MPIDR Working Paper

Stalls and reversals in age at first marriage in sub-Saharan Africa: the role of female education expansion

John, B., Nitsche, N.
MPIDR Working Paper WP-2021-022, 29 pages.
Rostock, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (November 2021)
Open Access


Age at first marriage stalled in some sub-Saharan African (SSA) regions despite female education expansion. However, a systematic investigation of this paradox concerning where, over which birth cohorts, at what ages and why such stalls occurred is lacking. This paper analyzes these dimensions among women born 1945-1999 in four broad SSA regions (West, Central, East and Southern Africa) and 33 countries using Demographic Health Survey data. Findings reveal that median age at first marriage (MAFM) at the population level stalled in 12 countries and reversed in nine countries. At the regional level, MAFM stalled in Central and East Africa and reversed in Southern Africa. The stalls and reversals dominated the 1965-69 – 1985-89 birth cohorts and occurred at MAFM between 15.6-31.1. In some regions, stalls or reversals emerged because female education expansion dominated primary education, while in others, they emerged because age at marriage within specific education groups stalled or reversed. However, the pace of progress for girls’ participation in secondary schooling was the most essential condition for stalls or reversals to emerge at the population level. We discuss the implications of these findings for policy/programs aiming at eradicating early marriages in SSA.

Keywords: Africa, age at marriage, cohort analysis, education of women
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.