10 Aug

Map of the Week: Marriage Age Differences in Europe and Africa

How old is too old? How young is too young? These are questions that people across the world consider when in search of a life-long partner. However, the answers are often very different depending on the location and the cultural practices of the person asking it.

The UN releases a bi-annual world fertility report where birth and marriage data are collected from countries across the globe. For the data on marriage, each country (where data is available) is broken down into the following categories: average male age at first marriage, average female age at first marriage, and average gap between man and woman. This data only contains information on traditional heterosexual marriages and does not take into account data on same-sex marriage (if such information is available anywhere).

After the information was tabled and mapped, it became clearer that certain countries had significantly higher age gaps than other countries. Based on the map, the countries Mauritania, Gambia, and Nigeria all had higher age gaps than other countries. In fact, most of Africa seemed to have higher age gaps when compared to European countries. This most likely reflects the cultural differences between European countries and African countries when it comes to the “acceptable” difference in age. In many African countries, they still hold very conservative beliefs about marriage and one would be hard-pressed to find a woman marrying a man who is even slightly younger than her. According to the UN Fertility Data, for Africa, the average age at first marriage for women was 20 years old while the average age at first marriage for men was 26. Comparatively, the average age at first marriage for women in Europe was 29 and the average age for men at first marriage was 31.

It would be interesting to find out more about how these cultural phenomena come to be on a country-to-country basis. More maps to come in the future.

Written by Lewis Berger