Gangnam Conducts Mass Blind Dates
By Kwon Mee-yoo
Unusual situations call for unusual responses. That is what Gangnam, the up-scale district south of the Han River, is trying to do to deal with those who are young, hip and trying to stay unmarried.
The Gangnam District Office, led by its head Maeng Jung-ju, is planning to hold a large-scale blind date for such bachelors and bachelorettes - the third of its kind" this Saturday.
According to a Seoul City survey, Gangnam was top in the city in terms of its percentage of single women aged from 25 to 34, at 65 percent. The overall city average was 51 percent.
A World Health Organization report said Korea's average birthrate is 1.19, one of the lowest among 193 countries worldwide in 2008. The rate is generally low in urban areas, but Gangnam was the lowest at 0.78.
The wealthy district is eager to fight the low birthrate. It is ready to spend as well, as its war-chest is brimming with a budget of over 16 billion won.
For instance, the district offers the city's largest monetary incentive for delivering more than one baby ― 1 million won for a second child, 5 million won for a third and 10 million won for a fourth.
At this weekend's event, 60 singles residing in or working in the district ― 30 males and 30 females ― will seek to find their "other half."
"The participants range from 27 to 40 in age and include teachers, office workers and professionals," said Park Kyung-hee of Gangnam District.
At the end of the event, each participant will name the three dates they liked best.
"We are not checking with the success rate of the previous meetings, but we are told that some five couples that met at the second event are going steady," the official said.
Gangnam's experiment is ongoing, as the former participants are asking the district to continue the program.
"We hope to improve the outlook on marriage in a positive way by providing a chance to date for young, unmarried men and women," Park said.
"Usually, young people are not interested in events or programs offered by the government or authorities. However, the anticipation for this event has been exceptional and we've received good reviews from participants," said Jang Sung-ja of Olivemate, the matchmaking agency sponsoring the event. "We are even receiving calls from parents who want their children to join up."
Shin Yoon-jeong, a researcher at the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, said the event can help to raise the low birthrate, but that the government should consider more basic problems.
"A change of values and working women have caused the low birthrate. It is important to shift the social system to provide a better environment to deliver and bring up children," she said.