Big shift in marriages and divorces in South Africa

 ·27 Feb 2023

South Africans are losing interest in marriage, new data from Stats SA shows, with the country recording a total of 106,499 civil marriages in 2021.

While this is higher than the 89,338 marriages recorded in 2020, it is lower than preceding years, and continues the trend in declining marriage numbers over the last decade.

It should be noted that both 2020 and 2021 were years where South Africa was under Covid-19 lockdowns which impacted services like marriage solemnisation and divorce proceedings, and is reflected int he sharp drop in data recorded over this time.

However, the longer-term data shows a continued decline in the trend of marriages in the country.

“The number of registered marriages consistently declined in the ten-year period (2012 to 2021), except for a slight increase of 0.6% between 2015 and 2016 and an increase of 19.2% between 2020 and 2021,” the group said.

During the period 2012 to 2021, the highest number of marriages was recorded in 2012 (161,112) and the lowest number in 2020 (89,338).

According to Stats SA, on top of the 106,499 civil marriages in 2021, South Africa also saw 2,676 customary marriages and 2,240 civil unions registered in that year.

Registered civil marriages, customary marriages and civil unions increased by 19.2%, 68.8% and 52.3%, respectively, compared to 2020.

The median ages of bridegrooms and brides on civil marriages were 35 years and 32 years, respectively. The 2020 registered civil marriages shows that 81.0% of bridegrooms and 86.2% of brides married for the first time.

Almost quarter (24.9%) of civil marriages were registered in Gauteng, Stats SA said.

The median age of bridegrooms for customary marriages was 36 years, and that of brides was 29 years. More than half (54.7%) of the registered customary marriages were from KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo.

Regarding civil unions, the median age for spouses-1 and spouses-2 were 35 years and 33 years, respectively. Civil unions registered in 2021 indicates that Gauteng had the highest proportion with 53.3%.


While the number of marriages increased from 2020, so did the number of divorces.

There were 18,208 completed divorce forms processed in 2021, indicating an increase of 13.1% from the 16,097 divorces processed in 2020.

According to Stats SA, the total number of divorces in South Africa increased from 2012 to 2017 and decreased from 2018 to 2020. In 2021, black African couples had the highest number of divorces compared to other population groups – this pattern has been the same for the ten-year period (2012 to 2021), Stats SA said.

There were also more women (54.8%) than men (33.7%) filing for divorce. The median ages at divorce in 2021 were 45 years for men and 41 years for women.

The results show that four in ten divorces (42.5%) came from marriages that did not spend their tenth wedding anniversary, Stats SA said.

The largest number (26.6%) of divorces were for marriages that lasted between five and nine years. This group is followed by marriages that lasted between 10 and 14 years (21.3%) and marriages
that lasted for less than five years (16.0%).

There were also children involved with most, with 56,6% divorces processed where children aged less than 18 years were affected.

Notably, the 2021 divorce cases for both men and women were mainly from individuals who had married once. More than 80.0% of divorces for men and women were from first-time marriages compared to 10.5% of men and 8.3% of women from second-time marriages.

Fewer than 2% of men and women were getting divorced for at least three times.

Read: Legal agreements that couples in South Africa should know about – whether married or not

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