South Korean remake of 'Doctor Foster' linked to surging rate of infidelity

Julian Ryall
The final episode of 'The World of the Married' drew a record audience for cable TV

Adultery is surging in South Korea with worried commentators linking the rise to the popularity of a local remake of BBC drama ‘Doctor Foster’.

Five years after Seoul decriminalised marital affairs, a poll in Chosun Ilbo newspaper found 41.3 per cent of married men and 24.4 per cent of married women had indulged in a liaison.

In a similar survey carried  six months after the reform in 2015,  just 10.8 per cent of wives admitted to an affair. The figures for men were roughly the same. 

The final episode of the South Korean ‘Doctor Foster remake’, ‘The World of the Married’, drew a nationwide audience share of more than 28 per cent when it aired last week- a record for a cable programme.

The drama has earned rave reviews for tackling subjects that have previously been largely taboo in South Korean culture, including women having relationships outside their marriages and violence within the family.

Chosun Ilbo connected the rising level of adultery in its poll to the show, suggesting viewers are “drawn to the darker aspects of marriages gone wrong”.

“This TV drama has been all about themes that are very popular in society at the moment, especially infidelity,” said Dr Shim Sangwon, a marriage counsellor in Seoul.

“A century ago, extra-marital affairs were a fact of life for men and, culturally, it was a man’s privilege to play these games,“ he said. 

But there has been a rapid increase in infidelity since the law has changed - particularly among women, Dr Shim told the Telegraph.

 “Women now have exactly the same rights as men and while there are a many reasons why a woman will have an affair, a lot of it is about revenge on a cheating husband”, he said.

Dr Shim also anticipates that the number of people who are having affairs will continue to climb as South Korean society grapples with a range of deep-seated problems.

“A lot of working men are extremely stressed at work at the moment because of the state of the economy, which has been made worse by the coronavirus outbreak”, he said. 

“Traditionally, men relieve their stress by going drinking after work and, often, that lifestyle includes having sex with other women."

“Wives are also dissatisfied with their relationships and are unable to gain any satisfaction from their husbands, so they go looking for another relationship”, he added. 

According to the Chosun Ilbo study, 54.4 percent of people said they cheated on their partner because they were attracted to another person, 21.3 percent claimed they were unsatisfied with their sex life and 7.3 percent said they were cheating because they were angry with their partner.