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Why South African women are getting married at an older age

Statistics South Africa has found that while divorces went down between 2018 and 2019, more women were filing for divorce than men. Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency(ANA)

Statistics South Africa has found that while divorces went down between 2018 and 2019, more women were filing for divorce than men. Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Mar 27, 2021


South African women are getting married at a later age and if their nuptials don’t work out, many are not afraid to file for divorce.

This was according to Statistics SA’s latest marriages and divorces report which discovered that the average age of brides in the country in 2019, was 33.

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While the average age of spinsters during the time of their first marriage was stagnant, there appears to be a growing pattern of South African women deciding to take the marital leap later than their parents and grandparents.

According to Stats SA’s marriages and divorces report from a decade ago, the median age of brides in 2011 was 29 while the average age in 2001 peaked at about 25 – 29.

Sex and relationship expert Sharon Gordon believes that the additional educational opportunities being afforded to modern women, in comparison to their older counterparts, has changed the way they think about marriage.

Robben Island Museum (RIM), in partnership with the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), hosted the annual Valentine’s Day mass wedding on Robben Island. Couples from across South Africa journeyed to the World Heritage Site to exchange their vows in the presence of loved ones. The mass weddings on Robben Island aim to celebrate the love and care South Africans bestow to their spouses while also aiming to educate other citizens about the various marriage forms administered by DHA. Visually impaired couple: Frankford Williams and Cindy Mullins.Picture Tracey Adams/African News Agency(ANA)

“Once you have an education, you have options and don’t have to marry to leave the parental home,” she told The Saturday Star.

“Women can now build their own lives and don’t need a husband to do that.”

Gordon believes that the notion around sex and intimacy has also evolved over the years, which in turn, could affect a women’s attitude towards marriage.

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“Couples in the past and still in some communities got married so that they could have sex but these days living together and having sex before marriage are no longer frowned upon so there is no need to tie the knot right away.”

During 2019, the majority of marriage ceremonies took place in the country’s big cities including Joburg and Cape Town and during that period, a total of 129 597 civil marriages, 2 789 customary marriages and 1 771 civil unions, took place.

While the data suggest that most weddings were for first time marriages, some were underage and required permission from a parent, guardian or a commissioner of child welfare to get married.

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This is as the Stats SA report found that there were 68 brides who got married under the age of 18. This is in direct contrast to the three underage bridegrooms.

But an increasingly well educated and more independent female citizenry has also seen South African women seemingly not afraid to call it splits with their significant other.

This is as the latest Stats SA marriages and divorces report found that a whopping 53.2% of women filed for divorce in 2019 compared to 34.6% of men.

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“I think it is like any other marital chore, if we have to wait for men to file the papers it will never happen,” Gordon said.

“I don’t think it's because women want to be divorced more than men. I think women are just more practical and get the job done.”

Meanwhile, the divorce rate in South Africa decreased by 6.8% from 2018 to 2019 and that 23 710 divorces were recorded during that period. Another interesting finding of the report was that the average age of men and women who filed for divorce in 2019 was about 41-45, suggesting that middle age individuals are not leaving it to their old age to sort out their marital disputes.

“I think most couples wait until their children are grown up and then find out that they have not maintained their marriage and that they have drifted so far apart that there is no coming back,” said Gordon.

She said married couples are also aware of the consequences of divorce on children and for this reason, might postpone it until their offspring are older, to disrupt the family unit.

“We are also living so much longer these days so we have to decide to choose happiness for the next stage of life and that often excludes your current partner.”

But it is not just divorce which is on the minds of middle-age South Africans.

The Stats SA 2019 marriages and divorce report also found that the majority of divorces were from first time marriages and that many men and women were not afraid to stroll down the aisle another time.

Their latest data showed that for remarriages, the median age for widowers and widows in 2019 were 57 years and 34 years respectively, resulting in a 23-year age gap.

Meanwhile, the median age for widowers consistently increased from 52 years in 2015 to 57 years in 2019 and the median age of widows fluctuated between 30 years and 34 years during 2015 and 2019.

Gordon believes that the desire for men and women to remarry might be down to life experiences they have accumulated.

“When you get married for the first time you are young and barely know yourself and when you throw in a cocktail of another person who doesn’t know himself, two new careers, children, illness, financial struggles, infidelity and all the other ingredients that make a marriage, it is a challenge.”

“But by the second time, you’ve learnt from your mistakes and know yourself a bit more so maybe the marriage will last this time.”

The Saturday Star

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