September 21, 2006

The Norwegian Bachelor Farmers of South Korea

Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion has made a running joke out of the quite real difficulties Minnesota farmers have in finding wives. Since the 1970s, at least, Minnesota farm girls have moved to Minneapolis to be Mary Tyler Moore, leaving a lot of lonely farmers behind.

Similarly, in the Coen Bros.' "Big Lebowski," Bunny Lebowski (Tara Reid), formerly Fawn Gunderson, the straying hooker wife of an elderly Southern California millionaire, is being searched for by a detective hired by her parents in Minnesota who want her to come home. The snoop pulls out a black and white photograph to show The Dude:

Private Eye: "The Gundersons told me to show her this when I found her. The family farm."

A bleak farmhouse and silo are the only features on a flat snow-swept landscape.

Private eye: "Outside of Moorhead, Minnesota. They think it'll make her homesick."

In South Korea, the problem is even worse, due to extremely low birth rates (a total fertility rate of 1.1) and aborting girl babies. From Barbara Demick in the Los Angeles Times:

Jeong Ha-gi, 46, flew to Vietnam on a tour organized for South Korean bachelors. He was looking for a wife who would be tough enough to withstand the rigors of life on a rice farm. Trying to distinguish among all the women with the numbers pinned to their shirts, he decided the one with a bad complexion might be made of sturdy stuff. They were married three days later.

Today, they live together in sullen silence, a chasm of cultural differences between them. She speaks no Korean, he no Vietnamese. They communicate — barely — with a well-thumbed phrase book. Nguyen Thu Dong, who turned out to be only 20, doesn't like getting up at 5 a.m. to do the farm chores. She turns up her nose at kimchi.

"We have a lot of issues between us," said the burly Jeong, who in his undershirt resembles a Korean version of the young Marlon Brando. "Our age difference, our culture, our food. But I wanted a wife and she is who I got."

Despite the obvious pitfalls, South Korean men increasingly are going abroad to find wives. They have little choice in the matter unless they want to remain bachelors for life.

The marriage market in Asia is becoming rapidly globalized, and just in time for tens of thousands of single-but-looking South Korean men, most of them in the countryside where marriageable women are in scant supply. With little hope of finding wives of their own nationality and producing children to take over the farm, the men are pooling their family's resources to raise up to $20,000 to find a spouse abroad.

The phenomenon has become so widespread that last year 13% of South Korean marriages were to foreigners. More than a third of the rural men who married last year have foreign wives, most of them Vietnamese, Chinese and Philippine. That's a huge change in a country once among the most homogenous in the world.

Mark Steyn goes on and on about how the low birthrate of Europe is caused by socialism, long vacations, and general decadent Eurowimpery, but how does that explain the even lower birthrate of South Korean farmers?

By the way, there's a widespread assumption that the high sex ratio of males to females in Asia will lead to massive violence by frustrated males. Yet, if we look at the most violent regions of America, the black inner cities, we see a very low ratio of males to females, due to so many males being in prison or dead. In the ghettoes, men don't have to behave like good prospective husbands to get women because there is so little competition. So, perhaps the assumption about East Asia is dubious?

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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