Census 2011: South Africa’s changing families

An increasing number of couples are cohabiting and delaying their walk down the aisle because marriage is simply too expensive.

The results of Census 2011 also reveal that although the average South African household is still headed by a man, the number of women breadwinners is on the increase.

Of the 15 million households counted in Census 2011, about a third were “traditional” families consisting of married parents and their children.

The areas with the highest percentage of households headed by a married man, at 70% and more, were in Western Cape and in Gauteng’s Midvaal municipality.

Stats SA’s technical manager of census data processing, Jean-Marie Hakizimana, said the trends showed that many people elsewhere in the country chose to live together rather than spend their money on expensive weddings.

A 31-year-old Cape Town woman, who asked not to be named, lived with her husband for seven years before she married him in a traditional ceremony a few months ago.

The couple, who have a five-year-old son, delayed their marriage because of the costs involved.

Their “white wedding” will go ahead next month.

The human resources consultant estimates that she and her IT consultant husband have spent R120 000 on lobola and wedding costs, for which they have saved over the years. “It’s a lot of money,” she said.

Hakizimana said: “For many black South Africans, the price of paying lobola remains high and although they would want to pay it, they just can’t spend that much money on traditional ceremonies. That is why they live together, with their children, unmarried.

“In terms of the trend in marital status, the national picture shows that cohabitation is increasing among those who are younger.

And people marry over time.”

Another trend, he said, was the increase in the number of households headed by single women, 14% of the population.

They are women like Polokwane college lecturer and mother of two, Victoria Maluleke (26).

“Some women don’t want to be tied down to long-term relationships,” she said, adding that women were no longer forced to stay in unhappy or abusive relationships.

“In the old days, women couldn’t dump their husbands as they depended on them for survival. These days, things are different. Women work for themselves and don’t depend on men, which is why they don’t mind being single mothers,” she said.

According to the census statistics, 15% of households have female breadwinners, where a married woman is the head of the household.

In the Western Cape town of Prince Albert, 31% of families are headed by breadwinning wives.

In the Eastern Cape district of Mbashe, 30% of households were headed by single women and 26% by married men.

Most households headed by women were in Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

Single fathers living with their children formed only 2% of the families counted.

Hakizimana said the census results also show that there were fewer people per household in 2011 than during the previous census in 2001.

A decade ago, there was an average of four children per household, a number which had decreased to 3.5 in 2011.

“In many instances, people who had their children taken care of by extended family members and relatives are now taking their children back to personally care for them. People are now living with their own children,” said Hakizimana.

A quarter of South African households reported “other” family structures, which statisticians said included grandmothers living with their grandchildren, gay couples, and child-headed households.

» Have you checked out our Census 2011 digital tool? Go here to explore key census data yourself.

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