Wooing and weeping: marriage and divorce in SA

Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) this week released its Marriages and Divorces 2012 report, which looks at trends in happy beginnings and unhappy endings. Here are some of the key findings:

1. Entering into a civil marriage? You’re most likely to do so between September and December. Easter is also a popular time of the year for weddings. Even though happy occasions are meant to warm your heart, July – the middle of winter – is the least popular month for ceremonies.

2. Civil marriage is becoming less popular as the years go by. Stats SA examined a decade’s worth of marriage and divorce trends for this report, finding that 2008 was the peak (186 522 marriages) and 2012 the lowest (161 112). That was down by 3.7% from 2011.

3. In 2012, the majority of civil marriages involved first-time brides and bridegrooms. The highest number of these marriages between people giving holy matrimony a bash for the first time were recorded in KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo.

4. Minors can’t get married without a range of permissions, including from the Minister of Home Affairs. Boys must be 18 or older and girls 16 or older to get married without jumping through these hoops of approval and permission. In 2012, Stats SA found, the marriages of nine bridegrooms and 206 brides younger than 18 were registered.

5. For first-time marriages in 2012, the average age of bachelors was 33 and spinsters 29 when they tied the knot.

6. The number of customary marriages recorded in South Africa is steadily, modestly climbing. Most couples, though, don’t register their customary marriage in the same year the ceremony is performed, so the figures can be deceptive.

7. In 2012, 987 civil unions were recorded, an increase from 80 in 2007. Civil unions most often involve same-sex couples, and the highest number (425) were recorded in Gauteng in 2012, followed by 253 in the Western Cape. Civil unions are unpopular in North West (11 registered in 2012), Mpumalanga (12) and Limpopo (13).

8. Marriage rates are dropping, but the number of divorces is climbing. In 2012, 21 998 divorces were completed and registered, up from 20 980 in 2011. During the decade under review, 2005 was a really bad year for marriage: 32 484 divorces were recorded.

9. More wives (11 033, or 50.2%) than husbands (7335 or 33.3%) initiated divorces during 2012. In 16.5% of cases that year, the sex of the plaintiff was not specified. White women were most likely to file for divorce and black women least likely in the cases where the plaintiff’s sex was specified.

10. Most of 2012’s divorcees were ending a marriage for the first time; about 2.0% of men and women were at least third time divorcees.

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