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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

A Romantic Twist on North-South Relations

by | March 3rd, 2013 | 07:00 am
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Recently the website Buzzfeed published an article highlighting some of the more obscure dating sites available online.  It appears there is an online dating site for just about every interest. SeaCaptainDate, as the name suggests, matches lonely sea captains with potential first mates. WomenBehindBars provides women currently in prison with a venue to attract potential pen pals for future romance. Cupidtino is a dating site exclusively for lovers of Apple products of course. Those aren’t even the most “unique” of the bunch. There really is a dating site for everyone.

This brings us to a recent story published in The Global Post by Geoffrey Cain. In the article, Cain reports about a popular dating service in South Korea dedicated to matching South Korean men with North Korean women living in the south. The service, known as Nam Nam Buk Nyo, is run by a husband and wife team who practice what they preach.  Kim Eun-seo fled North Korea for China four years ago. She came to South Korea after hiding in China for a year.  Once there, she met her husband Hong Seung-woo, who is a native South Korean.  After successfully fixing up some of their friends with North Korean women, the couple started the business.  Since then they have successfully matched over 400 couples. Interestingly, only four of those matches ended in divorce.  That divorce rate is far lower than the 2.3% divorce rate for all of South Korea in 2011.

So why the high success rate? This can likely be partially explained because the service, and resulting marriages, are relatively recent.  Another reason, according to Kim, is that South Korean men are more respectful.  She says, “North Korean men want to be the king of the house, Southern men grew up in a developed society, so they’re more respectful of gender equality.” Hopefully, this is true.  One could easily imagine the opposite where some men may seek North Korean women to exploit the less advanced gender equality norms in the North. Another factor contributing to the growing popularity of the service comes from the growing gender imbalance.  There are more men under 65 in South Korea than women and the disparity is greater in the countryside.  South Korean men have been known to use dating services seeking women from Southeast Asia.  North Korean women have an advantage over women from Southeast Asia because they share a common ethnicity and language with the South Korean men.

Can a dating service like this one produce positive outcomes for refugees beyond marriage? A key struggle for North Korean refugees adapting to life in the South is assimilation.  Kim states that marrying a South Korean man “was the best way to join this society.” Given the difficulties many refugees face adapting to new countries, Kim’s experience might provide one avenue towards a smoother transition.