Journal Article

Dynamics of union dissolution in sub-Saharan Africa

John, B., Nitsche, N.
Population and Development Review, 48:4, 1163–1201 (2022)
Open Access


Not only whether but also when a union ends and how long individuals remain unpartnered subsequently is consequential for social and demographic outcomes. However, in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), information about the timing of union dissolution and the reproductive time ‘lost’ due to union dissolution is unknown. We close this gap by applying standard indirect demographic techniques in a novel way to Demographic Health Survey data collected in 34 SSA countries to document i) the level and timing of all-cause union dissolution and ii) the time women spend outside of marriage due to union dissolution during their reproductive life course. Results revealed that in 28/34 countries, over one-fifth of first unions end within 15 years, and in 14/34 countries, the proportion of first unions ending within 25 years exceeds 40%. The average marital duration at first union dissolution varies between 4.8 and 9.4 years. The pace of remarriage is rapid across all countries, with the average duration between first union dissolution and first remarriage ranging between 0.2 and 2.9 years. The overall reproductive years lost to union dissolution vary between 1.3 and 5.3 years, and account for 4.0% to 16.3% of the total reproductive life expectancy. We discuss the implications of these dynamics for fertility outcomes in SSA.

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