Rising wedding costs, hidden fees blamed for decline in marriages – 코리아타임스

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Studio photography, dress rentals, makeup costs average to W5 mil.


Mannequins display wedding dresses in a shop in Ahyeon-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul. Yonhap

As couples in Korea plan their weddings, they face the daunting reality of rising costs and financial strain, particularly from hidden fees and soaring expenses for studio photography, dress rentals and makeup, collectively known as SDM here, thereby complicating their journey to the altar.

This financial burden is not merely a personal challenge but also intensifies concerns over the nation’s falling marriage rates.

For example, an office worker identified only by her surname Kim, went for a wedding dress fitting and was shocked to learn about additional fees, ranging from 500,000 to 1 million won ($375-750) just to try on the dresses.

Similarly, Lee who booked an early makeup session, was charged an extra 100,000 won for what was termed an “early start fee.” Such experiences underline the unpredictability and financial pressures exerted by the wedding industry on couples.

Adding to the outcry, YouTuber Bambigirl, revealed being charged over 2.4 million won by a studio, which then restricted her choices and imposed further costs for any photo adjustments.

Another bride-to-be initially thought her SDM expenses would be around 5 million won but saw the total soar to 8 million won due to additional charges for dress options and other wedding accessories.

Winners of a beauty pageant look at dresses at the Daegu Expo  last June. Courtesy of Goguma Wedding

Winners of a beauty pageant look at dresses at the Daegu Expo last June. Courtesy of Goguma Wedding

Lack of transparency

A survey conducted by the matchmaking company Gayeon on 1,000 recently married individuals (within the first five years of marriage) revealed that the average SDM cost is 4.79 million won, with total wedding-related expenses, excluding housing, averaging 63 million won. Industry insiders attribute these rising costs to the aftermath of the pandemic and inflation, which have significantly increased the expenses related to wedding ceremonies.

The practice of imposing additional fees and the lack of transparency in the wedding industry are often seen as products of vested interest among wedding planners and related vendors. This structure makes it difficult for couples to negotiate or book services independently, often leading to the acceptance of unfair practices and pricey charges.

Critics argue that this exploitation by the wedding industry is contributing to the decline in the number of marriages, with many expressing concerns online about the burdensome costs associated with wedding preparations that in the end, deter people from tying the knot.

Prof. Lee Eun-hee of Inha University’s Department of Consumer Studies said, “As the marriage rate declines and the wedding industry sees fewer customers, it raises prices to maximize profits, leading to a vicious cycle where increased costs further dampen the younger generation’s willingness to marry.”

Despite a slight increase in the number of marriages last year, the trend of declining marriage rates continues. The government has stepped in, planning to disclose wedding-related pricing on the Korea Consumer Agency’s website from next year and considering the implementation of a mandatory price display system for the wedding industry.

However, experts like Prof. Kim Si-wool of Konkuk University argue that price disclosure alone may be “insufficient to break the cycle of exploitative practices” and urged the industry towards self-regulation and providing competitive and reasonable pricing.

This article from the Hankook Ilbo, a sister publication of The Korea Times, was translated by generative AI and edited by The Korea Times.

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