A First Look at the Evidence
American Enterprise Institute and National Bureau of Asian Research
In the early post-war period, most of the world, including both “more developed regions” and “less developed regions”, embraced a norm of universal female marriage. In practice, female marriage was near universal the places that adhered to this norm, and dissolution of marriage through divorce tended to be relatively rare. That universal marriage norm extended over North America, most of Europe, East Asia, and the great Islamic expanse, among other places.
As the post-war era unfolded, the universal marriage norm has come under increasing pressure in developed societies. In Europe, a phenomenon known as the “second demographic revolution” has profoundly transformed living arrangements, with a decline in total first marriage rates, a rise in total divorce rates, a rise in cohabitation, and a surge in childbearing outside marriage. These same tendencies are also evident in varying degrees in North America, Australia, and New Zealand. In modernized East Asia, the universal marriage norm has likewise been under increasing pressure, and is being fundamentally transformed by a phenomenon dubbed “the flight from marriage”. In these societies, the singulate female age at marriage is rising, total first marriage rates are falling, and total divorce rates are rising; on the other hand, cohabitation seems to remain rather limited, and out of marriage childbearing is still quite rare.
Until quite recently, near-universal norm prevailed throughout all of the the Ummah. In recent decades, however, a distinct new trend is becoming evident in one region within the Ummah: namely, the Arabic-speaking countries. In these societies, tendencies echoing the East Asian “flight from marriage” are increasingly apparent. In a growing number of Arabic-speaking countries, singlulate female age at marriage is rising, and rising sharply; the fraction of women never married during childbearing ages is rising, and rising sharply; and the ratio of divorces to marriages is assuming “Western world” proportions.
Thus far, the “flight from marriage” within the Ummah is limited to the Arab world. Other areas of the Muslim world have seen rapid very declines in fertility, but without a “flight from marriage”. Moreover, the Arab world’s “flight from marriage” appears to be taking place at much lower levels of income and female education than the marital changes that have affected Europe, North America, and modernized East Asia.