-year old man.

If not as distinct as those, a crop of other new dramas, including “Rude Miss Young-ae” and “Cunning Single Lady” to name a few, also deal with older women falling in love with younger men.

People say that the society those dramas stem from has changed. “If those dramas were aired five years ago, people would have been offended by the story or criticize it as unrealistic. Nowadays people tend to think that it is possible, since the older woman and younger man couple is already common,” said Cho Jun-hyeong, cable television JTBC’s producer.

Socially empowered women choose cute man

Jang Seung ho, 35, who works for a public organization, tied the knot last year. When he met his future wife, 40, he was a graduate student. “At the time, I was emotionally unstable. I was preoccupied with studying and looking for jobs. If I had a girlfriend who only hangs her future on me, I must have felt an enormous burden,” he said.

Since his wife had worked over 10 years at a well-established local company, by the time she met him, she had already owned a small apartment under her name. With the constant workouts, she also had a great figure for her age. “Not like younger girls, she was independent financially as well as emotionally.”

Whereas, Jang’s wife Jeong Eun-a, says that the biggest appeal of her husband is his “cuteness.”

“Before meeting my husband, I never thought that marriage is a must. I just didn’t want the old age to rush me into marrying a guy with no physical charm, especially when I didn’t feel anything lacking in the current life,” she said.

Statistics Korea’s recently published data on marriage and divorce shows that the number of marriages between older women and younger men in 2013 was the highest in 33 years since it started collecting related data in 1981. The 41,300 cases or 16.2 percent of the total marriages of last year were made between such couples.
Its portion has been steadily increasing over the decade; from 12.1 percent in 2005, to 13.7 percent in 2008 and to 15.3 percent in 2011.

The 2012 data in particular showed that among those marriages women had higher academic background and income relative to their younger male partners. Out of the 26,552 older women and younger men marriages made in 2012, the 7,637 couples or 19.2 percent were the cases that the female partner’s academic background was higher.

Also among those women, customer service or marketing careers including stewardesses and hairdressers took the most with the 18.2 percent. The 17.2 percent of females held managerial posts and other high income office workers, while specialized jobs took 15.7 percent.

On the contrary, males with no definite jobs including students took the majority with 43 percent, while professional jobs accounted for 15.2 percent and managerial posts for 13.4 percent.

TvN’s “A Witch’s Love” is a romantic drama where a 39-year-old successful career woman dates a 20-year old courier serviceman. As drastic as it is, Korean society has changed, witnessing more and more couples with women being older than their male partners. / Korea Times file

TvN’s “A Witch’s Love” is a romantic drama where a 39-year-old successful career woman dates a 20-year old courier serviceman. As drastic as it is, Korean society has changed, witnessing more and more couples with women being older than their male partners. (Korea Times file)

Traditional marriage trend crumbles

Kang So-hyun, 30, an office worker in Seoul, agreed that it is a natural thing that more women eye younger partners as Korean women’s average age at marriage rises as well as their social status.

“I would describe younger boyfriends as an uncharted natural resource, especially for single women aged 30 and beyond with decent social and financial status,” she said.

As women get aged they face the double whammy of finding “the right man” out of the dwindling crowd of available bachelors as well as winning over them in the fierce competition with younger girls, if they stick to older boyfriends, Kang said.

“No one can turn the clock back and get younger. If so, it would be wise to appeal to the mellowness that comes with age and find younger partners who admire it,” she said.

Park Eun-seo, a 29-year-old office worker in Seoul, also says that she prefers younger men as a date and that she feels more comfortable to talk about her choice now than before.

“I like younger boyfriends since I like the way they act,” Park said. “I used to date older ones though. When I look back, I only did it because I thought it was the ‘normal’ thing to do,” she added.

Park emphasized that it’s good that she doesn’t have to worry about social stigma anymore as many other women come forward talking about dating younger boyfriends. “I believe romantic chemistry is the most important and age comes later,” she added.

Experts translate the current phenomenon as the starting point of the gradual crumbling of the traditional marriage system.

“Men used to marry women with backgrounds slightly less than they are. If so, the women in the top tier and men in the bottom tier remain singles, failing to find partners,” said Jeon Gwang-hee, sociology professor at Chungnam National University in a recent interview.

“As more and more women have higher education and economic status, the situation aggravates and that must have driven the changes in people’s perception on marriage,” he said.

Kwak Geum-ju, psychological professor at Seoul National University, said what we see is contrary to the evolutionary psychology theory.

“According to the theory human beings have evolved to the way that is ideal for survival. For instance, due to the long human history of hunting and gathering, women subconsciously choose competent male partners as their mates. To stand out in the competition with other female contenders women groom themselves. But, what we see is the opposite,” she said.

“Men who are raised receiving overprotection, in some way, feel more comfortable and are more willing to give leadership position to women. The fierce competition in the job market could be another reason that drops men’s confidence in economic power.”



One Comment


    February 14, 2017 at 2:10 AM

    Very helpful and Great information,
    we appreciate advise especially coming from a professional.
    Thanks again and keep up the great work!