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Age at marriage and modernisation in sub-Saharan Africa
Authors: Michelle Garenne
Source: Southern African Journal of Demography, 9(2): 59-79
Topic(s): Marriage
Country: Africa
  Multiple African Countries
Published: DEC 2004
Abstract: The study reviews levels, trends and factors of female age at first marriage in 32 sub-Saharan African countries over the past five decades. Data were provided by the World Fertility Surveys and the Demographic and Health Surveys. Estimates of the median age at first marriage were calculated by 5-year birth cohort, for urban and rural areas separately. Results confirm that median age at first marriage is still low, in the 15—19 age band for most countries, with the exception of three Southern African countries (Namibia, Botswana and South Africa), where it is much higher. In most countries the median age at first marriage tended to increase for cohorts born after 1950, usually after a period of steady levels, or sometimes after a period of significant decrease, and exceeds the 20 years threshold for cohorts born after 1975 in several countries. In only a few countries, the median age at first marriage remained stable over time. The increase in median age at first marriage was small in rural areas, and more pronounced in urban areas, sometimes exceeding by 3 to 8 years earlier estimates. Main factors of increase in age at marriage were level of education and income, plus a small residual time trend. Main factors of lower age at marriage were religions (Islam and Christianity), polygyny, and urbanisation after controlling for income and education. Results are discussed in light of social changes occurring in Africa over the 20th century, and the course of this new nuptiality transition.