First Comes Money, Then Comes Marriage

An interesting article in the Jordan Times today points to a recent study based on the last census, which indicates a decline in the number of people marrying young. This is a post about what that decline might be attributed to and what it has meant (and will mean) for women with regards to social views on education and career attainment.

While our population is now experiencing a shift where people are getting older and the median age has been pushed from 16 in 1978 to 20 in 2005, this study seemed to point to socio-economic conditions as reasons to why marriage is being postponed by my generation. In 1979 women in Jordan married at 21 and today the magic number is 27, while men in that same transition went from the age of 26 to about 30 (all numbers rounded). Education seems to be the ‘culprit’. More men and women have been attending university and/or secondary school in the last 30 years or so. Illiteracy rates for women have decreased from a staggering 68% in 1961 to only 10% in 2004.

In reality, it seems to be all about the money. There is a vicious circle where men who cannot afford marriage will delay it until they can and by the time they do (at around 30) they will tend to marry someone much younger (around 26) simply because anything beyond that seems to cross a social norm and the fact that the pool of unmarried women their age is limited. Families seem to be concerned with marrying off children when they reach that “marrying age” but tend to worry more over the females than the males probably because of reasons concerning fertility and the stigma attached to it. Marrying off the females as soon as they graduate from university seems to be the general thought process. If they wait too long the female becomes socially rejected almost like (and I hesitate to use such an analogy) bad fruit at the fruit stand. Hence if women are being married off early that means older men who have just come around to affording marriage will find no one their age, which means they marry the younger women. And I suppose that’s the connection. The wheel keeps turning.

Let me say this though: I do not believe the waiting is due to merely education or money per se. Education has merely shifted a whole social paradigm. It used to be that men and women were married off post-high school but attaining an education has shifted that perception towards post-university instead. It’s the same way we now see (internationally) 18 as the legal age when decades ago it was much lower.

What it does come down to in my opinion, is social demands. Those seem to be on the rise. While this study may show the willingness for people to push back marriage a few years between the 70’s and today, what it might not show is how much people spend on getting married and how social demands have increased in those realms. Could it be that weddings were much simpler in a simpler time?

While the rich celebrate in 5 star hotels and the poor in their homes, the ailing middle class seems to be caught in the middle when it comes to hosting a wedding or the expenses of getting married in general. The middle class seems to strive to be considered part of the wealthy but find it difficult to afford that lifestyle. I wonder if such a study can pinpoint the rise in debt and if that can be attributed to getting married.

In any case, based on merely observation, I think expenses seem to govern the ability to marry at a younger age.

Something else may be starting to happen that this study is yet to uncover. As the country’s industry and education levels are increasing, it seems more women might start focusing on careers. As of today, based on both observation and these study’s results, it seems for the most part that is yet to happen. Women tend to get married within 4 years of graduating university and go straight into roles as homemakers and mothers.

I wonder however if this will result in a larger social reaction towards female career pursuit. It took a long time for families to accept the idea that their daughters should finish their degrees first before marriage. Education is just one of those things that fits into a standard: like being 18 before you’re allowed to drive. It’s become both a social and semi-legal norm in the country that rarely will people dispute it and in fact it seems families (not wanting to be social oddities) will be more eager to send their daughters to university.

However careers are a different matter. There seems to be no established social norm concerning it. I am willing to bet that if a poll was taken it might reveal that the overwhelming majority (perhaps over 90%) of families would rather see their daughter married and bearing children than attaining a career. Perhaps that same number would also rather see their daughters with a university degree than getting married. I don’t see it as denying a woman the right to work as a great deal of our working population seems to point to the contrary, but it seems to be a matter of priorities. In fact, I sometimes feel, and perhaps this is just me, that parents send their daughters to university as a way to market them for potential suitors and if they graduate with none in sight, they send them into the workforce for the same purpose even though the woman herself might not even be considering it or thinking of it in that way.

I wonder, will my generation change the whole concept of a Jordanian marriage in the 21st century? If ours is the largest generation to soon grow old, will we see education and career as two different concepts when it comes to our daughters, or will social norms remain unchanged forcing us to see them as our parents did.

By the way, my own personal views on early marriage are quite simple: if they can afford it and are mentally ready then God bless. Falling in to the pit traps of social demands is something I find ridiculous. And while I find that a university degree represents a level of education rather than a piece of paper used for career attainment, I also find it absurd that a woman’s degree be rendered useless by virtue of marriage if she wants to pursue a career. There has just got to be a middle ground for the changes to come.


  • Awesome Hamede!

    I got into a fight with my father once who tried to convince me that if a woman does not marry when she’s young (read before 25), then she’ll never get married. Once a woman passes 25 she apparently becomes more critical and her brain gets in the way of love. I’m 30 now and think that if I I had gotten married when I was younger I would’ve missed out on a lot and am looking forward to getting married at this age.

  • Well, I am not saying that it is intentional that parents send women to university just to make them better candidates for marriage, but there is a cause and effect here or something like that, becuase families tend to marry from similar education level, wealth, age (26 – 32 is really close in my opinion)

    I think the same thing is happening in the US and Canada as well, and maybe everywhere else too. Couples are marrying at a later age because more people are pursuing higher education, and because real wages for youth have fallen since the 60s. So they just can’t afford it. And two income families are becoming more and more the norm when it certainly wasn’t like that in the 60s or earlier (Before birth control pills πŸ˜› )

  • Hamede: cool πŸ˜€

    Oula Farawati: we’re a difficult species to tame. πŸ˜€

    lksfadljk: Yeah I agree, there is that aspect of educational levels also worth thinking about. But the difference between North America and our side of the world is family and society. It’s as you know very very different. Our part of the world is part of a larger common social fabric where family and society little to no room for individuality that you would see for example in the type of lives people lead in New York or Chicago or Toronto or wherever.

    I touched on this recently in a comment on fellow Jordanian blogger Lina’s post called Abu Meen. You can check it out here:

  • Nas,
    When I read that article, I saw some possitive changes.
    First, in 1979 the average marrying age for women was 21, and the average age for men was 26 (a five year difference). As of 2005, the average marrying age for women was 27 and for men 30 (a three year difference). If families still thought that a woman should marry right out of college, then these 30 year-old men would still be marrying 21 year olds. A while ago, a Jordanian friend (female) said to me, “These guys over thirty just want a toy, they don’t want a life partner.” These numbers seem to give evidence that this is not entirely true.

    Keep in mind, too, that these are AVERAGE numbers. I imagine that there are a lot of women marrying younger than 27, which means that their must logically there must be a lot of women marrying OLDER than 27 (or a few VERY OLD women getting married and throwing off the averages, but it’s more likely the first).

    In the end though, neither early marriage or late marriage is intrinsically good in itself. God has a good, uniqe plan for each one of us, which may not be the life we (or our parents) expected.

  • Nas,

    This is a topic that I want to comment on .. unfortunately; I have to leave in a bit but I could not pass telling you that you a great new look on this space .. frankly; this is more you πŸ™‚

    I love it

    Will be back for more so stay tuned πŸ˜€

  • rebecca: you make some interesting points here, although when they say the average is 27 I think for the most we’re not looking at variables that range low enough to be 18 or high enough to be 35. I would say, if I had to guess, our variables would range more like 25 to 30. But this is just a guess.

    Also these numbers may not be so accurate. There’s a great amount of difficulty in gathering census information outside Amman, especially in the smaller towns scattered here and there. So I’m inclined to believe that a great deal of these number reflect a more Ammani reality than a comprehensive Jordanian reality.

    Khalidah: thanks! looking forward to hearing your thoughts! πŸ™‚

  • MArraige oh the topic we seem to hear abt every single day… “liesssssh ma itzawjtoh? shido 7aylko”

    marraige is overrated… i think ppl make sucha big deal abt the whole marraige subject and treat u as if u are disabled when ur not married!! MEn are “6afraneen” and not ready for marraige because of the low salaries & unreasonable expectations from families… and when they are thirty something or 4something and FINALLY 7awasho shwy and are READY.. they dont look at the girls that are aroudn their age..they aim for the fresh graduate who are in the early twenties!!

    so… MEn want to marry the younger woman.. and women who pass the age of 25 and are not married are considered “bad fruits” !!! unless if they are lucky and find someone who doesnt mind he AGE DIFFERENCE :S

    but yes money is important for marraige… but its not the only reason many women & men are not married…

  • Nas thanks for directing me to another interesting discussion. I agree with you a lot. But I also sometimes wonder if our social values are slowly changing to keep up with our economic changes. Women aren’t joining the labour force because they are re-thinking the concept of self-empowerment, but because they can’t afford not to work, and because the economy can’t afford not to let them since it needs to keep up with the rest of the world. So even though it is now acceptable for women to marry later and later, it sounds misleading for someone to call this change in marriage norms as a positive change.

    But positive or not, my point is that either way these changes are having effects on our community in fundamental ways that maybe within the next generation it will make Ammanies more and more individualistic as accepting neoliberalism into our economy in some sense requires. Of course this is all only a thought, it’s not like I am speaking from some detailed study or anything like that to back up any of my claims πŸ™‚

  • I’m thankful that my parents do not force me to get married. Some may find this odd, but not me, I’m appreciating every single of freedom I’m given at the moment! Rejoice it while you can!

    I believe that one shouldn’t get married if one can’t commit to each other, when you don’t think you can find happiness, I may be self-centered, who cares. I rather stay single than going to court to file for divorce! Plus women these days are more capable of taking care of themselves. I believe they don’t need to depend on men that much, they’re no longer the baby-making machine they once were. They are professionals, leaders.

    That’s my view!

  • Oh Nas,

    Whatever happened to the “e7na bneshtary rjal” concept?

    It makes me really sad to see what we have become and how men and women are being weighed in this time and age … in the 21st century and we are still stuck with the “el rajol ma be3eboh illa jeboh” concept .. and spinsters are bad fruit that everyone wants to be away from …

    I agree with you that universities have become marriage markets and so did workplaces, and you are right when you said that families are more inclined to send their daughters to university and then allow them to work to get better chances in landing a better or may I say a wealthier husband …

    The thing has turned into a contest where people are racing to get the good catches and hard luck for the rest as it seems that a small percentage only is interested in getting married for the right reasons while the rest do that for social necessity ..

    What a pity .. men spend years to get ready and when they do, they end up with the wrong partner .. and women spend their whole life getting prepared to be picked by those men only to be chosen according to the wrong standards (with some exceptions of course so that no one would accuse me of generalizing) ..

    I am a 33 year old single career woman .. and I will not look at how much he has because this becomes irrelevant when you realize that you ended up with the wrong person .. big parties and spending hard earned money on clothes and stupid appearances is a big NO for me .. I would rather do something useful with it than throw it away in thin air

    Thank you for this post Nas πŸ™‚

  • Whatever happened to the Ò??e7na bneshtary rjalÒ? concept?

    Well, in this day and age ‘rjal’ has become a relatively extinct ‘species…’

    What a pity .. men spend years to get ready and when they do, they end up with the wrong partner .. and women spend their whole life getting prepared to be picked by those men only to be chosen according to the wrong standards (with some exceptions of course so that no one would accuse me of generalizing) ..

    I wonder what would have gone wrong then?! to end up with the wrong partner to me means that the standards for which the marriage was initially based on were pretty messed up to begin with…(i.e., beauty? family name? money?)

    I am a 33 year old single career woman .. and I will not look at how much he has because this becomes irrelevant when you realize that you ended up with the wrong person ..

    Well, the truth is part of a successful marriage is financial stability! While money alone is not enough to build a successful marriage, lack of it can surely be one of the prime causes of marriages deteriorating!

  • my bf has been force to marry a girl.Why if a men at 27yrs still single bcome a big prblem to his father?

Your Two Piasters: