Decline in marriages in the past 5 years

Last week Statistics SA presented the results of research over a 4-year period, 2008-2011, which showed that the number of marriages had declined by over 40%. The largest decline had been in customary marriages – 49%.  Why are fewer people getting married these days?

The representative of Stats SA said that it is probably due to the fact that young people are not keen to commit to being monogamous as well as more and more woman want to develop their careers before settling down to marriage. Is this really so and, if the comment about lack of willingness to commit is a major factor, why?  I have a couple of theories.

Firstly, we live in a world of instant gratification. How often do we get all uptight when the computer takes longer than a minute to boot up or if we send someone an SMS or e-mail and we do not get an immediate response?  A little while ago I re-read the book, Dear Louisa, which documents a number of letters written by a Byrne Settler, in the mid to late 1800s, to her sister Louisa in London.  It was quite acceptable then for a letter to take up to 3 months to reach its destination. Letters were written by hand and one had to travel a distance to the local post office or wait for the 2 days a week when the postman would come by. The postman would not only bring letters but would also take any for posting. Receiving a hand written letter from a loved one was a real joy and still is to many, mainly elderly, people today. Gradually these times for delivery were reduced until the UK was boasting that a letter could be posted to another address within the country and be received and replied to within 24 hours.  Wow what a speedy service.  Over the past 20 years we have gone from ‘snail mail’, to e-mail to SMS and instant messaging but it has made us rather impatient as a result. If we can’t have a decision or response immediately we get irritated and frustrated.

Secondly, more and more we are being encouraged to create a ‘me’ world – my rights, my needs etc.  South Africa, like many countries around the world, has a Bill of Rights. That is wonderful and a great improvement on the past.  But what we do not have is a Bill of Responsibilities. “I need a house, so give me one. It is my right!” “I want a better job. It is my right so give me one.” I want free schooling so make it accessible for me. It is my right!” and so it goes on. One does not seem to hear, “I need a house and it is my responsibility to maintain it.” or “I need free schooling and it is my responsibility to get to school on time and make an effort to achieve.” When there are discussions and presentations on various issues the presenter will always remind the listeners that they must know their Rights but seldom, if ever, do we hear them say, ‘Know your Responsibilities.’

Thirdly, it is often said by many young people today, “Marriage is just a piece of paper. Why do we need it? We know that we love each other and we are OK living together.” A young woman whom I see about once a month got married in September 2012 and when I next saw her I asked how she was enjoying married life.  She replied, “No difference really as we have lived together for 5 years. We want children now so got married.”  Had she not made vows of commitment in front of others which make her situation quite different? For her she was doing the right thing for her children.

With these attitudes and selfishness it is not surprising that fewer and fewer people wish to commit to a monogamous marriage. They want instant fulfilment without any effort.  Marriage is for two people to make a commitment and work hard daily to make it work.  Yes, there are situations where divorce is right but often people give up as soon as they do not get what they want out of the marriage and do not think what they can do to make it special and a commitment.

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