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Marital transitions in sub-Saharan Africa: cultural diffusion or economic adaptation?

Fatou Jah, Cornell University
Deladem Kusi-Appouh, Cornell University

Contrary to the expectation of “early and universal marriage” two decades ago, many African countries have now entered a new demographic regime marked by lower prevalence of marriage. Based on DHS data from 31 sub-Saharan countries, our paper explores the root causes of this transformation, focusing on whether marital transitions are economically versus culturally driven. The results suggest that African marital transitions occur in a multi-phasic sequence, in terms of both the process itself and its determinants. In terms of process, the transition begins with delayed entry into marriage and is gradually followed by increasing exit from marriage. In terms of determinants, urbanization is the first driver (affecting first delay and now exit from marriage), and is now followed by increased TV exposure and labor-force involvement of young women. Although much of the evidence suggests cultural influence, it fails to indicate a mechanical and ubiquitous adoption of global marital norms.

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Presented in Session 92: Union formation and marriage