MPIDR Working Paper

Marital life courses in sub-Saharan Africa: all cause union dissolution, its timing, and time spent outside marriage

John, B., Nitsche, N.
MPIDR Working Paper WP-2022-017, 39 pages.
Rostock, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (June 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 novel and standard indirect demographic techniques to Demographic Health Survey data collected in 34 SSA countries to document the level and timing of all-cause union dissolution and the time women spend outside of marriage due to union dissolution. 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 varies between 1.3 and 5.3 years, and it accounts for 4.0% to 16.3% of the total reproductive life expectancy. We discuss the implications of these dynamics for fertility outcomes in SSA.

Keywords: Africa, cohort fertility, dissolution of marriage
The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.