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[Matrimonial changes in Africa].

  • Hertrich, V
  • Pilon, M
Published Article
La chronique du CEPED
Publication Date
Jan 01, 1997
PMID: 12178213


A database of census and survey information on fertility and nuptiality in Africa being assembled by the French Center for Population and Development (CEPED) was the source for this analysis of changing marriage patterns. Early marriage for girls, nearly universal marriage for both sexes, rapid remarriage of reproductive-age widows and divorcees, polygamy, and a frequently large difference in the ages of the spouses are typical of African marriage. But a great variety of situations coexist. In the 1960s, the female age at first marriage was under 17.5 years on average in West Africa, while the male age was over 26. Nearly everyone married, and one-fourth to one-third of married men were polygamous. In South Africa, at the other extreme, the average age at first marriage was 20-23 for women and 26-30 for men, over 5% never married, and polygamy was rare. Nuptiality patterns were intermediate in North, Central, and East Africa. The most recent round of censuses and surveys show the geographic differences to be shrinking. Average age at first marriage for women is increasing everywhere and often exceeds 19 years. It remains lower than 17.5 in only two countries. The increase amounts to at least a half year for 30 countries and over 1 year for 15. Marriage remains nearly universal except in South Africa. Male age at marriage is rising more slowly than female age, causing the average age gap to decline. Economic difficulties and unemployment appear to play a significant role in the delay of marriage, with increased female school attendance also a factor, although secondary and higher education for females in sub-Saharan Africa is too uncommon to have perceptible effects on the national scale. In North Africa, the age at first birth has increased in tandem with increasing marriage age, but in sub-Saharan Africa the relationship has been less marked. In Lome, for example, the increasing age at first marriage for females has had no effect on age at first birth. The proportions of premarital births have increased significantly in some areas. Increasing age at first marriage is just one of the changes apparently underway in African marriage patterns, as traditions are adapted to the changing demands of modern life.

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