In a couple of recent Korean Dramas, the storyline has the main characters getting a divorce and eventually getting back together. How close is this to actual reality in Korea?

The actual data is kind of tricky, because actual divorce vs. people who separate like a divorce but don’t go through the official proceedings differs widely. According to a pdf on Marriage and Divorce Statistics provided by a government agency here, the average percentage rate for people getting divorced in Korea has been 2.3% since 2010.

However, after talking more about this with a friend (from North America) who’s been living here for a long time and is married to a Korean, historically in some parts of the country, prospective employers would request a copy of people’s family registry when applying for a job. If there was any record of a divorce, that applicant might just get overlooked, although it wouldn’t necessarily be the reason given.

More commonly, people would stay together just because. In some cases, people kept and lived in separate houses but would remain married.

Clearly it’s less likely that people will get a divorce here, especially considering how low the rate of divorce is. In the video, Richard said the percentage was at 3%, but it turns out the current rate was even lower than that. Compare this with the United State’s divorce rate (approximately 50%), and it looks like couples live a lot happily ever after in Korea.

We elaborated in the video, however, how this just isn’t necessarily the case.

When Richard lived here in 2002, he knew a woman 8 years his senior who got married at a very young age, maybe early twenties. By the time they became friends, she was in a very unhappy marriage. Divorce for then (and probably still now) was just not an option. She was terrified what her parents might think, or her employer at the time if she actually went through with it and got the divorce. She made a decent salary and didn’t want the possibly of losing her job simply because they might not approve of her personal decisions to have a divorce.

This is quite different from what we are used to these days in our home country at least. The general perception is that, while divorce may not be the sought after option when initally getting married, it may be the best option for some when things just aren’t going well.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken with friends or heard stories about people who are much happier now that they’ve permanently separated from and divorce a former spouse when things weren’t working. Richard’s brother has gone through a divorce and is now much happier. Heck, my brother has been divorce before and is now remarried, and I couldn’t be happier for him.

Anyway, regarding Korean dramas, I think we all know by now that the storylines definitely somewhat reflect Korean society but don’t always portray it accurately. Embellishment is more like it….. or it’s more how we like it. I mean, who wouldn’t want to get back together with a handsome and rich CEO of his own company after an unfortunate divorce? ☺


  • Eniee Zi

    there’s a show called “love and war 2” and at the end there’s a lawyer giving professional marriage advice. Not sure if this show has an affect in Korea society. I just find it interesting that korea made a show of that subject. =) I also think that korean people don’t like to talk this subject is because of self pride. It’s not a proud subject.

  • Patrycja Wojtaszczyk

    Hi, you mentioned that the divorce rate in Korea is very low (3%) but note it is a crude divorce rate (3% of total population) and you compare it with divorce to marriage ratio in USA (about 50% – 1 in 2 couples split up). This rate for South Korea is 36% (1 in 3 coules spilt up). Here are some stats:
    I’ve read that divorce rate in Korea is one on the highest in the world nowadays I guess it has a lot to do with legal changes that empower women. Please consider this article:
    Still there are probably many more couples that stay married/separated though the marriage is not good. And it is still a tabu. But with this big wave of divorces I guess the attitudes about it will also change. Even dramas show these more and more. My favourite one is in ‘My name is Kim Sam-Soon’ where there is a side story of main character’s sister (a divorcee) dating a divorced guy.

    BTW – I love your videos! :)