An Investigation of Declining Marriages in the Post-Apartheid South Africa, 1995-2006

Last updated September 2009

In South Africa, both researchers and policymakers have been interested in post-apartheid trends. Availability of nationally representative cross-sectional datasets has sparked an increasing interest in tracking the economy, survey by survey, to capture and study the trend(s) of interest. This study focuses on marriage trends. Marriage rates for African (indigenous black) South African women of working age (between 15 and 59) declined from 38.7 percent in 1995 to 31.4 percent in 2004. This phenomenal change in marriage patterns sparked interest in the current research, especially because the decline was concentrated in the ages 25 to 34 and hence suggested a generational shift in marriage behavior.

The specific objectives of this study are threefold. First, attempt to determine whether the change in marital patterns observed in the post-apartheid period is a real shift in marital behavior and not just a trend driven by change in sampling designs and erratic fluctuations.

The second objective focuses on the determinants of women’s marriage decisions. To this end, we account for the interdependence between female labor force participation and marriage decisions.

The third objective attempts to explain trend toward fewer marriages. Age, education, labor market status, availability of potential partners, and location where one stays are all important factors in a woman's marriage decision. However, these variables are not constant across time or among population groups. Thus, simply comparing estimated coefficients from different cross-sections does not clarify whether marriage decline is a result of change in coefficients (functional relationship of a model) or change in characteristics (distribution of characteristics). In this study, decomposition analysis enables separation of the effect of the changing coefficients from the changing characteristics on the decline in marriages it enables us to establish the factors that mostly contribute to the declining marriages.

Contact Information:

Grace Kumchelesi,;, University of Cape Town