Couples in Singapore getting married later, but fewer getting divorced, statistics show

There were a total of 27,007 marriages in 2018, about 4 per cent lower than the 28,212 marriages registered in 2017, the Department of Statistics reported. ― Picture by Levi Alvarez/Unsplash via TODAY
There were a total of 27,007 marriages in 2018, about 4 per cent lower than the 28,212 marriages registered in 2017, the Department of Statistics reported. ― Picture by Levi Alvarez/Unsplash via TODAY

SINGAPORE, July 31 — Though Singaporeans are getting married later, fewer are getting divorced or are doing so at a later stage in their marriage. 

Besides that, one in five persons here are getting married to someone of another ethnicity.

These are the latest marriage and divorce statistics released by the Singapore Department of Statistics yesterday.

Marriage trends

Last year, there were a total of 27,007 marriages, about 4 per cent lower than the 28,212 marriages registered in 2017.

This was mainly due to a dip in both the number of civil marriages and Muslim marriages, the Department of Statistics said. 

The general marriage rate has also dropped. This refers to the number of marriages registered in the year among persons aged 15 to 49 out of every thousand unmarried people in the same age group.

Last year, it was 43.3 marriages per thousand for males (down from 45.7 in 2017), and 40.8 marriages per thousand for females (down from 42.8 in 2017).

In terms of the various age groups, figures showed that among men, the marriage rate was highest last year for those between 30 and 34 years old. It was also the age group that registered the largest increase in marriages since 2008.

Among women, marriage rates were highest for those aged between 25 and 29 as well as between 30 and 34 last year.

The latest figures also showed that fewer men aged between 40 and 49 got married last year than a decade ago.

Over the decade, Singaporeans who are getting married for the first time are getting older.

The median age of first-time grooms was 30.2 last year, slightly older than 29.8 in 2008.

For first-time brides, the median age was 28.5 last year, compared with 27.3 in 2008.

More inter-ethnic marriages

Continuing a trend seen over the years, more people are marrying someone of a different ethnic group.

Last year, 22.4 per cent of marriages here were between people of different ethnicities, a jump from 16.7 per cent in 2008.

The largest proportion of inter-ethnic marriages were made up of Chinese grooms marrying non-Chinese brides (46.3 per cent). They accounted for close to half of the 3,840 inter-ethnic civil marriages last year.

Marriages between Caucasian men and Chinese women formed the second largest group (13.7 per cent).

Inter-ethnic unions were also more common for Muslim marriages, with close to 40 per cent of Muslim marriages being so. This was more than the 18 per cent for civil marriages.

Of the 2,202 inter-ethnic Muslim marriages last year, about 29 per cent of Malay men and 24 per cent of Malay women married outside their ethnicity, the Department of Statistics said.

Fewer divorces

Fewer marriages ended in divorce or annulment last year.

There were a total of 7,344 divorces and annulments — a 3 per cent drop from the 7,578 cases in 2017. 

This was due to the decline in civil divorce and annulment cases, which “more than offset” the slight increase in Muslim divorces, the Department of Statistics said.

The median age of those getting divorced also went up over the last 10 years.

For men, the median age of divorcees was 43.2 last year, older than the 39.9 in 2008.

For women, the median age of divorcees was 38.9 last year, compared with 36.3 in 2008.

Staying married longer before divorce

Among divorces last year, couples were staying married longer, with the median duration of marriage at 10.2 years — slightly higher than the 9.9 years in 2008.

Among the civil marriages that were dissolved last year, couples who were married for five to nine years made up the majority of divorces (30 per cent), followed by those married for 10 to 14 years.

Among Muslim divorces, the largest number of divorces (30 per cent) took place between couples married for less than five years.

Reasons for divorce

About 64 per cent of the divorces last year were initiated by the wives, with “unreasonable behaviour” given as the top reason for divorce.

For husbands, the top reason was the couple having lived apart or separated for three years or more.

For Muslim divorces, 70 per cent of the divorces were filed by the wives, with infidelity being the chief reason for divorce among both men and women.

What sociologists say

About late marriages:

The trend of late marriages was not surprising, sociologists said. 

Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser from the National University of Singapore said that a possible reason could be because “people spend (a) longer time in the education system and when they graduate, they are likely to prioritise career over marriage”. 

He added: “The less than favourable economic climate could also impact people’s sense of security, and they probably believe that marriage should be built on a more secure economic foundation.”

Professor Paulin Tay Straughan, dean of students at the Singapore Management University, said that the trend of delayed marriages and parenthood has been a longstanding one.

Young Singaporeans have set high standards for marriage, she reasoned, and marriage is now seen as a commitment and “not just a rite of passage”. 

Secondly, the “pressure” that the younger generation feel to excel in school and the workplace reduces time to meet potential life partners. 

She added that in Singapore, singlehood is a norm for those under 30. 

“So if they’re single in that age group, they won’t feel that pressure to find a significant other. But by the time they push past that age group, people are shy to meet others outside their social circles.

“The realisation that dating is important comes too late. As a result of these combination of factors, you have fewer and later marriages,” she said. 

About divorces:

On divorces among couples who are older, Assoc Prof Tan said: “People feel that they don’t have to put up with a bad marriage, especially after their children have grown up.

“Women are also less dependent on their husbands and are just as well educated. The probability of finding love again and remarrying is higher than before.”

Prof Straughan suspects that the higher incidence of women initiating divorces could be due to infidelity. 

“There is a higher chance now that once there is infidelity, the marriage ends in a divorce, because loyalty is the cornerstone of the modern marriage — the notion that one cannot be interlinked with more than one man and one woman,” she said. 

Both sociologists said that moving forward, the trends of increased singlehood, delayed marriages, and smaller family sizes are here to stay. 

“I do think we will see more couples getting together for companionship and cohabitation, but not for marriage. More might also agree to get married, but not necessarily to have kids,” Prof Straughan said. 

Assoc Prof Tan foresees that Singapore would need to replenish its population with migrants, “but continuing in a calibrated and controlled fashion”.

“Nevertheless, we should continue to incentivise reproduction, and explore creative ways of arresting the downward trend,” he said. ― TODAY

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