Every week, we ask a North Korean your questions, giving you the chance to learn more about the country we know so little about.
Today’s question is: How do women choose husbands in North Korea? What is married life like?
Yes, we have spinsters in North Korea, too.
There is no age when women are expected to tie the knot, but if a woman is over 28 years old and doesn’t have a husband or boyfriend, she is considered to be a spinster.
There are some people who get married at the age of eighteen – right after graduation from high school. As they get married at such an early age, they often have a hard time adjusting to their marriage. I had a female friend who got married at the age of eighteen, immediately after graduating from high school. It took a lot of time to adjust to the marriage. She often fumbled with household chores and was under immense stress and pressure.
North Korea is still a highly patriarchal society. In most homes, women’s daily life begins with preparing breakfast for their husbands in the morning. After breakfast, they help men getting ready for work. These duties are required for all housewives in North Korean society. Young wives such as my friend often find it hard and challenging to perform the wide variety of duties imposed upon them.
Fortunately, my friend didn’t have to worry about putting food on the table since her husband was a military officer who received steady income and benefits. But she would often tell me in a frustrated tone that she found it difficult having to socialize with wives of other military officers.
She also told me that she was under a lot of pressure helping her husband getting ready for work every morning. Her mother helped her with house chores for twenty days a month.
In North Korea, most women get married between 21 and 24, and the average age when women get married in North Korea is younger than that of South Korea.
Why is this?
Firstly, married women are exempt from having to be employed. In a socialist state, everybody is required to be employed. If you get caught by being unemployed, you’re subject to punishment such as 교화형 and labor work.
The government assigns a workplace to every member of the society. Married women are allowed to leave workplace and commit to being housewives. This is why some women get married early in their lives: to be exempt from mandatory labor.
Secondly, mandatory military service for men lasts ten years. After completing military service and getting back to society, a man is already 28 to 30 years old.
Military service isn’t mandatory for women in North Korea. Thus, most women begin working immediately after graduation from high school. Even those who graduate from two-year college or 4-year university begin working at the age of 22.
Women begin dating and fall in love. Since women begin working years before men are able to enter society after military service, women tend to get married earlier than men do. In most cases, brides are 21-24 years old and grooms are 30 years old.
Third, women compete to get Mr. Perfect before other women get them. The type of young men who are popular for brides are young bachelors who have completed military service, are members of the Workers’ Party, and have been assigned to a good university. On the top of these three traits, if he comes from a rich and politically powerful family, he truly would be Mr. Perfect.
Mothers of daughters do their best to get such men to marry their daughters.
But people’s obsession with power has decreased in recent days in North Korea. As capitalist ideas have made its way into North Korean society, people have adopted the ideas of materialism and mammonism.
Of course, North Koreans who think power is more important than money still exist today, but you shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that North Koreans care about people’s money and power only. A person’s personality is important, too.
In the past, marriages were arranged through match makers and parents of prospective brides and groom specified the conditions of their future sons-in-law and daughters-in-law. These days, things have changed.
Nowadays, North Koreans also go on dates and they propose to their long-time girlfriends and boyfriends. In some cases, people who are in love get papers done against the opposition of their parents. Most parents give into their children and allow them to marry people their children have chosen.
Trends in North Korea are changing. A person’s personality and whether two people get on well with each other matters more than the mere wealth of that person when it comes to choosing your future husband and wife.
Written by Je-son Lee
Translation by Elizabeth Jae
Featured image by Adam Westerman