Geum Yi

Superstition? Ancient belief sways S. Korean economy

January 29, 2015

Enough to sway the national economy: There are a myriad of items to prepare for a wedding. (Korea Times file)

SEOUL (Yonhap) — At a glance, superstition doesn’t seem to be a key swing factor for economic activities, but if tens of thousands of couples reschedule their weddings due to an ancient belief, as indicated by data released Friday, then it must be.

The South Korean economy expanded 0.4 percent in the fourth quarter, growing at the slowest pace in more than two years, according to the latest estimate by the Bank of Korea (BOK). It also marked a sharp slowdown from 0.9 percent growth in the third quarter.

The central bank attributed the weaker growth to a number of usual factors, such as flagging exports to China and a fall in infrastructure investment stemming from tax revenue shortage.

Notably, the BOK also blamed it on a decline in marriages as couples rescheduled their nuptials to sidestep leap month, an ominous period to tie the knot according to ancient superstition, and subsequently reduced spending.

Leap month refers to an additional month in the lunar calendar that is considered propitious for relocating family graves or moving homes. Getting married, in contrast, is shunned as couples who get married during leap month are feared to strain their relationship or have no children.

Last year, leap month fell on Oct. 24-Nov. 21, coinciding with one-third of the fourth quarter, the most popular period for Korean couples to tie the knot. Roughly 40 percent of marriages tend to occur in the three-month period, according to government statistics.

It also marked the first time in 182 years that leap month fell in the lunar month of September.

“Our analysis showed that some 10,000 couples advanced their marriage date to the third quarter, while some 5,000 couples postponed it to the first quarter of this year,” Jung Yung-taek, the BOK’s economic statistics division director, said in a Jan. 23 press briefing.

“While we cannot break down its impact on gross domestic product, it had a bigger effect than the new mobile subsidy law,” said Jung, adding that the leap month superstition might have further dampened lackluster private spending in Asia’s fourth-largest economy.

Private consumption rose 0.5 percent in the fourth quarter, slowing from a 1 percent expansion three months earlier, according to central bank estimates.

Separate data by Statistics Korea also showed that the number of marriages sank to a record low for the month of November since the government agency began compiling the data in 2000.

A total of 23,600 couples tied the knot in November last year, slumping 16.9 percent from the previous year.

Retailers, meanwhile, have been nimble in rescheduling their promotions for couples preparing for their nuptials.

Lotte Department Store, the country’s biggest department store operator, said it has advanced its annual wedding promotion by a month to serve customers that have postponed their marriage to dodge leap month.

The number of shoppers joining its wedding membership program surged 17.8 percent on-year between October-January, more than tripling from a 5.2 percent gain last year. Customers also spent 14.5 percent more on average compared with last year, according to Lotte.