The face of marriage is changing all over the world. In the United States, marriage is becoming less common with domestic partnerships and divorce on the rise. In the Middle East marriages are occurring later in life due to economic trouble and the protection of women’s rights.
In the United States, the average man is 29 years old when they first get married. This is six to seven years later than the average age of marriage in 1960. In 1960, the average American was married by age 24 compared to only 14% of Americans today. Only 51% of adults are currently in legal marriages and 50% of marriages end in divorce. Many believe that the reason for later marriages is the couples desire to finish their education and achieve economic stability. These are steps that were traditionally taken together by a husband and wife, but now many will not even consider marriage without ideal conditions. Divorce on the other hand is caused by a number of factors, but many of them are related to the lack of stability that Americans prefer to have before marriage. Some of these seem silly, but studies have shown that couple who marry before age 21 are often unprepared for marriage. They neglect to establish equality in the relationship, have less education and lower income. Premarital relations also increase the likelihood of divorce. People who live together before marriage, especially with more than one partner, or have children prior to marriage are at an increased risk for divorce. Other risk factors include lack of religious beliefs, having divorced parents, and personal insecurities.
The Middle East has a completely different marital culture from the United States. People are getting married later but not typically as late as Americans. Young marriage is common and it is not uncommon for women to be married off as children. Many countries have set higher ages for legal marriage to reduce the prevalence of child marriage, but religious officials will still conduct marriage ceremonies long before the legal age of marriage. This form of marriage puts the wife at further risk beyond those already associated with child-marriage. They have no legal protections in the case of death or abandonment by their husbands. If they have children, those children also have no legal support.
Early marriages take away women’s power and keep her in perpetual cycle of poverty. Young brides are not given sufficient education, have higher fertility rates, and increased poverty. Not to mention, child marriage directly violates the brides right to choose to enter into marriage as protected by a number of international constitutions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). The only tangible solution that has been presented to reduce child marriage is to encourage or legally require families to keep their daughters in school until they graduate high school, making them ineligible for early marriage. The goal is to eventually change the cultural view of child marriage by stressing the benefits of keeping girls in school.
Of course, child marriage does not occur in all marriages. The highest rate of child marriage among surveyed countries (Yemen, Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Algeria) Yemen has the highest instance of child marriage with 32% of women between the ages of 20 and 24 in 2010 reported being married before turning 18 (the legal at of marriage in Yemen is 15). Countries with legal marriage ages over 18, have a lower instance of child marriage. Lebanon (Legal marriage at age 17 for girls, 18 for boys) had only 11% of child marriages, 10% in Jordan, and 2% in Algeria. Regardless of this tradition, PBS reports that marriages are happening later in the Middle East due to economic difficulties. According to the reports, high unemployment rates have made it impossible to afford high cost of marriage leaving 50% of men between the ages 25 and 29 unmarried. This economic misfortune has benefited women by lengthening their education, lowering the number of children they have, and expanding their employment opportunities. One grave concern of the delay of legal marriage is the possibility of an increase of illegal marriage, which includes child marriage, in order to fulfill intimate desires because sex outside of marriage is forbidden. The expectations of wives to simply be beautiful, sexually fulfilling, and produce children is changing as a result of new expectation for a woman to be educated and financially productive, though, which may detour child marriages or at least improve opportunities for young brides to continue their education.
Divorce rates in the Middle East are growing. Of Gulf countries, the United Arab Emirates has the highest rate at 46%. Divorce rates have increased in Iraq and Iran, although the rates are still comparatively low at 150 per month and 10% respectively. Divorce rates still remain low due to strict cultural beliefs and difficult laws involving divorce. In Syria for example, the wife must have the right for her to divorce her husband written into the marriage contract before she gets married or she cannot request a divorce. It is not socially acceptable for a woman to request this right.
In my opinion the reason for the downturn in marriage in the U.S. has to do with more than just economics. Many people don’t believe in the sanctity of marriage and see no point. The high divorce rate is discouraging young people from wanting to get married for fear of divorce and the financial and emotional damage associated with it. This seems especially true for people who have divorced parents. Some people just don’t see marriage as any more beneficial than living in a domestic partnership. Others see marriage as taking their freedom away. This is true for both men and women who have dreams, ambitions, and activities that they fear a spouse would get in the way of. I have a lot of friends who are not married, but are raising their children in a domestic partnership. My one friend who did get married is already facing a divorce. People are just not as committed to working things out anymore.
During my research, I found many analysis that said western culture was affecting marriage practices all over the world. This is positive to the extent that women are being freed from their gender roles and marriage has the opportunity to be more than just a cultural, religious, and moral obligation, but it is also concerning. The state of marriage in the United States is not something for other nation to aspire to achieve. Its sad. Marriage should be the base for family life and a support and security for all members of the family. Children need that security and so do the adults. If two people love each other and care for each other, they should help each other reach their goals and build their household together. A family is something that should be celebrated, not feared.