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Marital Study Shatters Myths

JEDDAH, 11 July 2005 — Contrary to speculation and rumors — especially by men advocating polygamy to solve the “problem” of increasing rates of divorce and spinsterhood — a recently published scientific study indicates that the rates are normal for any society.

The comprehensive study on marriage in the Kingdom conducted by the Ministry of Social Affairs revealed some interesting facts on the relationship between the developmental changes in our society and marital issues, such as age, expenses, matchmaking, criteria, procedures, number of children, polygamy and divorce.

The research, conducted in 2003, surveyed an equal number of (1,092) Saudi men and women throughout the Kingdom. The age for men was between 21 and 85 and for women between 15 and 63, with most of the sample, 59 percent, in the 31 to 45 age bracket.

Although the education levels of the men and women were almost equal in elementary, intermediate and high school, 18.6 percent of the women surveyed were illiterate compared to five percent of the men, and 31.9 percent of the men had university degrees as opposed to only 15.8 percent of the women.

The average family size, according to the survey, was eight. Most of the families, 61 percent, had one breadwinner, usually the father, and 32 percent had both husband and wife working. The majority of the women surveyed, 63 percent, said they contribute financially to the household.

The survey found that the average age of marriage for men has risen to 28 during the last decade after holding at 25 during previous decades. As for women, the average age of marriage continues to rise every decade, reaching 20 during the last decade from 18 just the decade before. This is likely to rise to 26 in the next decade.

The study concludes this should not be cause for concern, citing United Nations’ Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia-UN (ESCWA) that the spinsterhood age in the Arab world at this time is 28.5 years, and this number is expected to rise in the coming years because of society’s changing attitudes.

Official statistics for 2000 showed that 34.9 percent of the total female population was single and 55.5 percent was married; 1.96 percent was divorced and 7.54 percent widowed. As for men, statistics for 2000 showed that 44.5 percent of the total male population was single and 54 percent married; 0.81 percent was divorced and 0.64 percent widowed.

The study defined the age of marriage for Saudi women to be between 15 and 29 and for men between 20 and 39. Based on the 2000 statistics, only 4.23 percent (64,000) of the women aged 30 and above were single and 2.36 percent of the men over the age of 35 were single. As for the sample surveyed, 2.8 percent was divorced, and 5.5 percent had remarried.

The main reason for divorce was mistreatment. Other common reasons include bad moral behavior, neglect and irresponsibility, and problems with in-laws. Tradition still plays a major role in choosing a mate with 69 percent of the introductions being made through parents, but the study found an increase in finding a partner through personal contact. Tradition also plays a role in that most of those surveyed, 61 percent, married relatives.

Another interesting fact about the surveyed sample is that 99.8 percent of the women married Saudi men and 98.3 percent of the men married Saudi women, so there is no huge number of Saudis marrying foreigners as is often claimed.

The most desired quality in the mate remains being religious or conservative for both men and women followed by family name, and for men beauty came third followed by education, financial situation and job level, but for women job level, education and financial situation followed respectively.

The biggest expense in marriage is the dowry, but the survey found the increase from previous decades to be reasonable given the economic boom the Saudi society had and that the amount has been relatively constant for the past two decades; it is the extreme increase in wedding expenses and home furnishing that cause some men to borrow.

The survey results indicate that 14 percent of the men had more than one wife, and eight percent of the women was not consulted at all in deciding on the groom.