The Relationship between Sex Ratios and Marriage Rates in South Africa

Dorrit Posel, University of Kwazulu-Natal
Daniela Casale, University of Kwazulu-Natal

We investigate the relationship between alternative definitions of sex ratios and marriage outcomes among African and white women in South Africa. In contrast to marriages among whites, African marriages in South Africa traditionally have involved the payment of bridewealth (or ilobolo) by a husband to the prospective wife's family. Using matched data from the 2001 Population Census and the South African Labour Force Surveys, we find that among Africans, both the quantity and quality of unmarried men relative to women in local marriage markets are significant predictors of marriage. However, economic-based measures of marriageability perform better than simple sex ratios in predicting marriage outcomes. These findings are consistent with the argument that bridewealth payments act as a financial constraint to marriage among African couples, raising the marriageability criteria of men. In contrast, we find mostly insignificant results for the relationship between sex ratios and marriage outcomes among white women.

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Presented in Session 41: Families in Comparative Perspective