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The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies (2005)

Chapter:5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline

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Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

5
Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World

Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline




For many demographers age at first union is worthy of attention because of the close link between marriage and the onset of childbearing. Thus a number of studies over the years have documented the contribution of changes in the timing of marriage to fertility transitions, both historically in developed countries and currently in developing countries (e.g., Casterline, 1994; Coale and Treadway, 1986; Rosero-Bixby, 1996). It has been argued, however, that “weaknesses in the field of nuptiality research stem from its heavy focus on the fertility implications of nuptiality patterns” (Smith, 1983, p. 510). In charging his fellow demographers to think more broadly about the subject of marriage, van de Walle (1993, p. 118) asserts that we should care about marriage patterns “in their own right” because understanding “nuptiality change could further the understanding of other social change.” Indeed, for those interested in family formation, the timing of first union merits investigation not only because it signals the initiation of reproductive life, but also because the marriage process reflects the way family life is organized and functions in a particular culture and because when, who, and how one marries all have implications for gender relations within society (Malhotra, 1997).

The age when men and women form marital unions is influenced by social norms and expectations regarding their roles as spouse and parent—factors that are plausibly changing with globalization, urbanization, and rising educational attainment; as such, the timing of marriage should be of considerable relevance to researchers interested in the transition to adulthood in the developing world. If, for example, men are now postponing marriage because of greater expectations about job status and employment stability and the material possessions needed to form a household, and

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

women are delaying marriage because of shifting gender roles, it is important to document these patterns of behavior and understand what the potential implications are both for the individuals and for the larger society.

In recent years, few demographers have heeded van de Walle’s (1993) appeal to explore the process and timing of marriage for its own sake. Yabiku and colleagues’ (Yabiku, 2003; Yabiku et al., 2002) analysis of the effect of community variables on the timing of marriage in a region of Nepal experiencing rapid social change is a notable exception.1 There is, however, a large descriptive literature. Although lacking much in the way of explanatory variables, this research documents trends and differentials in the age of first union among women, with a particular focus on the practice of early marriage in the developing world (see, e.g., Choe, Thapa, and Achmad, 2001; Heaton, Forste, and Otterstrom, 2002; Jejeebhoy, 1995; Rashad and Osman, 2003; Singh and Samara, 1996; Westoff, 2003).

This interest in early marriage reflects the concern of human rights and reproductive health advocates, who in putting “child marriage” on the international agenda have emphasized the potentially harmful consequences for young women of marrying too early. Researchers at the International Center for Research on Women (2004) highlight these possible problems in a rather dramatic fashion:

Child brides are robbed of the ordinary life experiences other young people take for granted. Many are forced to drop out of school. Their health is at risk because of early sexual activity and childbearing. They cannot take advantage of economic opportunities. Friendships with peers are often restricted. Child marriage deprives girls of basic rights and subjects them to undue disadvantage—and sometimes violence. Countries with a high percentage of child marriage are more likely to experience extreme and persistent poverty, and high levels of maternal and child mortality.

While focus on marriage prior to age 18, the internationally established age of adulthood, has gained prominence, research has yet to establish the

1  

There are also several studies that predate van de Walle’s call for further research. Fricke, Syed, and Smith’s (1986) analysis of marriage timing strategies in Pakistan is noteworthy as is Lesthaeghe, Kaufman, and Meekers (1989) investigation of nuptiality regimes in sub-Saharan Africa, where the timing of marriage and the practice of polygyny were explored in great depth. This latter study was path breaking in linking ethnographic data (including measures of dependence on subsistence agriculture, lineage systems, inheritance, and presence of various types of chiefs) to demographic data. Malhotra and Tsui’s (1996) study of the effect of norms about marriage—including the importance of setting up an independent household, the desire to work before marriage, and expectations about arranged marriage—on marriage timing in Sri Lanka is also an important contribution to the literature. To the best of our knowledge, it is the only analysis of marriage that uses panel data; however, while the attitudinal variables included in the event history models are measured prior to marriage, they are still likely to be endogenous to marriage timing.

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

causal links between early marriage and poor outcomes among women. Is it early marriage in and of itself that is the problem or is it the characteristics of those who marry early?

In contrast to the extensive documentation of female age at marriage, the literature on men is quite sparse (Malhotra, 1997). In part this limited attention to men is because demographic surveys, up until the last decade or so, have been restricted to women. But it is also due to the fact that across a wide spectrum of countries and cultures, relatively few men marry during the teenage years, and it is early marriage that is considered problematic and thus worthy of consideration.

In this chapter we will examine trends in the timing of first marriage or union for men and women. We define marriage broadly to include all socially recognized unions, including legal marriage as well as any other type of union that is recognized and reported in particular countries. The principal focus is on documenting trends in the age at marriage for the major regions of the developing world; however, the chapter also addresses a few subthemes: the current extent of early marriage, differences between men and women in trends in age at marriage, and the association between age at marriage and sociodemographic characteristics, specifically education and rural-urban residence. To the extent that changing patterns of behavior are revealed, we will try to identify to what such transformations might be attributed and draw on the demographic literature to provide insights.

UNDERSTANDING MARRIAGE TIMING

A number of scholars have conducted research on marriage timing. We begin with a brief review of the contributions of various social science disciplines to an understanding of age at marriage.

Historical Demography

Historical demographers have done an admirable job of documenting marriage patterns throughout Europe over the last few hundred years; however, they have fared less well in identifying a particular set of factors that explains trends across cultures. Hajnal (1965) first observed what he called a “European” pattern with late age at marriage and high proportions unmarried. In describing this distinctive pattern that existed from at least as early as the eighteenth century, he hypothesized that an association existed between marriage and household formation, arguing that when marriage involved the establishment of a new household, as it did in much of Western and Northern Europe, resource and skill acquisition were determining factors in the decision to wed. Wrigley and colleagues (1997, p. 122), in

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

their history of English population from the end of the sixteenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth century, supported this view, concluding not only that “the pattern that Hajnal identified was of long standing in England,” but also that the decision to marry hinged on the ability to set up an independent household.

While many have noted its “tremendous influence in the historical study of European marriage” (Ehmer, 2002, p. 306), Hajnal’s theory of the links between age at marriage and economic self-sufficiency is not without its critics. Watkins (1986, p. 325), in her investigation of marriage in Europe between 1870 and 1960, reveals the inadequacy of Hajnal’s explanation, at least in understanding change at the level of geographic aggregates. Examination of provincial data from the late nineteenth century reveals that nuptiality patterns were similar in neighboring provinces, but not necessarily within regions of a particular country. She argues that these contiguous regions shared a common culture and language and not necessarily common occupational structures, suggesting that societal conventions with regard to the timing of marriage existed independent of particular economic conditions. Other studies also suggest that the decision about when to marry may be rooted as much in societal norms as in economic realities. Lynch (1991), examining the experience in cities in Northwest Europe, observed that the pattern of late age at marriage and high rates of celibacy that characterized village society also described more urbanized areas in the nineteenth century. Although she presents herself as an adherent of Hajnal, her argument that the European Marriage Pattern prevailed even as Malthusian constraints weakened with the rise of fertility control is not consistent with a theory that connects age at marriage to economic resources. She claims that late age at marriage represents a set of cultural values, albeit values that emanated, in part, from economic realities of times past.

Individual country studies also reveal the inadequacy of an explanation linking household structure, the economic environment, and age at marriage. For example, an analysis of data from an agricultural region of north-central Italy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries revealed that women married quite late, on average around 24 to 25, despite the fact that multiple-family households were common and patrilocal residence was the norm. Moreover, marriage age did not decline throughout “a period of dramatic social and economic changes,” when wage labor supplanted share-cropping (Kertzer and Hogan, 1991, p. 34). In Ireland, even as incomes began to rise in the late nineteenth century, celibacy and late age of marriage continued to prevail (Guinnane, 1991). Proto-industrialization, which provided wage-earning opportunities for young men and women, did not always lead to reduced age at marriage, as Gutmann and Leboutte (1984) demonstrate for Eastern Belgium. They argue that land ownership patterns, the speed with which industrial development takes place, and the nature of

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

that industry all play a role in the timing of marriage. Furthermore, case studies from other areas in Europe do not show a strong association between occupational groups and age at marriage (Kertzer and Hogan, 1991).

These demographic studies of historical Europe are useful for those investigating marriage in the developing world if only to emphasize that nuptiality trends defy easy explanation; while age at marriage is likely to be sensitive to the economic environment, the roots of particular marriage patterns would appear to lie in the distinctiveness of individual family systems.2

Social Anthropology

For social anthropologists, kinship systems—which include marriage rules and residential arrangements—have traditionally been a focal, if not the focal subject of ethnographic inquiry. While much effort has gone into documenting spouse selection patterns, living arrangements after marriage, and inheritance systems, the subject of age at marriage has been incidental to the larger goal of describing the way in which the overall kinship system and marriage rules function to maintain social order.

The structural-functionalist approach to kinship dominated cultural anthropology throughout much of the twentieth century. Although this paradigm is now considered overly “static” and even “obsolete” (Das Gupta, 1997, p. 36), many anthropologists are still interested in kinship patterns. However, the focus is no longer on delineating complicated marriage rules. Rather, kinship is explored within its broader political and economic context with a view toward understanding social change. Ahearn’s (2001) ethnographic study of the way in which increased literacy and exposure to Hindi soap operas has led to a shift away from arranged and capture marriages toward love marriages in a Nepalese village is an example of this new type of kinship research. Yet she pays no attention to whether this transformation in the marriage process has had an effect on the timing of marriage. As was true of earlier kinship studies, no discussion of age at marriage is provided.

A collaborative study between anthropologists and demographers, also conducted in a Nepalese village, does focus explicitly on age at marriage. In the introduction to their chapter, Dahal, Fricke, and Thornton (1993, p. 305) explain why anthropologists should not ignore marriage timing:

2  

We thank George Alter for educating us on recent scholarship in historical demography as well as emphasizing the uniqueness of individual family systems and pointing out the danger in generalizing from Europe to the rest of the world (G. Alter, personal communication, April 23, 2004).

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

If particular marriage forms are evidence of wider strategies of social reproduction … then the timing of marriage should itself be seen as a part of that process. Thus marriage timing is no less the proper study of anthropology than any other element of marriage behavior. At the same time, marriage timing should be seen to have implications beyond the merely demographic.

They are critical of even the “most anthropologically informed demographers” who ignore family context in explaining age of marriage, and include only individual factors, such as education, to elucidate behavior change. Indeed, the explanatory variables used in this examination of Nepal set the research apart from conventional survey analyses. In addition to asking the standard demographic questions, information was collected on marriage characteristics of the parental generation, including measures of kin status of parents (cross-cousin or not), the nature of material exchange at their marriage, and the relative land holding of their families. Data were also collected on mothers’ characteristics, including the inheritance at marriage and whether Nepali is spoken as well as the local language, all measures that reflect social status. Family context, namely “access to kin and marriage partner networks, intergenerational control and the prestige of natal groups,” is found to be significant in explaining marriage timing (Dahal, Fricker, and Thornton, 1993, p. 319).

Sociology

Family sociologists, in contrast to social anthropologists, have not generally considered marriage patterns in developing countries to be within their purview. Goode’s classic volume, World Revolution and Family Patterns, which is one of the standard textbooks of modernization theory, is the exception. Goode emphasizes the “fit” between the conjugal family and modern industrial society with its need for a geographically and socially mobile population. According to Goode, the ideal type of conjugal family excludes relatives from everyday decision making, establishes a new household at the time of marriage, and because the young person selects his or her own partner, is based on mutual attraction between spouses rather than on an alliance between families.3 Writing in 1963, Goode (1963, p. 8) noted that in the West, the age of marriage for both men and women dropped during the twentieth century, leading him to conclude that predicting trends in age at marriage as a function of other secular changes in society is problematic:

3  

By conjugal, Goode does not mean nuclear. For him a nuclear family system is one where there is no interaction between relatives.

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

When such a [conjugal] system begins to emerge in a society, the age at marriage is likely to change because the goals of marriage change, but whether it will rise or fall cannot be predicted from the characteristics mentioned so far. In a conjugal system, the youngsters must now be old enough to take care of themselves, i.e., they must be as old as the economic system forces them to be in order to be independent at marriage.

Goode does not argue that industrialization and urbanization “caused” a change in family patterns in the West; rather, he observes that the family has had an independent effect on the development of industrialization in the West. He claims that “no one has yet succeeded in stating the determinate relations between family systems and economic or technological systems” (Goode, 1963, p. 22).

Although Goode was writing 40 years ago, we would argue that success still eludes us. With the exception of the work of Lesthaeghe, Kaufman, and Meekers (1989) on sub-Saharan Africa, and Fricke, Syed, and Smith (1986), Malhotra (1991, 1997), Malhotra and Tsui (1996), and Yabiku (2003; Yabiku et al., 2002) research on South Asia (see footnote 1), few demographic studies explore the timing and process of marriage in developing countries in any depth. In part this is a function of the limited breadth of the typical demographic survey. In contrast, the Asian Marriage Surveys, which were used by Malhotra (1991, 1997) and Fricke, Syed, and Smith (1986), collected extensive data on the marriage process. However, these surveys have limited utility for analyses of marriage timing because of a restriction to those who are married.

Economics

Economists have been less concerned than other social scientists with explaining marital behavior in the developing world. To the extent that they have been interested in marriage, the focus has been on modeling assortative mating (Montgomery and Sulak, 1989) and the increase in dowry payments in South Asia (Rao, 1993a, 1993b). Absent Gary Becker’s (1973) seminal article on the theory of marriage, economists have paid much less attention to age at marriage. According to Becker, marriage is yet another manifestation of utility-maximizing behavior; people wed when the utility of being married exceeds that of being single. At the core of his argument is the notion that men and women bring different attributes to marriage and have different roles, such that there is “positive assortative mating of complementary traits” (Boulier and Rosenzweig, 1984, p. 714). As the wage differential between men and women narrows and presumably as women and men begin to substitute for one another, women’s incentive to marry decreases. Since publication of Becker’s theory, few economists

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

have produced empirical analyses of marriage in the developing world. Using data from the early 1970s in the Philippines, Boulier and Rosenzweig (1984) provide confirmation of Becker’s theory of marriage; they demonstrate that while the effect of education on age of marriage is exaggerated in models that treat education as exogenous, additional schooling does lead women to marry later. Brien and Lillard (1994) show that controlling for the effect of delayed marriage on education, that is, for the potential endogeneity of education, later age at marriage among women in Malaysia is explained in large part by increased enrollment and attainment. As Becker would predict, with increased schooling, the opportunity cost of marriage rises for women. However, no explanation is given for the continued significance of ethnicity in models of marriage timing.

With the exception of Becker’s work, we have few theories that explicitly address age at marriage, even fewer studies that economists would consider acceptable in addressing the endogeneity problems that arise in studies of the determinants of marriage timing, and still fewer studies that collect the appropriate data to adequately explain when people marry. That said, a considerable literature on the correlates of age at marriage exists, as does speculation about determinants and trends, particularly about reasons for the increase in age of marriage among women. In the next section, we will analyze data on age at marriage from 83 developing countries. We will then return to the demographic literature to help us shed light on the trends we observe.

DATA SOURCES

Data on the age at first marriage are obtained from two sources: (1) a database compiled by the United Nations (UN) Population Division that draws in part from population censuses, and (2) nationally representative DHS.

The UN database provides the percentage of the population married in 5-year age groups for most developing countries (United Nations Population Division, 2000). For this analysis, we consider all countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America with the exception of those identified by the World Bank as “high income” and those with a population of less than 140,0004 (World Bank, 2002).5 Given the chapter’s focus on trends, we have identi-

4  

If a country had fewer than 140,000 in population, the UN did not provide data.

5  

Income data for all countries but East Timor were obtained from the World Bank’s 2002 World Development Indicators. For East Timor, the income data were obtained from the World Bank website.

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

fied 746 countries of the 1177 that meet our criteria for which recent data, that is, data collected in 1990 or later, are available and for which information exists from two censuses or surveys at least 10 years apart. For analyses based on this database, we excluded countries for which a census or survey was not available for both sexes; moreover, we used the same data set for both men and women even if a more recent census or survey was available for women because we wanted to have fully comparable data for both sexes. There are 1.4 billion young people ages 10 to 24 in these 117 countries; 87 percent or 1.2 billion are resident in the 73 countries for which data on trends in proportions married are available. Coverage varies considerably by region.

These data represent approximately 90 percent or more of the population in East and Southern Africa, South Central and Southeast Asia, East Asia, South America and the Caribbean, and Central America, but only 63 percent of the population in the Middle East, 31 percent in West and Middle Africa, and 38 percent in the former Soviet Asia. Note that results for the subregion of East Asia consist entirely of China, as data are unavailable for the two other countries, Mongolia and North Korea. Populous countries for which data are unavailable from the UN database include Afghanistan, Algeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Iraq, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

Survey data come from the DHS carried out by Macro International Inc.8 The data on age at marriage are obtained in personal interviews with nationally representative samples of individual respondents of reproductive age and are part of an extensive questionnaire covering a full range of sexual and reproductive behaviors. Surveys of women (typically ages 15 to 49) were available for 51 countries in South and Southeast Asia, North

6  

Data are not available for 15- to 19-year-olds for Argentina and data are not available for 20- to 29-year-olds for Bahrain due to nonstandard age groups. However, for other age groups, the data for these countries are included.

7  

According to the United Nations (2003), there are a total of 152 countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Thirteen of these contain fewer than 140,000 in population, 16 are listed by the World Bank as high income, and 5 have no World Bank income data. Note that updates of country income groupings on the World Bank website (www.worldbank.org/data/countryclass/classgroups.htm) as of September 30, 2002, led the panel to make a few adjustments to these country groupings including shifting South Korea into the high-income group and therefore out of the developing country group.

8  

The DHS is limited to the household population. Ordinarily they do not survey persons residing in institutions, which may include military personnel and perhaps even students in boarding schools and university dormitories, although this varies by country. The data are also subject to nonresponse error. As compared to rates for surveys in high-income countries, nonresponse rates in the DHS are low. However, the rate can be assumed to be higher for unmarried young adults, especially young adult males, than for older adults.

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

Africa and the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean; surveys of men (ages 15 to 59, in most cases) were available for 32 countries, 29 in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.9 Note that unmarried women were not included in the survey of individual women for a number of surveys in Asia and the Middle East. However, unmarried women are listed in the household survey and information on their age, education, and rural-urban location is obtained for these countries, with some exceptions noted in the relevant tables. Using weights provided as part of the microdata files, we adjust for the missing unmarried women by age, place of residence, and education, so that the denominators for the proportion married correctly include all women in the respective subgroups.

The country-specific data are aggregated into averages for subregions (using United Nations geographic groupings10), weighting countries according to their population size. For both sets of data, weighted averages are calculated, where the weights are the country’s percentage of the region’s population or income grouping’s population ages 10 to 24 based on UN estimates in 2000.11

There are a few countries for which DHS data are available but UN data are not. For example, while there is a DHS for Nigeria, the most populous country in sub-Saharan Africa, the UN does not provide data for the two time periods required for both men and women. Table 5-1 provides a list of the individual countries from each source.

Census data, which are the main source for the database compiled by the UN Population Division, are generally reported by the head of the household, not by individual household members themselves. By comparison, the DHS data on marital status and age at marriage are obtained by personal interviews with the individual respondents themselves with the exception of unmarried women in some Asian and Middle Eastern countries, as mentioned above.

As noted earlier, in this chapter we apply the broad definition of marriage generally used by cross-country comparative studies, that is, marriage is defined to include all of the different forms of socially recognized unions: cohabitation, consensual unions, “free unions,” and marriage that is legiti-

9  

As we indicated, the analyses based on UN data only include countries where data for both men and women are available. Given that the vast majority of countries have data for both sexes, this restriction is not at all onerous. However, for analyses based on DHS data, we did not limit ourselves to countries where data were available for both sexes because we would be left with too few countries.

10  

The individual country data are available from the authors.

11  

Note that the weights are each country’s percentage of the 2000 population ages 10-24 for all countries included in our sample for that region and not for all countries in the region (United Nations Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2001).

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

TABLE 5-1 Country Lists by Region

United Nations Database on Marriage

Country

Regiona

Census/Survey Year 1

Census/Survey Year 2

Belize

Carib/CA

1980

1991

Dominican Republic

Carib/CA

1981

1996

El Salvador

Carib/CA

1971

1992

Guatemala

Carib/CA

1973

1990

Haiti

Carib/CA

1989

2000

Mexico

Carib/CA

1980

1990

Nicaragua

Carib/CA

1971

1998

Panama

Carib/CA

1980

1990

Puerto Rico

Carib/CA

1980

1990

Trinidad and Tobago

Carib/CA

1980

1990

Botswana

E/S Africa

1981

1991

Burundi

E/S Africa

1979

1990

Comoros

E/S Africa

1980

1996

Ethiopia

E/S Africa

1984

2000

Kenya

E/S Africa

1969

1998

Malawi

E/S Africa

1987

2000

Mauritius

E/S Africa

1972

1990

Mozambique

E/S Africa

1980

1997

Namibia

E/S Africa

1960

1991

Rwanda

E/S Africa

1978

1996

South Africa

E/S Africa

1985

1996

Tanzania

E/S Africa

1978

1996

Uganda

E/S Africa

1969

1995

Zambia

E/S Africa

1980

1999

Zimbabwe

E/S Africa

1982

1999

China

EA

1987

1999

Bahrain

ME

1981

1991

Egypt

ME

1986

1996

Jordan

ME

1979

1994

Morocco

ME

1982

1994

Occup. Palestinian Territory

ME

1967

1997

Sudan

ME

1983

1993

Tunisia

ME

1984

1994

Turkey

ME

1980

1990

Argentina

SA

1980

1991

Bolivia

SA

1988

1998

Brazil

SA

1980

1996

Chile

SA

1982

1992

Colombia

SA

1973

1993

Ecuador

SA

1974

1990

Guyana

SA

1980

1991

Paraguay

SA

1982

1992

Peru

SA

1981

1996

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

Demographic and Health Surveys

Country

Regiona

Most Recent Survey

* = Includes Male Survey

Dominican Republic

Carib/CA

1996

*

Guatemala

Carib/CA

1998-1999

 

Haiti

Carib/CA

2000

*

Nicaragua

Carib/CA

1997-1998

*

Comoros

E/S Africa

1996

*

Ethiopia

E/S Africa

1999

*

Kenya

E/S Africa

1998

*

Madagascar

E/S Africa

1997

 

Malawi

E/S Africa

2000

*

Mozambique

E/S Africa

1997

*

Namibia

E/S Africa

1992

 

Rwanda

E/S Africa

2000

 

South Africa

E/S Africa

1998

 

Tanzania

E/S Africa

1999

*

Uganda

E/S Africa

2000-2001

*

Zambia

E/S Africa

1996-1997

*

Zimbabwe

E/S Africa

1999

*

Egypt

ME

2000

 

Jordan

ME

1997

 

Morocco

ME

1992

 

Turkey

ME

1998

* b

Yemen

ME

1991-1992

 

Bolivia

SA

1998

*

Brazil

SA

1996

*

Colombia

SA

2000

 

Paraguay

SA

1990

 

Peru

SA

2000

*

Bangladesh

SC/SE Asia

1999-2000

 

India

SC/SE Asia

1998-2000

 

Indonesia

SC/SE Asia

1997

 

Nepal

SC/SE Asia

2000-2001

 

Pakistan

SC/SE Asia

1990-1991

 

Philippines

SC/SE Asia

1998

 

Vietnam

SC/SE Asia

1997

 

Armenia

Soviet

2000

* b

Kazakhstan

Soviet

1999

* b

Kyrgyz Republic

Soviet

1997

 

Uzbekistan

Soviet

1996

 

Benin

W/M Africa

1996

*

Burkina Faso

W/M Africa

1998-1999

*

Cameroon

W/M Africa

1998

*

Central African Republic

W/M Africa

1994-1995

*

Chad

W/M Africa

1996-1997

*

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

United Nations Database on Marriage

Country

Regiona

Census/Survey Year 1

Census/Survey Year 2

Uruguay

SA

1985

1996

Venezuela

SA

1974

1990

Bangladesh

SC/SE Asia

1981

1991

Cambodia

SC/SE Asia

1962

1998

India

SC/SE Asia

1981

1992-1993

Indonesia

SC/SE Asia

1980

1990

Iran

SC/SE Asia

1986

1996

Malaysia

SC/SE Asia

1980

1991

Maldives

SC/SE Asia

1985

1995

Myanmar

SC/SE Asia

1973

1991

Nepal

SC/SE Asia

1981

1991

Pakistan

SC/SE Asia

1981

1998

Philippines

SC/SE Asia

1980

1995

Thailand

SC/SE Asia

1980

1990

Azerbaijan

Soviet

1989

1999

Kazakhstan

Soviet

1989

1999

Kyrgyz Republic

Soviet

1989

1999

Benin

W/M Africa

1979

1996

Burkina Faso

W/M Africa

1985

1999

Cameroon

W/M Africa

1987

1998

Cape Verde

W/M Africa

1980

1990

Central African Republic

W/M Africa

1975

1994-1995

Chad

W/M Africa

1964

1996

Côte d’Ivoire

W/M Africa

1978

1994

Gabon

W/M Africa

1961

2000

Gambia

W/M Africa

1983

1993

Mali

W/M Africa

1976

1995-1996

Mauritania

W/M Africa

1988

2000-2001

Niger

W/M Africa

1988

1998

Senegal

W/M Africa

1978

1997

aKey: Carib/CA (Caribbean and Central America); EA (Eastern Asia); E/S Africa (Eastern and Southern Africa); ME (Middle East [Northern Africa and Western Asia]); SA (South America); SC/SE Asia (South-central and South-eastern Asia); Soviet (Former Soviet Asia); W/M Africa (Western and Middle Africa). Regional groupings based on United Nations World Population Prospects: The 2002 Revision (2003).

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

Demographic and Health Surveys

Country

Regiona

Most Recent Survey

* = Includes Male Survey

Côte d’Ivoire

W/M Africa

1998-1999

*

Gabon

W/M Africa

2000

* c

Ghana

W/M Africa

1998-1999

*

Guinea

W/M Africa

1999

*

Mali

W/M Africa

2001

*

Niger

W/M Africa

1998

*

Nigeria

W/M Africa

1999

*

Senegal

W/M Africa

1997

*

Togo

W/M Africa

1998

*

bMale survey data are available for these countries, but not in sufficient number to allow aggregation of data to generate regional averages.

cGabon data on women unavailable at time of this analysis; data on men do not include schooling.

NOTE: Middle East, South-central, and South-eastern Asia are excluded from Figure 5-2 and Table 5-9 because the surveys are based on ever-married samples.

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

mated by custom, religious rites, or civil law. Note, however, that the definition of marriage used in censuses may be more variable than that used in standardized surveys. For the DHS, marriage is a self-defined state. Respondents are coded as married if they say so in response to questions on whether they are currently or ever married or are living with a man. Thus age at first marriage is typically age at first cohabitation with a partner or husband (Kishor, 2003). For censuses, countries typically define marriage to reflect the forms of marriage and union that are generally recognized and accepted, and obtain information accordingly; as a result, for the most part, data on marriage/union status is largely comparable between censuses and surveys. For example, in Latin America, census questions on marital/union status include the category “consensual union” because this is a widely occurring and acknowledged form of union. However, in countries where cohabitation or living together are much less common, “consensual union” may not be explicitly included as a category, with the result that this type of arrangement may be underreported.

Note that the reporting of age and marital status in the censuses and surveys on which our analysis is based is assumed to be accurate. In certain populations, however, this assumption may be questionable particularly when the reporting is retrospective. In Africa, where formation of a marital union has been described as a process that takes place in stages, marriage is not a well-defined event and therefore age at marriage is difficult to establish (van de Walle and Meekers, 1994). To the extent that particular rites and ceremonies have lost significance or been eliminated as the population becomes more urbanized and better educated, comparisons over time are problematic. In countries where, at least officially, early marriage violates newly passed legislation, observed declines in the proportion married at or by a particular age may simply reflect increases in deliberate misreporting. Finally, in countries where age is not reported with a great deal of accuracy, the timing of an event that occurred in the remote past is often estimated to take place closer to the survey than it actually did. Thus in the DHS older women are more likely to report that a marriage took place at a later age (Blanc and Rutenberg, 1990).

TRENDS IN AGE AT MARRIAGE

To what extent has age at marriage changed in recent years? Have the trends for men and women mirrored one another or are they divergent? If men and women are now postponing marriage in increasing numbers, to what can such a transformation in marriage patterns be attributed?

In this section we analyze two different measures of age at marriage to describe trends: (1) the percentage of specific age groups married, based on

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

reports of current status, and (2) the percentage of women married by ages 18, 20, and 25 and the percentage of men married by ages 20, 25, and 30, based on retrospective reports.12 We include these measures because they are commonly used and we want to determine whether they present a consistent picture of trends in age at marriage in the developing world. Note that there are some differences in extent of geographic coverage of the two measures. The first measure, taken from the UN database, includes 73 countries with information for each of the time periods of interest (1970-1989 and 1990-2000) for men and women, and has some representation of all developing regions. The second measure, the percentage married by specific ages, is based for women on 51 DHS countries with representation from 7 of the 8 developing regions and is based for men on 29 DHS countries with representation from only Latin America and the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa.

Note that the United Nations Population Division monitors marriage trends with the singulate mean age at marriage (SMAM), a synthetic cohort measure calculated from census or survey data on the proportions single by 5-year age groups (United Nations, 2003). Although it is referred to as the mean age at marriage, it is actually the mean age at first marriage among those who marry by age 50 or more precisely the average number of years spent single for those who marry before 50 (United Nations Department of International Economic and Social Affairs, 1990).13 Because the SMAM assumes stability (no change over time in the age-specific incidence of first marriage), it can be misleading when increasing percentages of young people delay marriage and ultimately remain unmarried. If the proportion of young people who ultimately marry is lower than the current proportion aged 50 who have married, the SMAM will be artificially inflated. Preston, Heuveline, and Guillot (2001, p. 89) caution against using the SMAM when nuptiality patterns are changing, noting [the] “SMAM is a hodge-podge of rates in the recent and distant past.” However, they do not indicate how and to what extent it is distorted. A comparison of the median age at marriage with the SMAM for women in 118 DHS reveals that for 117 of

12  

Note that a substantial decline in the proportion of men and women who marry early may have a small effect on the mean age at marriage for a population. But for those interested in the transition to adulthood, such a decline is of considerable importance because of its potential impact on the lives of young people.

13  

The SMAM, which assumes no marriages before age 15, is computed as follows: (1) sum the proportions single and multiply this sum by 5 (because of the 5-year age groups); (2) subtract the number of years lived by those who do not marry before age 50; (3) divide this total by the proportion who marry by age 50, which is 1 minus the average of the proportion single at ages 45-49 and 50-54; and (4) add 15, which is the number of years lived in the single state before age 15 (see Shryock et al., 1971).

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

the 118, the SMAM is higher than the median by about 7 years on average, which is to be expected as the distribution of marriage ages is right skewed (analysis conducted by John Bongaarts not shown).14

Trend in Percentage Married Among Young People Ages 15 to 29

Tables 5-2 and 5-3 provide data by region on the percentage of women married for three age cohorts, 15 to 19, 20 to 24, and 25 to 29 and for men (for whom marriage during the teenage years is rare) for two age cohorts, 20-24 and 25-29. Given that the interval between censuses or surveys varies by country, an annualized rate of change is computed.

For all regions except the former Soviet Asia, and South America, where early marriage was not that common even 10 to 20 years ago, teenage marriage has declined considerably among women. The reduction in the percent of 15- to 19-year-olds married is particularly striking in Africa. The percentage married among 20- to 24-year-olds has also fallen markedly in most regions, with the exception again of South America. While the majority of developing country women are married by ages 25 to 29, regions where 15 to 25 percent of women are still not married by the late 20s include South America, the Caribbean and Central America, the Middle East, the former Soviet Asia, and East and Southern Africa.

Not only is marriage during the teenage years extremely rare among men, but marriage in the early 20s is also much less common among men than among women and, in some regions, has declined substantially in recent years. For example, in East and Southern Africa, East Asia, the former Soviet Asia, and the Middle East, a large reduction has taken place in the percentage of men married at ages 20 to 24 in the last decade or so.

By ages 25 to 29, sizeable numbers of men in developing countries have wed. However, in certain regions marriage is postponed until the 30s for a large proportion of men. In South America, this pattern is observed in the earlier period and seems to have stabilized. In the Middle East and the former Soviet Asia, there is evidence of increasing delay recently.

In summary, Tables 5-2 and 5-3 reveal declines in the proportion married for both sexes in most regions; the exceptions are South America for men and women, and for men only, West and Middle Africa and South and Southeast Asia. For six of the eight regional groupings, the patterns for men parallel those for women; the exceptions are South and Southeast Asia and West and Middle Africa, where substantial declines are observed in the proportions married for women at ages 15 to 19 and 20 to 24, but little or no change for men at ages 20 to 24 and 25 to 29. While many regions have

14  

The median will only be higher than the SMAM in situations where a large fraction of women do not marry.

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

witnessed declines in the proportions married among young people of both sexes, it is in China and the countries of the Middle East that the change has been most consistent across the three age groups for women and the two age groups for men.

Trends in Percentage of Women Married by Ages 18, 20, and 25: DHS Analysis

The DHS provide additional information to supplement what is available from the United Nations database. Age at first marriage, rather than just current marital status, is obtained on these surveys, enabling the calculation of the proportion of women married by a particular age rather than just the percentage of a particular age group who are married. The one drawback is that the surveys have been conducted in fewer countries than are included in the UN database. To reflect the earlier timing of marriage among women, we examine the proportions married before ages 18, 20, and 25, and for men the proportion married before ages 20, 25, and 30. We compare these proportions across age groups in order to approximately measure trends over time.

The data for women are provided in Table 5-4. The first column indicates the percentage of each region’s population that is represented by the DHS. Coverage is highest in East and Southern Africa with approximately 92 percent of the population represented, and lowest in the Caribbean and Central America where, because no recent survey is available for Mexico, by far the largest country, only about one fifth of the population is represented. It is also important to keep in mind that no data are available for East Asia, which includes China. Note, however, there are a few countries for which DHS data are available that are not included in the UN database: Madagascar, Yemen, Vietnam, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria, Togo, Armenia, and Uzbekistan.

The trends in early marriage revealed by these data are more or less consistent with those shown in Table 5-2, which is reassuring given the difference in the number of countries and the nature of the data—retrospective versus current status. First, the regional rankings essentially follow the same sequence; moreover, the ranking changes little by age group. West and Middle Africa is the region with the greatest percentage of women marrying at young ages, followed by South and Southeast Asia, East and Southern Africa, and the Caribbean and Central America. The Middle East, South America, and the former Soviet Asia have smaller proportions of women who marry early. Second, a comparison of the percentage married across age groups indicates that there has been little change in South America, the Caribbean and Central America, and the former Soviet Asia. Indeed, in the former Soviet Asia, a greater percentage of 20- to 24-year-

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

TABLE 5-2 Percentage of Women Ever Married, by Age, Time Period, and Regiona (Weightedb Averages)

Region

% of Region Population Represented

Ages 15-19

Time 1c 1970-1989

Time 2 1990-2000

Annual Change

Africa

 

Eastern/Southern Africa

89.8

37.5

24.5

−.75

Western/Middle Africa

30.8

53.0

38.4

−.89

Asia

 

Eastern Asiad

98.1

4.2

1.3

−.24

South-central/South-eastern Asia

93.3

39.6

32.3

−.64

Former Soviete Asia

37.8

9.4

9.6

.02

Latin America and Caribbean

 

Caribbean/Central America

87.5

20.6

18.1

−.27

South Americaf

99.9

14.4

16.3

.12

Middle Eastg

 

Western Asia/Northern Africa

62.8

21.0

14.9

−.59

TOTAL

86.5

26.6

20.8

−.48

aRegional groupings based on United Nations World Population Prospects: The 2002 Revision (2003).

bWeighting is based on United Nations population estimates for year 2000 (World Population Prospects: The 2000 Revision, POP/DB/WPP/Rev. 2000/3/F1. February 2001).

cFor the following countries, the first survey/census was before 1970: Cambodia (1962), Chad (1964), Gabon (1961), Kenya (1969), Namibia (1960), Palestine (1967), and Uganda (1969).

olds have married early than 30- to 34-year-olds. Other regions reveal a considerable decline in the percentage married by these ages with a greater decline in the percent married by age 18 than in the percent married by age 20. The decline in early marriage is particularly sizeable in the Middle East, where there is a 49 percent reduction between 20- and 24-year-olds and 40-and 44-year-olds in the percentage married by age 18, and a 38 percent decline in the percentage married by age 20. Note that little change is observed in the percentage married by age 25 among the two age groups for which this can be computed, with the exception of the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. Note, also, with the exception of the former Soviet Asia, the regional ranking for age 25 among 30-to 34-year-olds is quite similar to that for age 18. For example, West and Middle Africa and South and Southeast Asia are the regions with the highest percentage of women married by ages 18 and 25.

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

Ages 20-24

Ages 25-29

Time 1c 1970-1989

Time 2 1990-2000

Annual Change

Time 1c 1970-1989

Time 2 1990-2000

Annual Change

77.2

65.6

−.71

89.2

83.4

−.38

85.1

78.6

−.40

93.5

92.3

−.05

60.1

45.9

−1.19

95.9

91.6

−.36

80.6

77.4

−.30

93.7

93.4

−.02

61.2

54.0

−.70

85.0

80.7

−.42

59.4

56.1

−.35

81.0

79.3

−.20

51.1

51.3

.03

75.9

76.0

.00

64.5

54.6

−.95

87.7

81.4

−.58

70.8

63.9

−.56

91.6

89.4

−.18

dThere are 3 countries in this region, China, North Korea, and Mongolia; data are available only for China, which contains 98 percent of the region’s population ages 10 to 24.

eFormer Soviet Asia includes former Soviet Republics in South-central and Western Asia.

f15- to 19-year-old married data not available for Argentina, Survey 1.

gData for Bahrain limited to 15-19 age group, other data in nonstandard age groups.

SOURCE: United Nations Population Division Database on Marriage Patterns (Pop/1/DB/2000/3), 73 countries, 1960-2001. See Table 5-1 for list of countries.

In summarizing the data on trends, it needs to be emphasized that while marriage during the teenage years is declining in many regions of the world, substantial proportions of women are still marrying extremely early. Indeed, as Table 5-4 indicates, for the countries where DHS data are available, more than a third of women currently ages 20 to 24 married prior to age 18.

Trends in Percentage of Men in sub-Saharan Africa Married by Ages 20, 25, and 30: DHS Analysis

Recently, Demographic and Health Surveys have been conducted among men in a number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the former Soviet Asia. However, only in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean are there a sufficient number of countries with male surveys to aggregate the data and generate

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

TABLE 5-3 Percentage of Men Ever Married, by Age, Time Period, and Region (Weighted Averages)

Region

% of Region Population Represented

Ages 20-24

Ages 25-29

Time 1a 1970-1989

Time 2 1990-2000

Annual Change

Time 1a 1970-1989

Time 2 1990-2000

Annual Change

Africa

 

Eastern/Southern Africa

89.8

36.0

27.8

−.56

71.8

66.5

−.42

Western/Middle Africa

30.8

28.4

26.5

−.10

61.6

60.5

−.04

Asia

 

Eastern Asia

98.1

39.0

24.9

−1.17

82.7

77.2

−.46

South-central/South-eastern Asia

93.3

41.6

41.4

−.03

77.5

77.2

−.01

Former Soviet Asia

37.8

31.9

23.9

−.81

78.0

66.0

−1.20

Latin America and Caribbean

 

Caribbean/Central America

87.5

38.4

37.5

−.14

72.0

68.8

−.36

South America

99.9

28.3

29.3

.06

65.3

62.8

−.18

Middle Eastb

 

Western Asia/Northern Africa

62.6

24.9

16.8

−.78

63.0

53.4

−.91

TOTAL

86.5

37.9

33.0

−.41

76.0

73.1

−.24

aFor the following countries, the first survey/census was before 1970: Cambodia (1962), Chad (1964), Gabon (1961), Kenya (1969), Namibia (1960), Palestine (1967), and Uganda (1969).

bBahrain excluded; data in nonstandard age groups.

NOTE: For source of regional groupings and population data for weighted averages, see Table 5-2.

SOURCE: United Nations Population Division Database on Marriage Patterns (Pop/1/DB/2000/3), 72 countries, 1960-2001. See Table 5-1 for list of countries.

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

TABLE 5-4 Percentage of Women Married, by Ages 18, 20, and 25, by Age at Time of Survey and Region (Weighted Averages)

Region

% of Region Population Represented

Age 18

Age 20

Age 25

20-24

30-34

40-44

20-24

30-34

0-44

30-34

40-44

Africa

 

Eastern/Southern Africa

91.7

36.5

45.7

52.8

54.6

62.9

69.2

83.6

88.2

Western/Middle Africaa

75.2

44.8

55.0

57.9

60.1

69.5

73.6

88.7

92.6

Asia

 

South-central/South-eastern Asia

86.0

41.5

54.2

57.6

59.5

71.0

74.3

90.4

92.4

Former Soviet Asia

68.4

15.9

10.9

14.2

49.9

39.7

45.9

87.8

87.2

Latin America and the Caribbean

 

Caribbean/Central America

21.0

34.9

35.7

38.4

53.3

53.7

58.1

82.3

82.5

South America

74.1

22.7

22.5

21.9

38.0

39.7

39.6

73.1

75.2

Middle East

 

Western Asia/Northern Africa

54.8

23.2

35.1

45.5

39.8

52.2

64.2

81.7

87.2

TOTAL

59.8

37.7

48.2

52.0

55.5

65.0

69.1

87.2

89.8

aGabon excluded; data on women unavailable at time of this analysis.

NOTE: For source of regional groupings and population data for weighted averages, see Table 5-2.

SOURCE: DHS tabulations, 51 countries, 1990-2001. See Table 5-1 for list of countries.

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

regional averages.15Table 5-5 provides these data for ages 20, 25, and 30 by age group for 29 countries with surveys between 1994 and 2001; 9 East and Southern African countries, 14 West and Middle African countries, 3 South American countries, and 3 Caribbean and Central American countries.

While this table indicates little consistent change in Latin America and the Caribbean, slight declines in the proportion of men married in both sub-Saharan African regions are observed; however, the declines are considerably smaller than those seen for women. Note that, in comparison to Table 5-3, a smaller decline is observed for East and Southern Africa and a larger decline for West and Middle Africa. These discrepancies arise because of differences in the countries included in the analyses. Nigeria, which constitutes nearly half of the population of West Africa and where there has been a considerable decline in early marriage for young men (10.8 percent married by age 20 among 20- to 24-year-olds, compared with 19.5 percent among 40- to 44-year-olds), is not included in the UN database. Furthermore, DHS data are not available for South Africa, where there has been a large decline in the percentage of men married in their 20s. That a substantial percentage of the male population is not included in our DHS analysis may distort the regional estimates. Indeed, in a recent analysis of DHS data on marriage, it is observed that “the trend toward later ages at marriage for women is not evident for men surveyed in sub-Saharan Africa” (Westoff, 2003, p. 1), an assertion that would likely be modified if data were available for more countries.

DIFFERENTIALS IN AGE AT MARRIAGE

An examination of differentials in the timing of marriage by educational attainment and place of residence, which is possible with DHS data, may provide insights into the forces behind the trends we have observed. Tables 5-6 and 5-7 are limited to women ages 20 to 24 and indicate the percentage married by age 18 by years of schooling attained and by rural-urban residence, respectively. Table 5-8 is limited to men ages 20 to 24 from sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean, and indicates the percentage married by age 20 by years of schooling attained and rural-urban residence.

As expected, large differentials by education and residence are observed for both sexes. Women and men with 8 or more years of schooling are much less likely to marry early than are those with 0 to 3 years of schooling.

15  

There are an additional 6 countries for which male marriage data are available: Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua, Peru, and Kazakhstan.

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

TABLE 5-5 Percentage of Men Married, by Ages 20, 25, and 30, by Age at Time of Survey and Region (Weighted Averages)

Region

% of Region Population Represented

Age 20

Age 25

Age 30

20-24

30-34

40-44

30-34

40-44

30-34

40-44

Africa

 

Eastern/Southern Africa

69.5

13.8

20.0

21.3

59.3

61.0

86.7

87.7

Western/Middle Africa

75.5

12.0

16.2

17.5

47.7

50.9

77.0

76.5

Latin America and the Caribbean

 

Caribbean/Central America

13.7

22.2

20.4

21.9

55.3

58.0

76.0

80.1

South America

60.3

14.0

18.2

10.8

58.7

57.4

80.7

85.6

TOTAL

60.5

13.5

18.1

16.9

54.8

56.2

81.1

82.7

NOTE: For source of regional groupings and population data for weighted averages, see Table 5-2.

SOURCE: DHS tabulations, 29 countries, 1994-2001. See Table 5-1 for list of countries.

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

TABLE 5-6 Percentage of Women Ages 20 to 24 Married by Age 18, by Years of Schooling and Regiona (Weighted Averages)

Region

% of Region Population Represented

Years of Schooling

0-3

4-7

8+

Africa

 

Eastern/Southern Africa

91.7

51.2

38.6

12.6

Western/Middle Africab

75.2

70.5

36.8

14.1

Asia

 

South-central/South-eastern Asiac

28.0

55.7

44.0

17.3

Latin America and the Caribbean

 

Caribbean/Central America

21.0

55.5

43.9

14.7

South America

74.1

41.7

30.3

10.8

Middle East

 

Western Asia/Northern Africad

49.6

38.9

25.6

6.4

TOTAL

34.4

53.2

37.6

13.5

aFormer Soviet Asia excluded; too few women with less than 8+ years of schooling.

bGabon excluded; data on women unavailable at time of this analysis.

cIndia and Pakistan excluded; lack the “all-women” weight.

dYemen excluded; lacks the “all-women” weight.

NOTE: For source of regional groupings and population data for weighted averages, see Table 5-2.

SOURCE: DHS tabulations, 44 countries, 1990-2001. See Table 5-1 for list of countries.

Young people in urban areas are much less likely to marry early than those living in the countryside. While these differentials are considerable, in the regions where data are available for both men and women, greater variability exists in the timing of marriage by education than by residence. For example, in East and Southern Africa, more than four times as many women with 0 to 3 years of schooling marry before age 18 as do women with 8-plus years of schooling, whereas 1.6 times as many women in rural areas marry before age 18 as do women in urban areas.

EXPLAINING TRENDS IN AGE AT MARRIAGE

As we have documented, in most regions of the developing world, young people are delaying marriage by comparison to older generations. Given how widespread this change is, an explanation that spans different cultures would seem warranted. We recognize the specificity of marriage markets and the marital process across time and place. For example, in West Africa, changes in the practice of polygyny, a distinctive feature of that region, may help to explain why age of marriage is increasing for

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

TABLE 5-7 Percentage of Women Ages 20 to 24 Married by Age 18, by Rural-Urban Residence, and Region (Weighted Averages)

Region

% of Region Population Represented

Residence

Rural

Urban

Africa

 

Eastern/Southern Africa

91.7

41.0

25.3

Western/Middle Africaa

75.2

52.2

30.1

Asia

 

South-central/South-eastern Asia

86.0

48.4

24.3

Former Soviet Asia

68.4

17.9

13.9

Latin America/Caribbean

 

Caribbean/Central America

21.0

44.5

27.6

South America

74.1

31.4

20.3

Middle East

 

Western Asia/Northern Africa

54.8

28.3

16.7

TOTAL

59.8

44.4

23.9

aGabon excluded; data on women unavailable at time of this analysis.

NOTE: For source of regional groupings and population data for weighted averages, see Table 5-2.

SOURCE: DHS tabulations, 51 countries, 1990-2001. See Table 5-1 for list of countries.

TABLE 5-8 Percentage of Men Ages 20 to 24 Married by Age 20, by Years of Schooling, Rural-Urban Residence, and Region (Weighted Averages)

Schooling and Residence

South America

Caribbean/Central America

Eastern/Southern Africa

Western/Middle Africaa

Years of schooling

 

0-3

20.7

24.6

20.9

21.0

4-7

18.0

30.9

16.7

14.5

8+

10.0

13.9

6.5

6.0

Residence

 

Rural

13.4

26.5

15.5

16.0

Urban

14.0

18.2

8.2

5.1

% of region population represented

60.3

13.7

69.5

75.5

aGabon excluded from schooling; missing data on men. Niger excluded from schooling; no respondents ages 20 to 24 are recorded with 8 or more years of schooling.

NOTE: For source of regional groupings and population data for weighted averages, see Table 5-2.

SOURCE: DHS tabulations, 29 countries, 1994-2001. See Table 5-1 for list of countries.

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

women but not for men in several countries.16 While acknowledging the unique characteristics of nuptiality in individual countries, a review paper that covers so much territory should seek some general explanations as to why early marriage is less common now than in the past.

Explaining Trends Among Women

The Rise in Educational Attainment

To what can we attribute the rise in age of first marriage among women? Increased schooling is a leading candidate: In all regions of the developing world, save for the countries of the former Soviet Asia, there has been an increase in mean grades of schooling attained among young women in the last few decades (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2005, Chapter 3). This expansion in education, combined with the magnitude in the differentials we observe in Table 5-6 in all regions, has led many to argue that increased schooling is the main force underlying the delay in first marriage among females (United Nations Commission on Population and Development, 2002).

A closer examination of the data raises doubts about the dominant role of educational change as a cause of nuptiality change. For one thing, trends in education and age of marriage are not always closely connected. Indeed, the region with the largest increase in educational attainment among young people—South and Southeast Asia—is not the region with the largest decline in early marriage. (Early marriage among young women has fallen most dramatically in the Middle East.) Moreover, while years of schooling have increased in Latin America in the last few decades, almost no change has occurred in age at marriage. Figure 5-1 plots for 49 DHS countries the association between the absolute intercohort change (the two cohorts are 20 to 24 and 40 to 44) in the percentage of women marrying prior to age 18 and intercohort change in mean grades of schooling.17 Although an association between changes in schooling and marriage is evident—after all, most developing countries have experienced both a rise in educational attainment and a rise in age of marriage—Figure 5-1 reveals a weaker asso-

16  

In Ghana and Togo, for example, a decline has taken place in the percentage of young women in polygynous unions. Such unions are typically characterized by a large age gap between spouses, with women marrying young and men delaying marriage until they are able to acquire bridewealth. Thus it is not surprising to observe a decline in early marriage among women in the two countries, but virtually no change or even a slight increase in marriage among men.

17  

Data on grades of school attained are not available for Paraguay and Yemen; data on women were not available for Gabon at the time of this analysis.

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

FIGURE 5-1 Association between change in percentage of 20- to 24- and 40- to 44-year-old women married by age 18 and change in grades of school attained.

SOURCE: DHS tabulations, 49 countries, 1990-2001. See Table 5-1 for list of countries. Paraguay and Yemen excluded; missing schooling data. Gabon excluded; data on women unavailable at time of this analysis.

ciation than one might expect, given the determining power often attributed to educational change.

An alternative approach to this question is to take as a starting point the observed individual-level relationship between marriage and educational attainment and to consider, given this individual-level relationship, how much intercohort change in early marriage might be expected to follow from the intercohort change in educational attainment. The individual-level relationship can be obtained by estimating regressions of marriage prior to age 18 on years of schooling. This effect (i.e., the regression coefficients) can then be applied to the observed inter-cohort change in years of schooling to calculate an “expected change” in the probability of early marriage that would be generated by schooling change. The methodology can be briefly described as follows: The observed proportions marrying prior to age 18 can be designated O1 and O2, for the older and younger cohorts, respectively, and the observed change in the proportion marrying young is:

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

To obtain the “expected change” due to changes in schooling, two regressions are estimated, one for each cohort:

(1)

(2)

where

p(M18) is the probability of marrying prior to age 18;

S is the educational attainment (schooling) of each woman;

a, b are estimated parameters; and

1, 2 are subscripts referring to the older (1) and younger (2) cohorts.

An “expected” proportion marrying before age 18 for the younger cohort is calculated as:

(3)

This is the predicted proportion marrying early in the younger cohort given the educational attainment of these women and the association between educational attainment and early marriage observed in the older cohort. That is, this is a hypothetical of the following sort: Suppose the association between schooling and early marriage observed in the older cohort persisted in the younger cohort, along with the increase in educational attainment; if so, what proportion of the younger cohort would be expected to marry young? From this an expected change can be calculated:

(4)

An equally valid hypothetical can be calculated by reversing the cohorts:

(5)

This is the predicted proportion marrying early in the older cohort given the educational attainment of these women and the association between educational attainment and early marriage observed in the younger cohort. From this an alternative expected change can be calculated:

(6)

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

TABLE 5-9 Percentage Distribution of Ratio of Expecteda to Observed Difference in the Percentage of 25- to 29- and 45- to 49-Year-Old Women Married by Age 18, by Regionb (Weighted Distribution)

Region

Ratio of Expecteda to Observed Difference

<0.50

0.50-0.99

1.00+c

Total

(Number of Countries)

Latin America and Caribbean

0

14

86

100

(9)

Former Soviet Asia

63

0

37

100

(4)

Sub-Saharan Africad

32

26

42

100

(26)

All regions

23

21

56

100

(39)

aThe expected is derived from individual-level regressions for each cohort. It is the amount of change expected in the proportion marrying before age 18 if the association between early marriage and educational attainment were to remain stable across cohorts while the educational distribution changes across cohorts as observed. See text.

bMiddle East and South-central/South-eastern Asia are excluded because they are limited to ever-married samples.

cIncludes those countries where the observed probability of early marriage increased between the two cohorts.

dSub-Saharan Africa combines Western/Middle and Eastern/Southern Africa. Gabon excluded; data on women unavailable at time of this analysis.

NOTE: For source of regional groupings and population data for weighted averages, see Table 5-2.

SOURCE: DHS tabulations, 39 countries, 1990-2001. See Table 5-1 for list of countries.

Either ΔE* or ΔE+ are defensible assessments of the amount of change in early marriage expected due to changes in schooling. We therefore simply average the two:

(7)

ΔE is the “expected change” in the proportion marrying young in the following discussion and in Table 5-9 and Figure 5-2.18 This analysis is only conducted in those countries where the DHS interviewed all women, not just ever-married women, because of the difficulty of bringing never-

18  

The regressions (1) and (2) are logit regressions. In equations (3) and (5), a predicted logit of early marriage is calculated for each woman and then transformed to a predicted probability, from which a mean is calculated. The logit regressions employ a categorical version of years of schooling (S1 and S2), in order to allow for nonlinearities in the effect of schooling on early marriage, with categories 0, 1-3, 4-7, and 8+.

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

FIGURE 5-2 Association between observed and expected change* in percentage of 25- to 29- and 45- to 49-year-old women married by age 18.

*Expected change = change expected due to cohort difference in educational attainment. See text.

NOTE: The line represents the set of points where the observed equals the expected.

SOURCE: DHS tabulations, 39 countries, 1990-2001. See Table 5-1 for list of countries. Middle East, South-central and South-eastern Asia excluded; limited to ever-married samples. Gabon excluded; data on women unavailable at time of this analysis.

married women into the calculations when estimating individual-level regressions. This exclusion effectively eliminates South and Southeast Asia and the Middle East from this analysis.

The scatter plot of the expected and observed change in early marriage is provided in Figure 5-2, comparing women ages 25 to 29 and 45 to 49 at the time of the survey. The diagonal line in this figure is the point at which the expected equals the observed, that is, the change in schooling would appear to be sufficient to account entirely for the decline in the likelihood of marriage prior to age 18. One striking feature of Figure 5-2 is the large fraction of countries—16 out of 39—where the expected change exceeds the observed change. These are instances where the magnitude of the decline in early marriage between cohorts is less than would be expected given the increase in educational attainment. In roughly half of these 16 countries, the probability of early marriage actually increases between cohorts. Were education the domi-

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

nant determining factor, such increases would be expected in none of the 39 countries, because schooling increased between these two cohorts everywhere. The pattern in the majority of countries, however, is that the percentage marrying at early ages declined from the older to the younger cohort, and this observed decline exceeds the expected decline; these are countries above the diagonal line in Figure 5-2. Included is a set of countries on the far left of Figure 5-2 where the expected decline in early marriage is substantially less than the observed decline. In these instances, factors other than schooling would appear to be driving the change in the timing of first marriage.

The range of country experiences evident in Figure 5-2 is summarized in Table 5-9, which breaks down the experiences by major region. The regional differences are marked. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the common outcome is that the expected decline in early marriage from increased schooling far exceeds the actual decline. In many of these countries, of course, the probability of early marriage increased rather than declined. By contrast, in about a third of the sub-Saharan African countries, the expected decline (i.e., due to increased schooling) accounts for less than a half of the actual decline. This leaves two thirds of the countries where half or more of the decline in early marriage can be linked to educational increase, an impressive outcome.19 The four countries in Soviet Asia show both small and large ratios of expected to observed change. In short, increases in schooling hardly appear to be the entire story, although in sub-Saharan Africa there are grounds for attributing a large share of the decline in early marriage to increased schooling.

It should be stressed that the analysis presented in Figure 5-2 and Table 5-9 does not control for the association of schooling with other determinants. The estimated individual-level effect of schooling on early marriage will capture the effects of other variables correlated with schooling. Hence this analysis gives an exaggerated impression of what might be accomplished through changes in schooling alone, that is, in the absence of changes in any other correlated determinants of early marriage.

Even with this likely exaggeration of the impact of schooling change on nuptiality change, the data do not reveal as powerful an association between the two as one might expect. Perhaps this outcome should not come as a total surprise. A critical reading of the existing literature uncovers a

19  

If we restrict the analysis to those countries with moderate or substantial decline in the likelihood of marrying by age 18—for example, those countries where the decline in the percentage married by age 18 is three percentage points or greater—the pattern is not markedly different than in Table 5-9. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, in slightly less than two thirds of the countries in this restricted sample the change in years of schooling can be credited with half or more of the decline in early marriage, an outcome similar to Table 5-9.

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

number of reasons why the effect of schooling on the timing of marriage might be somewhat weaker than discussions in policy circles imply.

There are good reasons to expect a strong positive association between schooling and the timing of marriage. Some researchers note that in many early-marrying societies, school attendance is incompatible with marriage and childbearing as a matter of practice if not of policy (Lindstrom and Brambila Paz, 2001), resulting in a rather mechanistic positive association between educational attainment and age at marriage. However, for the most part, the countries where sizeable proportions of young women marry very early are the same ones where educational attainment is low, and hence for most women, there is a distinct gap between school leaving and the earliest ages at which marriage might occur. While the autonomy-enhancing effect of school is universally cited, empirical validation of the particular mechanisms is lacking. Education is said to give young women greater influence over the timing of marriage and choice of marriage partners (Jejeebhoy, 1995). Exposure to school is also thought to broaden a girl’s perspective on the world, increasing her aspirations; opening up alternative opportunities, for example, to work; and providing her with a more Western outlook on life, which can include wanting to have a greater influence on the choice of her husband (Lloyd and Mensch, 1999). Education also may give parents—because of a daughter’s enhanced income-earning potential—a strong rationale for postponement of marriage (Lindstrom and Brambila Paz, 2001). Finally, the marriage search process may be lengthened with more years in school because of a general tendency for women to seek higher status men (Lloyd and Mensch, 1999).

While these are sound reasons for positing that age at first marriage is postponed as years of schooling increase, there are also reasons for concern that empirical estimates of this causal effect will be upwardly biased. For one thing, educational attainment is likely to be endogenous to marriage timing, that is, those who already intend to marry later (for whatever reason) stay in school longer, and those who intend to marry early leave school earlier for this reason. Many researchers disregard this issue (see, e.g., Choe et al., 2001; De Silva, 1997; Islam and Ahmed, 1998); others recognize that educational attainment may be affected by marriage and are very careful about how schooling variables are specified (e.g., Assaad and Zouari, 2002; Malhotra, 1997; Malhotra and Tsui, 1996). But even these researchers ignore the fact that many of the same factors that determine when a girl marries are also likely to affect whether she goes to school and how long she stays, in part because few surveys include questions that would shed light on decision making about schooling and marriage. One notable exception is Yabiku and colleagues’ (2002) analysis of school characteristics and the timing of marriage in Nepal, in which attributes of schools—cost, number of female teachers, and teacher credentials—are in-

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

cluded as covariates in models of the hazard of marriage. Although separate analyses are not conducted for men and women and no attempt is made to investigate whether changes in the school environment have contributed to a delay in marriage, the study is noteworthy in its attempt to go beyond simple measures of educational attainment.

Finally, there are reasons to question how much of an impact schooling per se should be expected to have on marriage and other aspects of family life. An analysis of the educational literature indicates that schools are not always the progressive force for social change that demographers generally hypothesize them to be (Lloyd and Mensch, 1999; Mensch et al., 2003). Thus a more nuanced analysis of schooling and marriage is required. In particular, measures of the potential factors associated with a rise in schooling, such as changes in adolescent girls’ gender role attitudes, in their autonomy, and in norms about the marriage selection process, might prove more illuminating than standard indicators of educational attainment. Data on gender role attitudes of teachers, differences in the curriculum to which boys and girls are exposed, and analyses of the gender content of textbooks would also be useful. The aim would be to distinguish communities with educational systems that reinforce the status quo from communities with educational systems that challenge existing norms.

Growth in Urbanization

At the same time that age of marriage has risen, the percentage of the developing world population living in cities has grown. Beyond the fact that the composition of the population resident in towns and cities differs in ways that would predict a later age at marriage, increasing urbanization is likely to be associated with a delay in marriage because of the very nature of urban life. As Singh and Samara (1996) theorize, women in urban areas are exposed to modern values encouraging later marriage and are less likely to be under the influence of kin who control the timing of marriage and choice of spouse.

While we do not have direct measures of the attributes of urban living that encourage later age at marriage, we can assess the association between changes in age at marriage and changes in the percentage of the population living in urban areas. Moreover, with UN data we can improve on Singh and Samara’s analysis (1996) of the cross-sectional correlation between the changes in early marriage among those ages 20 to 24 and 40 to 44 in DHS countries and the increase in the proportion of these cohorts currently living in urban areas. The drawback of their analysis is that women ages 40 to 44 may have migrated since they first married. Figure 5-3 depicts the association between the change in the percentage of women ages 15 to 19

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

FIGURE 5-3 Association between change in percentage of 15- to 19-year-old women married and change in percentage of population living in urban areas, 1960-2001.

NOTE: Argentina excluded; no Survey 1 marriage data for this age group.

SOURCE: United Nations Population Division data, 72 countries, 1960-2001. See Table 5-1 for list of countries.

married in each of 72 countries and the change in the percentage of the population living in urban areas. Because the time interval in the surveys and censuses from which these data are derived varies, as in Tables 5-2 and 5-3, we computed the annual change.20 Although we do not have the percentage of the population resident in urban areas at the exact date of each census and survey, we do have the information within 3 years of the marriage data for all countries.

Somewhat surprisingly, Figure 5-3 indicates no association between the increase in urbanization and the decline in the percentage of the female population ages 15 to 19 married. However, we would not want to conclude from this analysis that the theoretical argument relating growing urbanization to a delay in age of marriage is without merit. To actually

20  

Here the annual change was multiplied by 10.

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

assess this relationship, time-series estimates of the social, cultural, ideational, and economic factors associated with city living are required rather than just gross measures of urbanization.

In sum, it is likely that changes in factors other than growth in schooling and urbanization have contributed to observed delays in marriage. With the data at our disposal, we are unable to analyze these other factors. However, a review of individual country studies on age at marriage as well as some of the other literature on social and economic changes taking place in the developing world provides some insight into what these factors might be. It also rules out some factors that might plausibly have been expected to be related to age at marriage.

The Decline in Arranged Marriages

Several demographers who have conducted studies of marriage timing in individual countries in Asia have attributed the increase in women’s age at marriage to changes in the marriage process. In particular, the movement away from arranged marriages is considered to contribute to the delay in marriage (Hull, 2002; Malhotra and Tsui, 1996). In Indonesia, according to Hull (2002, p. 8), the rise in the age of marriage “has come about due to the shift of the locus of marriage decision making from parents to children,” which, incidentally, he attributes to the expansion in educational attainment among young women. It is generally believed that the process of parental selection is less time consuming than that of individual searching. Furthermore, when parents are involved in spouse selection, daughters are believed to be married off earlier because of a concern with preserving their sexual purity. One frequently cited reason for parental involvement in spouse selection is that in allowing a daughter to explore potential partners for herself, she is more likely to initiate sex premaritally. Another motivation for a parent involved in mate selection to marry off a daughter early is because girls are more likely to be compliant in the choice of spouse when they are young (UNICEF, 2001).

While an association between age of marriage and the spouse selection process seems reasonable, data to test for such a link is lacking. Rarely do surveys include questions that would make possible an investigation of the process of spouse selection. The 1979-1980 Asian Marriage Survey conducted in Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Thailand among married women ages 15 to 45 and a sample of their husbands included a question about who chose the spouse, although only in Indonesia, Pakistan, and the Philippines were these data analyzed and only in the first two were there substantial proportions in some form of arranged marriages. Moreover, because of the simple dichotomization of marriages into arranged/not arranged, there is no information on whether the potential groom or bride

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

had any input if the marriage was categorized as arranged or whether the parents had any say if the marriage was categorized as not arranged (Malhotra’s 1991 analysis is the exception).

The data that exist on the relative involvement of parents and young people in the selection of marriage partners suggest that in societies where arranged marriage was a common feature of the marriage process, there has been a movement in recent years toward self-choice, as Goode predicted 40 years ago in his discussion of the emergence of the conjugal family with industrialization. This decline in kin control or increase in a young woman’s involvement in mate selection has been documented with survey data in Togo (Gage and Meekers, 1995), Indonesia (Malhotra, 1991), and India (Jejeebhoy and Halli, 2002), and in an ethnographic study in Nepal (Ahearn, 2001). It is also asserted to be occurring throughout sub-Saharan Africa (Lesthaeghe, Kaufman and Meekers, 1989; National Research Council, 1993) and Asia (Choe, Westley, and Retherford, 2002). While almost no studies provide data that would permit an analysis of the association between trends in the marriage process and trends in age at marriage, that the two are related seems likely.21

The Cost of Marriage: Dowry and Marriage Markets

Researchers interested in age at marriage of women have rarely investigated whether an association exists between the time when women marry and their economic circumstances or those of their family. The study by Abbasi and colleagues (2002, p. 33) in Iran is an exception. They attribute the increase in female age of marriage between 1986 and 1996 to the rise in the cost of living after the revolution and the deteriorating economic situation. They suggest that “young people tend to delay their marriage until they get a job,” but they don’t indicate whether both young men and young women are entering the labor force or just young men.

One reason that cost may not figure into analyses of female age at marriage is that the groom’s family bears the greater financial burden of marriage in most developing countries. To the extent that marriage involves the transfer of gifts, cash, valuables, and consumer goods, by far, the more common form of exchange is from the groom’s family to the bride’s. Murdock’s Ethnographic Atlas, which was initially published in the late 1960s and revised around 1980, indicates that in approximately two thirds of the 1,267 societies catalogued, bridewealth is normative whereas dowry

21  

We are aware of one analysis, of Sri Lankan women, where the marriage process was included as a factor in marriage timing. However, contrary to expectations, those who chose their own spouses married earlier than those who had arranged marriages, a pattern that the researchers note is unusual among Asian societies (Malhotra and Tsui, 1996).

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

is prevalent in just 6 percent, although the South Asian countries where dowry is customary have considerably larger populations (cited in Bhat and Halli, 1999).

To the extent that research has been conducted on the links between the age women marry and the cost of marriage, it has been limited to India and Bangladesh. In their analysis of marriage change in South India in the early 1980s, Caldwell, Reddy, and Caldwell (1983) argued that parents are unwilling to postpone marriage beyond the teenage years because of the increased cost of dowry for older brides, an issue that is also said to be a concern for poor parents in Bangladesh (Amin, Mahmud, and Huq, 2002). Yet there is little quantitative analysis of the association between the costs of dowry and age of marriage of women or, more broadly, on poverty as a factor in the timing of marriage.

On the other hand, there is a considerable body of research that has focused on explaining reasons for the increase, in the second half of the twentieth century, in the prevalence and monetary value of dowry in South Asia. Because of declining infant and child mortality, and because women marry men who are considerably older, a “marriage squeeze” has emerged; in other words, an excess supply of women of marriageable ages now exists. In addition, as maternal mortality began to fall, there are fewer widowers available for women to marry. When too few men of marriageable age are available, families compete for the eligible men by paying higher dowries (Amin and Cain, 1997; Bhat and Halli, 1999; Billig, 1992; Caldwell, Reddy, and Caldwell, 1983; Deolalikar and Rao, 1998; Rao, 1993a, 1993b). Bhat and Halli (1999) argue that the rise in the mean age at first marriage in India is due to the marriage squeeze.22 They contend that given the low levels of schooling, it is not the increase in educational attainment that has led to a rise in age of marriage, at least not in a mechanical sense. Rather the deficit of eligible men may induce women to stay in school. Caldwell and colleagues (1983) also maintain that the delay in marriage and the decline in age differences between spouses in South India are a function of the marriage squeeze. As do Bhat and Halli (1999), they predict an increase in the education of girls as Indians become more “accustomed to unmarried girls beyond the age of menarche” (Caldwell, Reddy, and Caldwell, 1983, p. 361).

To the degree that an association exists between age of marriage of women and increased schooling in India, these researchers would claim that the delay in marriage, caused by a deficit of eligible men, has been the

22  

A marriage squeeze is also believed to be a factor in the increase in age at marriage in Lebanon, where 16 years of civil war and male emigration because of diminished work opportunities have distorted the sex ratios at marriageable ages (Saxena and Kulczycki, 2004).

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

catalyst for the expansion in female education, rather than the other way around, as is conventionally argued. Whether a marriage squeeze affects age of marriage, age differences between spouses, dowry demands, and educational attainment of young women throughout South Asia clearly merits further investigation. It may well be that the nature of the response to shifts in the sex ratio of eligible men and women varies depending on local traditions surrounding marriage and household formation as well as socioeconomic conditions. Interestingly in rural Nepal, where declines in mortality would also have created a deficit of eligible men of marriageable age, dowry has yet to emerge as a common practice, although it is “increasingly prevalent in Kathmandu” (Ahearn, 2001, p. 89).

Changing Laws, Changing Norms

To the best of our knowledge, no study has investigated the connection between changing laws on age at marriage and trends in age at marriage across countries. That laws are often inconsistently enforced and can vary across states or administrative areas within countries may contribute to the complicated legal situation. A review of policies affecting marriage in seven Anglophone African countries indicates that in some countries, such as Nigeria and Kenya, local and religious laws contradict national laws. In other countries, such as Tanzania, penal codes contradict national laws (Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, 1999). Reproductive rights advocates believe that laws specifying a minimum age at marriage are rarely enforced; rather, customary practice takes precedence over civil law (Boye et al., 1991). The data on marriage would appear to support this view. For example, in Mali the legal age of marriage for women is now 18 and in Uganda it is 21, later than other countries in Africa (see International Planned Parenthood Federation and International Women’s Rights Action Watch, 2000), and an increase from 1980 when the legal age was 15 in Mali and 16 in Uganda (National Research Council, 1993). Yet according to DHS data, 65 percent of women ages 20 to 24 married by age 18 in Mali and 54 percent in Uganda, proportions that are among the highest in the developing world. Incidentally, despite the changes in marriage laws in these two countries, comparing the proportions for 20- to 24-year-olds with those for 40- to 44-year-olds reveals only a 1 percent rate of decline in Mali and a 9 percent rate of decline in Uganda, well below the average rates of decline observed for East and Southern Africa (31 percent), and West and Middle Africa (23 percent) (see Table 5-4).

Not only are there countries with laws prohibiting early teen marriage where large proportions of women still marry at very young ages, there are countries with very low legal ages of marriage where the prevalence of early marriage is not nearly as great. For example, the legal age of marriage in

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

Bolivia and Peru is 14; yet only 21 percent of women married before age 18 in Bolivia and only 19 in Peru.

In some countries the actual age at which many women marry is lower than the legal age (UNICEF, 2001). In the case of Bangladesh, there is even speculation that the rise in age at marriage observed in surveys is not real, but rather a function of an increase in the minimum legal age in 1984 from 16 to 18; adolescent girls who marry are thought to exaggerate their age on surveys (Amin, 2000). In other countries where there has historically been a high prevalence of teen marriage, but where the legal age of marriage is age 18 or later, the declines in age of marriage observed may not be attributable to actual changes in behavior, but rather to some misreporting in age as a result of fear that families may be prosecuted for marrying daughters off at young ages. Many of the Demographic and Health Surveys contain too few 15- to 16-year-olds. The standard explanation for this phenomenon is that interviewers displace 15- to 16-year-olds out of the group eligible for individual interviews. But such a situation could also arise if married 15- to 16-year-olds are reported to be 17 or 18.

Interestingly, the effort to legislate marriage is not only ineffective when the goal is to raise the age, but it also does not appear to be effective on the rare occasions when the goal is to lower the age. In Iran, the legal age at marriage for girls was reduced after the 1979 Islamic revolution from age 16 to age 9, and incentives were provided for couples to marry. Yet, female age of marriage actually increased, albeit slightly, during this period (Abbasi et al., 2002).

Even if laws on age at marriage are not enforced, and little association exists between the legal minimum age at marriage and the percentage of the population that marries early across countries, the reality is that laws on age at marriage have changed in recent years. Indeed, in 55 developing countries for which data on the legal minimum age at marriage are available at two different points in time, 1990 and 2000, the age is now higher in 23 countries for women and 20 for men (see International Planned Parenthood Federation and International Women’s Rights Action Watch, 1900, 2000). A change in the legal age of marriage may signal a change in the discourse around marriage that, ultimately, if not in the near term, is likely to lead women and their families to contemplate a change in behavior.23 The fact that laws have been modified in so many countries suggests that the increased discussion of early marriage among human rights advocates and the publicity generated by various United Nations conferences

23  

Of course, in some countries, the increase in the legal age at marriage may simply reflect the fact that women are delaying marriage. In that event, the law is simply catching up with the change in behavior.

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

have had an impact on global norms governing early marriage of women (UNICEF, 2001). Just as acceptance of the value of girls’ schooling has expanded to the poorest countries of the world (see NRC/IOM, 2005, Chapter 3), there would appear to be a growing conviction that marriage should not take place during the teenage years, or at least not before age 18. According to human rights advocates, marriage prior to age 18 contravenes the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which defines 18 as the end of childhood, and thus marriage before that age as child marriage. In addition, very early marriage is said to undermine other rights guaranteed by the Convention, including the right to be protected from physical abuse and sexual exploitation, and the right not to be separated from parents against one’s will (Population Council, 2002).

In theorizing about the increase in the age at first marriage among females in Africa, Hertrich (2002, p. 12) argues that in contrast to earlier generations, “recognition of a social status for women other than that of wife and mother” now exists, although she does not provide data to support this observation. To be fair, such data are hard to come by. Yet changing views about women’s roles would seem to be a factor in the rising age at marriage. The growth in indigenous feminist movements, coupled with a more globalized media where women not only feature more prominently than in the past but where more attention is given to the situation of the “girl child,” is likely to have undermined traditional norms.

Other social and demographic changes may influence attitudes toward age at marriage. An analysis of DHS data from 21 sub-Saharan African countries found that improvements in child survival are associated with later age at marriage (LeGrand and Barbieri, 2002), suggesting that once awareness about the decline in mortality has spread throughout a population, couples will delay marriage to achieve their family size goals. Indeed, the decline in desired family size, which has occurred throughout much of the developing world24 (Westoff and Bankole, 2002), might reasonably be thought to affect the timing of marriage because less urgency exists to begin childbearing when fertility goals are reduced. However, analyses of DHS data reveal that even as desired family size has fallen, the interval between marriage and first birth has declined25 (Mensch, 2003). While some of this narrowing of the interval is likely due to a decline in subfecundity among the newly married who are somewhat older, these data suggest that despite arguments about the improvement of women’s status, noted above, considerable pressure still exists for women to prove fecundity.

24  

Francophone West Africa is the exception; other than Togo there is little change in reproductive preferences in this region in the past 10 years (Westoff and Bankole, 2002).

25  

This decline occurred among women who gave birth after marriage, suggesting that it is not simply due to an increase in premarital conceptions.

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

Explaining Trends Among Men

If the increase in educational attainment dominates discussions of the rise in age of marriage of women, what explanation is given for changes in male age at marriage? Some researchers note that, as has been the case for women, the extended educational path taken by men in recent years in many countries may contribute to the rise in their age of marriage (Hertrich, 2002). However, little data are available to assess the association between changes in schooling and age at marriage among men. In our case, we have data on both schooling and marriage only for 22 sub-Saharan African countries, 6 Latin American and Caribbean countries, 2 former Soviet Asia countries, and 1 Middle Eastern country where Demographic and Health Surveys have been conducted among men.26Figure 5-4 graphs the absolute change in the percentage of men marrying at age 20 for two cohorts, those 20 to 24 and those 40 to 44 against changes in mean grades of schooling attained by these cohorts. Contrary to Hertrich’s (2002) speculation for Africa that increased schooling may have led to a rise in male age of marriage, virtually no association exists between changes in educational attainment and early marriage among men in these countries.

As with women, we consider whether the increase in age of marriage observed among men is linked to urbanization. Figure 5-5 depicts the association between the change over the last 20 years or so in the percentage of men ages 20 to 24 married in each of 72 countries and the change in the percentage of the population living in urban areas. Because the time interval in the surveys and censuses from which these data are derived varies, as in Figure 5-3, we computed the annual change multiplied by 10. The graph indicates that the increase in urbanization and the decline in the percentage of the male population ages 20 to 24 who are married are not correlated.

The economic environment in developing countries is commonly invoked as the primary reason for the delay in marriage of men. For example, in Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines, a qualitative study of marriage attitudes revealed that “poverty or lack of financial security, especially among men, was seen as a common (and sound) reason to postpone or avoid marriage” (Williams and Guest, 2002, p. 14). Few quantitative studies have investigated the association between economic conditions and marriage patterns of men; we even lack studies that link employment and wages to age of marriage of men. However, there is some evidence of changes in the economic landscape consistent with postponement of marriage for men.

26  

Data on grades of schooling attained are not available for Gabon, although data on marriage are; thus there are 31 countries represented in Figure 5-4, not 32.

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

FIGURE 5-4 Association between change in percentage of 20- to 24- and 40- to 44-year-old men married by age 20 and change in grades of school attained.

NOTE: Gabon excluded; missing schooling data.

SOURCE: DHS tabulations, 31 countries, 1994-2001. See Table 5-1 for list of countries.

For rural areas of Asia, there is speculation that a reduction in land holdings may be a factor in delayed marriage. Increasing landlessness has forced young men to move to urban areas as well as to the Middle East in search of employment, leaving women behind (Choe, Westley, and Retherford, 2002).

In African societies the changing nature of bridewealth, with cash payments replacing payments in kind, is said to be a contributing factor in delaying marriage of men because more time is needed to acquire the necessary sums. While there is certainly acknowledgment that the accumulation of a large bridewealth may have led to a delayed marriage in the past (United Nations Department of International Economic and Social Affairs, 1990), the situation is now believed to have altered. Even where traditional bridewealth is no longer part of the marriage process, other costs have emerged for grooms including “future help with food costs, court fees, medical treatment and younger children’s school fees” (National Research Council, 1993, p. 51).

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

More fundamentally, a transformation in the nature of the household economy is said to have occurred. As has been argued for Indonesia, “the assumption in the past that marriage formed a basic productive economic unit for farming or trading, has been modified by the current requirement that basic consumption needs such as capital for a house, or consumer goods, and basic educational attainments must be achieved before a marriage can ‘wisely’ take place” (Hull, 2002, p. 5).

In countries as diverse as Sri Lanka and Nigeria, researchers have observed that economic considerations apparently factor much more into the decision about the timing of a man’s marriage than they did earlier. In Sri Lanka, with increasing industrialization, a man’s job status, which was not considered important in the past—particularly where subsistence agriculture was the dominant form of economic life—is now said to be critical in determining when he marries (De Silva, 1997). In Nigeria, where a consid-

FIGURE 5-5 Association between change in percentage of 20- to 24-year-old men married and change in percentage of population living in urban areas, 1960-2001.

NOTE: Bahrain excluded; nonstandard age grouping.

SOURCE: United Nations Population Division data, 72 countries, 1960-2001. See Table 5-1 for list of countries.

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

erable decline has taken place in early marriage among men, the oil boom in the 1970s fueled a change in brides’ expectations of what purchases grooms needed to marry (National Research Council, 1993).

In Egypt, where housing, furniture, and appliances are considered essential for marriage and “the bulk of financial obligation … are still borne … by the groom and his family,” the cost of marriage is estimated to have increased dramatically in the last 30 years (Singerman and Ibrahim, 2003, p. 97), although it may be the quantity and quality of items that one is expected to acquire that has increased rather than the cost of basic household necessities. A rigorous analysis linking the expense of setting up a household to the timing of marriage in Egypt does not exist. However, the proportion of individuals in the census marriage registration category, katb al-kitaab, where the marriage was registered but the couple had yet to establish a marital residence, increased four-fold between 1986 and 1996, while the annual rate of marriage barely changed, indirect evidence that rising costs have led to a delay in the ceremony (Singerman and Ibrahim, 2003). This piece of evidence does not firmly establish a link between the rise in the age of marriage and the costs of marriage. The question is whether the rising cost of establishing a household in Egypt and elsewhere affects the timing of marriage across all segments of society or whether the poorest members have lower expectations, are less constrained financially, and paradoxically have seen less of a delay in age at marriage.

As with women, one also wonders whether some global changes have emerged that are influencing the timing of marriage among men. Increasing exposure to Western media may affect consumer norms and raise expectations such that young men in many societies increasingly feel obligated to postpone marriage until they have acquired the resources that are now expected for the establishment of a household. Given the current size of youth cohorts in the developing world and the difficulty of ensuring adequate employment opportunities for such vast numbers of young people, postponement of marriage among men by several years, possibly until their 30s or beyond may become increasingly common in many societies.

CONSEQUENCES OF CHANGING AGE AT MARRIAGE

Although we have documented and offered explanations for the trends in age of marriage, we have not examined the impact of changing age at marriage on the lives of young people largely because, while speculation abounds, the number of rigorous studies on this topic is extremely limited. Nonetheless, the subject is worth considering, if only to stimulate more research in this area. While separating selection effects from consequences has proven difficult, the assumption is that marriage during the teen years is deleterious for women: Schooling may be curtailed, autonomy limited—because young

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

brides tend to marry older men—and sexual relations uninformed and perhaps even coercive or dangerous to women’s health (Clark, 2004; Jejeebhoy, 1995; Mensch, Bruce, and Greene, 1998; Singh and Samara, 1996; UNICEF, 2001). Other than increasing the risk of a premarital pregnancy, delaying marriage into the 20s is generally believed to benefit women.27

As for men, although studies are also lacking, it seems reasonable that postponement of marriage, beyond a certain point, may not be considered universally positive, even if rising expectations and not declining economic circumstances are driving the delay. Indeed, a late age of marriage, if it arises from limited resources, may not be viewed as desirable by young men—it may be a source of frustration, particularly where premarital sex is not condoned. Qualitative research would be valuable on the negative psychosocial effects of delaying marriage, particularly in regions, such as the Middle East, where interaction between unmarried men and women is restricted.

Age at Marriage and HIV Risk

In a discussion of consequences of age at marriage, the HIV epidemic brings some new factors into consideration. Given the over-riding importance of reducing HIV, we focus on examining what is known, as well as, plausible hypotheses, about the association between women’s age at marriage, the age-gap between partners, and HIV risk. Delaying age at marriage for women, if it delays sex, should reduce the age-specific rate of HIV among young women. In 13 of the 24 sub-Saharan countries where the probability of marrying by age 18 has declined in the last 20 years, the overall proportion of women having sex by age 18 also declined significantly (Mensch et al., 2005). Further, there is evidence that unmarried sexually active adolescents have lower rates of HIV than their married counterparts in sub-Saharan Africa (Clark, 2004). Analysis of DHS data indicates that compared to the unmarried, married adolescents have a higher frequency of sex, are less likely to use condoms, and have older sexual partners, namely their husbands, who are more likely to be HIV positive (Clark, 2004). Thus even if later marriage does not lead to a delay in sexual debut, the argument is that the nature of sexual activity among married women puts them at higher risk of HIV than their unmarried counterparts.

27  

In societies where women traditionally marry early and where women’s autonomy is severely limited, a delay in age at marriage may have no impact on the lives of young women. Those who marry later may be equally constrained in terms of mobility, household decision making and employment. This observation was made by Nan Astone at a March 2003 meeting of the NRC/IOM panel on Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries.

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

These findings warrant at least four caveats, however. First, the assertion that the level of infection is higher among the married compared to the single is based on prevalence rather than incidence data. Prevalence data obscure the possibility that young married girls may have become infected when single and infected adolescent girls may be more likely to select into early marriage. Second, even if early marriage elevates HIV risk for adolescent girls, in the long run marriage may prove to be more protective than remaining single and sexually active. Data from Rakai, Uganda, indicate that on average across all age groups HIV incidence is higher among the never married than among the currently married and highest among those previously married (Gray et al., 2004). To determine how marital status affects HIV risk it is necessary to conduct epidemiological studies using longitudinal data. Third, the risk of contracting HIV depends not only on one’s sexual partner’s sero-status, but also, if positive, when the partner became infected. A woman may be more likely to contract HIV if she has sex with a newly infected partner because viral loads, which are estimated to be strongly predictive of the risk of transmission (see Quinn et al., 2000; Gray et al., 2001), are high at the time of infection (see Anderson, 1996). Although infectivity is likely to vary systematically by age of the man, we do not have data on the infectivity rate of partners of married and unmarried adolescent girls to determine which group’s partners put them at greater risk of acquiring HIV. Sexually active, never married women are more likely to change partners than currently married women (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1998; Ferry et al., 2001), which raises the risk of encountering an infected partner. Moreover, the male partners of unmarried women are more apt to be single and, in turn, are more likely to have multiple sexual partners than are men in monogamous unions (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 2003). However, if those in polygamous unions are included, married men may be more likely to have a greater number of sexual partners than single men, as is observed in Rakai (Gray et al., 2004).28

With the data currently at hand, definitive statements about the effect of marriage delay on HIV risk canot be made; moreover, the association probably varies by social setting. While later marriage delay may lead to later onset, it may also result in higher lifetime rates of HIV infection. An additional concern is women’s HIV status when bearing children. One consequence of delayed marriage may be that women are more likely to be infected during pregnancy, although one study found no evidence to support this speculation (Clark, 2004).

28  

This analysis of the consequences of delayed marriage for HIV risk among women also draws on discussions that took place at a November 10, 2004, Population Council workshop on Marriage and HIV/AIDS. For a more detailed discussion of some of these issues see Bongaarts (2005).

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

As is the case for women, the health consequences of delayed marriage are unknown for men. Although marriage does not impose sexual exclusivity on men, in countries where premarital sex is prevalent, a delay in marriage may increase exposure to HIV and other STDs because, as noted above, compared to married men, a greater percentage of the unmarried have multiple sexual partners (see Appendix Table 3, Alan Guttmacher Institute, 2003). Alternatively, in countries where postpartum abstinence taboos are still present and men marry early, they may be more likely to engage in intercourse with other partners including commercial sex workers during the post-partum period. Clearly more research is needed on the linkages between changing age at marriage, sexual behavior, condom use, and HIV risk among both men and women.

CONCLUSIONS

During the last 30 years, for most developing country regions, substantial declines have occurred in the proportion of young men and women married; the clear exceptions are South America for men and women, and, for men only, South and Southeast Asia.

Given differentials in male and female marriage ages by years of schooling and residence, we assessed whether the decline in the percentage of young people married is related to increases in educational attainment and urbanization. Expansion of schooling for women has had some impact, but there is still a considerable fraction of the increase not explained by changes in education. We asserted that a proper investigation of the association between education and age at marriage would look beyond such factors as years of schooling to what goes on within the school itself, as well as changes in the value of education, which is likely to vary across settings.

In suggesting other factors that might account for some of the increase in age of marriage among women, we reviewed a considerable number of demographic studies. Contributory factors examined in the literature and considered here include the decline in arranged marriages, the deficit of available older men with increasing cohort size and the concomitant rise in the cost of dowries in South Asia, changes in the legal age of marriage, and a transformation in global norms about the desirability of early marriage of women. We noted that there is a much smaller literature on age of marriage of men. While increasing educational attainment of men is also believed to contribute to a delay, we found no evidence of this in sub-Saharan Africa. We suggested that increasing costs of establishing a household may lead men to postpone marriage.

This data analysis and review of the literature revealed that there is much that we do not know about changes in the timing of marriage for men and women and the consequences of these changes for health and other out-

Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
×

comes. To better understand the dynamics of union formation, demographic surveys need to collect information on the social, cultural, and economic factors that affect life decisions among young people, including the contextual factors that reflect the opportunity structures available. Greater attention to the shift in the marriage process including the apparent decline in arranged marriages and the increase in marriages based on mutual attraction would also be useful as both have implications for partner communication and decision-making processes regarding family building. In so doing a more nuanced understanding of marriage, one of the key transitions in the pathway from adolescence to adulthood, can be developed.

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Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
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Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
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Page160
Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
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Page161
Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
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Page162
Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
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Page163
Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
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Page164
Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
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Page165
Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
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Page166
Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
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Page167
Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
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Page168
Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
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Page169
Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
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Page170
Suggested Citation:"5 Trends in the Timing of First Marriage Among Men and Women in the Developing World--Barbara S. Mensch, Susheela Singh, and John B. Casterline." National Research Council. 2005. The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11524.
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Serving as a companion to Growing Up Global, this book from the National Research Council explores how the transition to adulthood is changing in developing countries in light of globalization and what the implications of these changes might be for those responsible for designing youth policies and programs. Presenting a detailed series of studies, this volume both complements its precursor and makes for a useful contribution in its own right. It should be of significant interest to scholars, leaders of civil society, and those charged with designing youth policies and programs.

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