Big shift for marriages and divorces in South Africa

 ·26 Mar 2022

Marriages are becoming less common in South Africa, new data from Statistics South Africa shows.

The stats body noted that the total number of people getting married has fallen steadily between 2011 and 2020. While this can be partly attributed to Covid restrictions and regulations around gatherings – which led to a notable decline in weddings in 2020 – the long-term data also shows civil marriages fell by 22.5% between 2011 and 2019 and declined by a further 31.1% in 2020.

“While recognition of same-sex marriages has boosted the number of marriages, this increase has not been enough to reverse the declining trend,” StatsSA said.

“In general, the number of civil unions registered in South Africa increased between 2016 and 2019. In 2020, however, the number of civil unions registered decreased by 16.9% from 1,771 in 2019 to 1,471 in 2020. Most civil unions were registered in Gauteng (659) and Western Cape (434).”

Marriage age 

For those that have decided to get married, the report shows that they are choosing to wait until they’re older to tie the knot.

For civil marriages, the median age of bridegrooms increased from 36 years in 2016 to 37 years in 2020, whereas that of brides increased from 32 years to 33 years over the same period.

The average age difference between brides and bridegrooms is four years.

For civil unions over the five-year period between 2016 and 2020, the yearly differences in the median ages of spouse-1 and spouse-2 ranged between two and three years. The median ages of spouse-1 fluctuated between 35 years and 36 years over the five years period 2016 to 2020, while the median ages of spouse-2 fluctuated between 33 years and 34 years over the same period.

Customary marriages however show a different trend than civil marriages and civil unions.

The average age gap is much larger for traditional marriages, where the age difference between brides and bridegrooms is about six years. The median age of bridegrooms fluctuated between 33 years and 36 years whereas that of brides fluctuated between 27 years and 30 years.


While marriages are declining, so too are divorces, and it is possible that some of the declines in divorces could stem from the fact that fewer people are getting married, StatsSA said.

Divorces decreased by 32.1% from 23,710 in 2019 to 16,097 cases granted in 2020. The median age at the time of divorce in 2020 was 45 years for males and 41 years for females, indicating that, generally, divorced males were older than divorced females, with a difference of about four years.

The peak age group of male divorcees was between 45 to 49 years at 18.2%, while the female divorcees at the age group 35 to 39 years were higher, with 20.8%.

Read: South Africa is changing its marriage laws from next year

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