The South African Divorce Rate
Marriages in South Africa
In 2008, 186 522 marriages were registered in South Africa. This number includes 959 marriages of South African citizens solemnised outside the borders of South Africa but were registered in South Africa. Information from the Department of Statistics show that the number of registered marriages has generally been increasing over the last ten years (1999–2008). In 1999, 140 458 marriages were registered. This number had increased to 186 522 in 2008 showing an annual increase of 2,9% since 1999. The 2008 186 522 shows an increase of 3 492 (1,9%) from 183 030 marriages recorded in 2007.
Age at the time of marriage
In 2008, marriages of 930 men and 6 774 women aged less than 21 years were registered. Women enter marriage for the first time at younger ages than men. In 2008, the median age for grooms was 34 years compared to 29 years for brides. Major differences however, are observed when the marital status at the time of current marriage is considered. For first time marriages, the median age for bachelors was 32 years and that of spinsters was 29 years giving a difference of three years. The age at first marriage for both men and women has remained the same as 2006. For remarriages, the median age of divorce men was 52 years compared to 46 years for their female counterparts yielding an age gap of six years. Similarly, the median ages for widowers and widows were 45 years and 29 years respectively resulting in a 16 years’ gap. Despite the fact that men tend to marry younger women, in 2008 14,6% of bridegroom were younger than their brides whilst 7,1% were of the same age.
Trends in divorces (1999-2008)
The published data on divorces indicate that the number of granted cases has been fluctuating between 37 098 and 28 924 per annum in the past decade (1999-2008). The distribution of couples divorcing by population group shows that there were more divorces among the African population group compared to the other groups. Despite the general fluctuations, the proportions of divorces from the mixed and the African groups have been increasing whilst that of the White group has been declining in the past ten years. In 1999 the African, Indian/Asian, White and mixed groups made up 18,4%; 5,3%; 39,9% and 1,0% of the number of divorces respectively. However, in 2008 the contribution of the African, Indian/Asian and mixed groups increased to 35,0%; 6,2% and 3,1% respectively whilst that of the White group declined to 32,8%.
Who is suing who?
The 2008 data reveal that there were more female (50,6%) than male (37,8%) plaintiffs. However, there were significant differences among population groups. Among African plaintiffs, more husbands (43,5%) than wives (41,1%) initiated the divorce. This is in sharp contrast to the other population groups, particularly among the White (58,0%) and the Coloured (57,9%) whereby most divorces were initiated by women.
Even though a high proportion of the plaintiffs did not indicate the type of occupation they were engaged in at the time of divorce, the highest percentage of wives (19,8%) were in clerical and sales occupations whereas husbands (14,9%) were in managerial and administrative occupations. Very few plaintiffs were in farming and related occupations.
Number of times married
The 2008 divorce cases were mainly from first marriages. The pattern of remarriages among husbands was quite similar to that of the wives. Slightly fewer (76,4%) husbands were from first marriages compared to 77,1% of wives. Approximately 9,0% were second time divorcees for both husbands and wives. About 2,0% of husbands and wives were getting divorced for at least the third time.
Age at the time of divorce
The median age at divorce in 2008 was 41 for men and 38 for women. African men had the highest median age (43) at divorce. Women from the mixed and India/Asian group had the lowest median age (36 years).
Duration of marriage of those divorcing
The median duration of marriage in 2008 was 9 years. The largest number of divorces (7 859 or 27,2%) lasted five to nine years. This group is followed by marriages that lasted less than five years (6 143 or 21,2%). Thus, almost half (48,4%) of the 28 924 divorces in 2008 were from marriages that lasted less than 10 years. As the duration of marriages increased the number of divorces decreased. Irrespective of the population group of the divorcees, the distribution of divorces continues to be skewed towards earlier years of marriage.
Divorces involving couples with children
In 2008, there were 26 947 children (younger than 18 years old) involved in divorce. It is observed that 16 370 (56,6%) of the 28 924 divorces had children younger than 18 years indicating that, on the average, there was between one and two children per divorce.