A group of one hundred South Korean men and women, dressed to the nines and with name tags slung over their clothing, met at a hotel close to Seoul amid the sound of Christmas tunes in the hopes of falling in love.
They were attendees of a nationwide blind-dating program organized by the city of Seongnam, which was an effort by the local government to stop the decline in the birth rate in a nation where marriage and the desire to start a family have plummeted.
The twenty- and thirty-something participants sat silently next to each other until the relationship coach opened the session with a game of rock, paper, scissors, which rapidly caused the room to erupt into laughter and conversation.
The city seemed committed to setting up a date, setting up games, chocolates, red wine, complimentary makeup applications, and even background checks for the singles who would be taking part. The 36-year-old local government employee Lee Yu-mi said it took her three applications to get accepted to the event.
“I had no idea it would be this competitive,” she added.
198 out of 460 participants in this year’s five event rounds departed the event as “couples,” promising to maintain touch with their paired individuals, according to the city.
Seoul, the capital of South Korea, had thought about holding a similar event, but she shelved it after hearing complaints that it would be a waste of government dollars and would not address the issues that lead people to choose not to get married and start a family, chief among them being the exorbitant costs associated with housing and education.
Participant Hwang Da-bin from September claimed that it was less expensive than attending other social gatherings or hiring a dating service.
“We are facing a real demographic crisis and the government needs to do whatever it can. I don’t understand people complaining over this,” Hwang stated.
South Korea, which has the lowest predicted number of children per woman in the world, saw yet another terrible milestone last year when its fertility rate fell to a record low of 0.78.
Professor Jung Jae-hoon of Seoul Women’s University’s Department of Social Welfare called it “nonsense” to think that these events will increase birth rates.
“You need to spend more money directly on supporting pregnancy, child delivery and parenting to call it a policy to boost birth rates,” Jung said.
Thousands of individuals have registered for the blind-dating activities that the city of Seongnam is hosting this year, in spite of opposition.