An economic analysis of declining marriages in post-apartheid South Africa, 1995-2006

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Survey by survey comparisons of marriage rates in nationally representative cross-sectional datasets suggest that marriages are declining in South Africa. For African South African women of working age (between 15 and 59 years) marriage rates declined from 38.7 percent in 1995 to 31.4 percent in 2004. This change in marriage patterns motivated the current research and we asked whether the drop in marriage rates indicates a real generational shift in marital behaviour, or if this can be explained by changes in sampling frames in the independent surveys. The broad objective of the study is to investigate declining marriages in post-apartheid South Africa. The specific objectives are threefold. First, we construct a synthetic panel dataset from the 1995 to 1999 annual October Household Surveys and from the 2000 to 2006 September wave of the biannual Labour Force Surveys. Using the pseudo panel, we make use of the Age-Period-Cohort Model to disentangle marriage trends into age, period, and cohort effects in order to establish whether the change in marital patterns observed in post-apartheid South Africa reflects a real decline in marriages. Having established that the change in marriage rates indeed reflects a generational change in marital behaviour, the second objective focuses on the determinants of women's marriage decisions. To this end, we attempt to account for the interdependence between female labour force participation and marriage decisions by estimating simultaneous equation models for each cross-sectional year from 1995 to 2006. Availability of women's jobs in a District Council locality is used as an exogenous shock in the labour force participation equation to identify the marriage equation. The analysis finds that age, education, labour market status, availability of potential partners in the local marriage market, and location are all important factors in a woman's marriage decision. While the results show that labour force participation and a high level of education lower the probability of marriage, age and availability of potential partners are found to increase it. The third objective is an explanation of the trend towards fewer marriages by relating the changing effects of the variables to the marriage decline. Using the Blinder-Oaxaca decomposition technique, we establish that marriage decline is predominantly explained by a change in the marital behaviour of African South African women, rather than change in the distribution of the characteristics that determine marriage decisions. A detailed decomposition of the characteristic portion of the marriage decline analysis indicates that a rise in education levels and in labour force participation contributes to increasing the marriage decline. On the other hand, distribution in age of women, how they are geographically distributed, and the [unequal] distribution of men and women contribute to narrowing the marriage decline.

Includes bibliographical references.