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Trends in the timing of first marriage among men and women in the developing world

MENSCH, Barbara S
SINGH, Susheela
CASTERLINE, John B
August 2005

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The timing of first union merits investigation not only because of the close temporal link between marriage and the onset of childbearing, but also because the age when men and women marry has implications for the organization of family life and for gender relations within society. This paper begins by reviewing the contributions of various social science disciplines to an understanding of the timing of marriage. Using current status data from 73 countries provided by the United Nations Population Division and retrospective data from 52 Demographic and Health Surveys conducted between 1990 and 2001, we then examine recent trends in the timing of first marriage or union for men and women in the developing world. With the exception of South America for both sexes and South and Southeast Asia for men, substantial declines have occurred in the proportion of young men and women who are married. Given the differentials in the timing of marriage by educational attainment and residence, we assess whether the decline in the proportion of young people who are married is related to increases in schooling and urbanization. Expansion of schooling for women has had some impact, but a considerable portion of the reduction in early marriage is not explained by changes in levels of education. We consider other factors that might account for the increase in age at marriage. Finally, we review what is known about the consequences of changing age at marriage with a particular focus on risk of HIV infection.

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