Data Licence Agreement  

Population distribution by marital status is the percentage distribution of the population in a given age group by the different marital status categories.  Marital status is the personal status of each individual in relation to the marriage laws or customs of a country. The categories of marital status presented in World Marriage Data 2008 are: (1) single (never married); (2) married; (3) widowed and not remarried; (4) divorced and not remarried; and (5) married but separated. These are the categories identified in the Principles and Recommendations for a Vital Statistics System, Revision 2. It is recommended that the category married but separated include both those separated legally and those living in a de facto separation, which may appear as separate categories [para 2.145]. In World Marriage Data 2008, the inclusion of both the legally and de facto separated in the “married but separated” category is indicated in a note.

When data on persons living in consensual unions or with a visiting partner are reported they are also included as marital status categories.  The Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses, Revision 2 recommend that customary unions, such as registered partnerships and consensual unions, be listed separately when they are legal and binding under law [para 2.146]. Census data on consensual unions presented in World Marriage Data 2008, however, do not necessarily conform to this recommendation. Furthermore, there is a considerable variation among the definitions of consensual unions and visiting partnerships used in surveys. Information on the definitions used in surveys need to be obtained from the original source of the data.

  Method of computation

The number of persons in a particular marital status category and age group is divided by the total number of persons in that age group at the same point in time. The result is expressed in percentage terms. Persons in the category of unknown marital status are disregarded, thus effectively assuming that they have the same distribution as thos reporting a marital status. The sum of the percentages in all marital status categories is equal to 100 per cent.  


Statistical system generating the data


Data on the population by age group, sex and marital status are generally obtained from censuses or sample surveys that include questions regarding the current marital status, age and sex of persons enumerated. Data derived from censuses are generally preferred because, when obtained through a questionnaire applied to the whole population, they are not affected by sampling variability.  However, reporting errors may nevertheless bias the results.

  Sources of the data presented

Data derived from censuses are generally reported by National Statistical Offices to the Statistics Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat. Census data are also obtained from official census publications produced by National Statistical Offices. Adjusted data are only used when so reported by National Statistical Offices.

Survey programmes, such as the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) or the CDC-sponsored Reproductive Health Surveys (RHS), as well as national surveys are sources of the data required to calculate the percentages of ever married persons by age and sex.

In World Marriage Data 2008, estimates derived from a single source are presented for each reference year. In cases where more than one source could yield the required estimates, preference is given to estimates based on population censuses. In cases where the estimates can be derived from different surveys carried out the same year, preference is given to those derived from the larger survey.

For each data point included in the data files, information on the type of statistical system generating the data (census, survey) and on the exact source of the data (usually denoted by an acronym) is provided. The meaning of each acronym used is presented in the worksheet labeled "Sources". For surveys that are not part of an international survey programme, the full name is provided in the field "Survey name".

  Comments and limitations

The estimates by age may be affected by age misreporting. Marital status may be misreported, particularly in societies where divorce or separation is not socially acceptable. Data derived from surveys with small samples are subject to sampling error.

  Data coverage and reference years for the data reported
  World Marriage Data 2008 contains data on the percentage of ever married women and men for 217 countries or areas.  When available, data are presented for five reference dates: the closest years to 1970, 1985 and 1995, and the two most recent available years after 1999. For 62 countries or areas, data for all five reference dates are available.  
  Suggested citation:
United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2009). World Marriage Data 2008 (POP/DB/Marr/Rev2008).