15 June 2000


Press Release
DEV/2251
POP/771



UNITED NATIONS ISSUES WALL CHART ON MARRIAGE PATTERNS 2000


NEW YORK, 15 June (DESA)— Marriage patterns have implications for the status of women, their health and fertility. Although out-of-wedlock births are common in many countries, entry into marriage usually marks the beginning of exposure to childbearing. Early entry into marriage exposes women to the risks of early childbearing and may also impede improvements in their educational, economic, and social status. Where young females marry older males, large age gaps between spouses could contribute to marginalization of females and low status of women. Hence, monitoring marriage patterns is one of the important activities of the Population Division. To this end, the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) has issued a wall chart entitled "World Marriage Patterns 2000", showing the most recent data on the timing and prevalence of marriage for 199 countries or areas.

The wall chart shows significant differences in the mean age at marriage between males and females and between regions. Men generally marry later than women throughout the world. The average mean age at marriage among countries of the developed regions is 27.9 for males and 25.2 for females, compared to 24.9 for males and 21.4 for females among countries of the less developed regions. The wall chart also shows a larger proportion of women than men ever married in age group 15-19 years.

The disparity in marriage timing for males and females varies within and between regions. In Europe and Northern America, the mean age at marriage is at least 29 years for both males and females in Finland, Germany, Greenland, Iceland and Sweden; 24 years or less in the Republic of Moldova, San Marino and Ukraine; and, 21 years for females in Bulgaria, Gibraltar, Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. While the proportion of men in age group 15-19 who have ever married does not exceed 3.9 per cent in any country of Europe and Northern America, the proportion of women, in the same age group, who have ever married is at least 3.9 per cent in 32 of the 55 countries, including the United States; reaching as high as 16 per cent in Bulgaria and Ukraine. Croatia, Greece, Malta and Norway have the highest age gaps in the mean age at marriage of at least four years.

In Asia, the mean age at marriage for men ranges from 22 years in Nepal and 23 years in Tajikistan to about 30 years in Hong Kong, Japan, Kuwait, the Republic of Korea and Singapore. For women, it ranges from about 18 years in Afghanistan and Bangladesh to at least 27 years in Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore. The difference in the mean age at marriage is at least four years in 21 of the 64 countries, and in only three countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Lebanon) does the age difference exceed five years. The proportion of men aged 15-19 who have ever married is below 10 per cent in almost all Asian countries except Nepal (14 per cent) and Iraq (15 per cent). Meanwhile, in 46 out of 65 countries in Asia, at least 10 per cent of the women aged 15-19 have ever married. Japan and the Republic of Korea have the lowest proportion of ever-married women (less than 1 per cent) in age group 15-19, while in Afghanistan and Bangladesh, it is more than 50 per cent.

Like in Asia, the proportion of men aged 15-19 years who have ever married is below 10 per cent in all African countries except the Republic of Congo and Uganda. On the other hand, at least 30 per cent of women aged 15-19 have ever married in half of the countries shown. In the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Niger, at least 55 per cent of women aged 15-19 have ever been married, while Libya, Réunion, South Africa and Tunisia have the lowest proportion of ever-married women (less than 5 per cent) in age group 15-19 in Africa. The mean age at marriage ranges from 22 years (in Uganda) to 32 years (in Libya) for men, and from 17 years (in the Democratic Republic of Congo) to 29 years (in Libya) for women. African countries have the highest age gaps in mean age at first marriage. The difference in mean age at marriage is at least five years in more than half of the countries and, in only five countries (Cape Verde, Libya, Réunion, Seychelles and South Africa), is the difference in mean age at marriage less than three years.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the mean age at marriage is at least 30 years and 27 years for men and women, respectively, in at least half the countries. Moreover, smaller differences in mean age at marriage are indicated in Latin America and the Caribbean than in Africa or Asia; only in three countries (Haiti, Montserrat and Paraguay) is the age difference above four years. In addition, while in all countries, the proportion of ever-married men in age group 15-19 years is less than 8 per cent; the proportion of ever-married women in the same group is above 8 per cent in 33 of the 51 countries shown. In Cuba, Honduras and Nicaragua, at least 29 per cent of women aged 15-19 have ever married. However, for Latin America and the Caribbean, the data may not reflect appropriately the patterns of first marriage, given the large proportions of consensual unions, which are common in many countries of the region.

For Oceania, in only Kiribati and Marshall Islands is the mean age at marriage below 25 years for men. For women, in none of the countries or areas is the mean age at marriage less than 20 years. In most countries, the age gap in mean age at marriage is less than three years; in only Nauru and Wallis and Futuna Islands are age gaps as large as those in some parts of Africa and Asia. Like in the other major regions, in Oceania, fewer men than women aged 15-19 have ever married; the proportion of ever-married men in age group 15-19 is less than 8 per cent in all countries. However, in only six of the 27 countries shown (Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Solomon Islands) is the proportion of ever-married women in age group 15-19 above 8 per cent. Moreover, even in these six countries, fewer than 21 per cent of the women aged 15-19 have ever married.

Overall, the disparity in marriage timing for males and females is broader in Africa than elsewhere. Of the 20 countries with the lowest mean age at marriage for females, 15 are in Africa while the rest are in Asia. Similarly, of the 20 countries with the highest age gaps in mean age at first marriage, 16 countries are in Africa, compared to two in Asia (Afghanistan and Bangladesh), one in Latin America and the Caribbean (Montserrat), one in Oceania (Nauru), and none in Europe and Northern America. Even within Africa, regional differences are apparent; a large proportion of countries with the largest age gaps in age at first marriage is in Western Africa. The Democratic Republic of Congo has the highest percentage of ever-married women in the adolescent age group (74.2 per cent), while Iraq has the highest proportion of ever-married men of the same age group, that is, 14.9 per cent.

In spite of the relatively high incidences of marital dissolution in some regions such as Europe and Northern America, the wall chart shows that marriage is still the preferred state. In almost all countries, the proportions of ever- married men and women are at least 90 per cent.

* *** *