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Small is Beautiful for South Korean Weddings

The night before their wedding, Kim Kwang-yoon and Cho Jin-oh were up until 2 a.m. with the bride’s mother, setting tables. Their marriage venue: a room in the basement of Seoul’s city hall, rented from the government for U.S. $60.

With South Korea’s average wedding expenditure in 2014 at nearly U.S. $64,000, or about double the U.S. average, more citizens are spurning lavish events for smaller functions as the economy slows, the age at marriage rises, and parents nearing retirement have less money to splurge.

South Korean weddings are typically a show of status, with hundreds of guests and expensive gifts. Huge marriage expenses prompt more young people to delay marriage, and consequently children, worsening one of the world’s lowest birthrates in a population that is aging the fastest in the industrialized world.

To boost marriage rates from an all-time low in 2014, the government is renting out public buildings cheaply. The small-wedding trend also brings relief for parents, because South Koreans in their 50s and 60s are the most heavily indebted in a country whose household debt ranks among the world’s highest.


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