South Africans are waiting longer to get married – but are struggling to make it last

 ·21 Mar 2021

Statistics South Africa has published its latest marriage and divorce statistics, showing how marital statistics have steadily shifted in the country.

The report, which is based on data from 2019, shows that on average South Africans are marrying older as the median age of bridegrooms increased from 36 years in 2015 to 37 years in 2019. Similarly, the age of brides increased from 31 years to 33 years over the same period.

The data suggests that men tend to marry younger women, as 98,714 (76.2%) of the 129,597 bridegrooms were older than their brides.

A total of 129,597 civil marriages, 2,789 customary marriages and 1,771 civil unions were registered in 2019.

A comparison with the 2018 data shows that registration of civil marriages and customary marriages decreased by 1.3% and 11.7% respectively, whereas civil unions increased by 7.3%.

The age at first marriage or union is of interest to population scientists because of the close link between marriage and the onset of pregnancy, childbearing and, ultimately, fertility.

“This link tends to be weakened in populations where pre-marital fertility is widespread,” Stats SA said.

“Nevertheless, age at first marriage or union continues to be a good proxy for measuring not only fertility but also other health and socio-economic indicators relating particularly to the role and status of women in society.”

When it comes to those that were previously married, however, the report shows that median age for male divorcees ranged between 55 years in 2015 to 57 years in 2019, whereas the median age of female divorcees ranged between 48 years in 2015 and 50 years in 2019.

There was a seven-year age difference in the median ages between male and female divorcees who married in 2019.

Struggling to make it last

There were 23,710 completed divorce forms processed in 2019, indicating a decrease of 6.2% from the 25,284 divorces processed in 2018. The report shows that about 174 divorces were granted to same-sex couples.

The median age at the time of divorce in 2019 was 45 years for males and 41 years for females, indicating that, generally, divorcing males were older than divorcing females, with a difference of about four years.

Statistics from the annual divorce data do not give a comprehensive picture of the number of marriages ending in divorce; however, there is data on the duration of marriages.

The largest number (26.3%) 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 (20.9%) and marriages that lasted for less than five years (16.9%).

Results showed that four in 10 divorces (43.1%) were marriages that lasted for less than 10 years.

“Irrespective of the population group, the highest proportion of divorces occurred to couples who had been married between five and nine years,” Stats SA said.

According to the report, there were fewer divorces among the younger (less than 25 years old) and the older (65 years and older) divorcees.

“The data indicates that the more developed the country, the higher the median ages tend to be. In these countries, the age gap between men and women getting married was, more often than not, smaller,” Stats SA said.

“When looking at developing countries, including many in Africa, on average, people got married at a younger age, with age gaps being a little wider at times.”

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