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SpirE-Journal 2009 Q2

Are Asian Governments playing Cupid?

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Are Asian Governments playing Cupid?

While rapid economic growth has brought untold benefits to Asian economies, it has also brought one unintended side-effect – declining fertility rates. As income levels rise, a general rule is that more affluent families choose to have fewer or no children, while many individuals choose to remain unmarried altogether. This obviously presents a problem for long-term economic growth.

Which leads to one of the quirkier manifestations of government economic intervention – state support for efforts to promote dating and marriage amongst their citizens. While this is clearly an area of public policy that is less widely discussed in the context of the many more urgent economic interventions taking place, a look at the countries where this is happening underlines how general economic problems tend to force governments to grasp at similar policy solutions.

Here are some highlights of government support for the cause of matchmaking across the Asia-Pacific region:

Singapore: In July 09, The Ministry of Community Development Youth and Sports (MCYS), collaborated with the Ministry of Education (MOE) to offer a complimentary one-year membership in the newly merged Social Development Unit-Social Development Service (SDU-SDS) to single Singaporean. The aim was to increase participation in the activities that SDU-SDS organizes to promote dating and marriage while also widening the social circles of young Singaporeans. No less than the Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, cited this program in his National Day Rally speech on Aug 17, 2008: “A lot of people want the SDU, SDS because its government, so they know it’s real, they know it’s serious, they know that this is not some escort agency. It’s respectable.”

Japan: Matchmaking services have become a booming business in Japan all thanks to a popular book, Marriage Hunting Era, released in 2008. As a result, surveys show that 90 percent of single adults would love to marry. The government is also organizing its own marriage hunts, where city officials organise events for single women to pick their men in various games. An event held in Ginza saw men writing down the names of their top three choices. If one of their chosen women picked them, the host would announce them as a couple.

South Korea: In an effort to promote nuptials, the Government in 2008 designated the 21st of May as “Married Couples Day”. The digits symbolize “two people becoming one”. The popularity of matchmaking agencies in South Korea is on the rise. Two in five Korean couples who married between 1998 and 2003 met through matchmakers, according to the Korean Institute for Health and Social Affairs.

Australia: While Australia’s government has not yet ventured into matchmaking, it has for some time provided a “baby bonus” – special payments to the parents of new-borns. The latest campaign is “one for Dad, one for Mum, one for Australia.”

Experts say that people tend to seek comfort and companionship during times of crisis, and this feeling tends to override even financial considerations. Moreover, newlyweds will benefit from the economic downturn in the form of more affordable wedding packages’, not to mention increased government subsidies or grants for new families in some countries. However it is also a truism of sociology that monetary issues are one of the main drivers of divorce rates, which have mostly been rising across Asia in line with economic development. Will the current economic crisis see an uptick in marriages, a rise in divorces or both?

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