Come-we-stay no longer a shortcut to marriage

Couple moving in together.
Ten out of every 100 women in Kenya knock their way to marriage with a pregnancy.

And if you thought your current “come-we-stay” relationship with your spouse will automatically evolve into marriage sooner than later, you may need to think twice.

These are the findings of a new research on marriages that has revealed that the informal but popular route to marriage among young people is turning out fewer matrimonies in the end.

As high as 87 per cent of men and 72 per cent of women aged 25 to 34 in Kenya are in informal unions. And of this, only about 1.4 per cent are being formalised annually.The research also shows that many women are marrying while pregnant.

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Carried out in Nairobi by African Population Health Research Centre (APHRC), University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Michigan (both from the US) and Population Council-Kenya, the study appeared two weeks ago (August 6, 2018) in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

The researchers studied how young people in Nairobi are making sense of marriage amidst an unprecedented unemployment crisis in the country.

Almost a quarter (22 per cent) of young women in Kenya, the study says, are getting their first child out of wedlock. Of the 30 study countries, Kenya was among the top 10 with highest number of women giving first birth out of wedlock.

This compared to only about five per cent in Ethiopia, about 14 per cent in Uganda and Tanzania and 10 per cent in Rwanda.

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But the situation is much worse in e-Swatini (Swaziland) where 53 per cent of young women give first birth out of wedlock, 50 per cent in Namibia, 43 per cent in Gabon and 31 per cent in Liberia.

The research also shows that today many young men in Nairobi are delaying marriage until they have an assured source of income to care for a wife and children.

On the other hand, women are scouring for an income as security to marry, who and when they want or not marry at all.

Despite a lot of talk about both gender bringing something to the table, the new study shows less harmony on the take away from the same table. “No woman in our study spoke about the importance of financially assisting or “feeding” husbands in the way that men spoke about supporting wives,” says the study.

Unlike traditionally when men would recourse to parents and family on marriage, for the city man this is now a much more personal and lonely decision pegged on income.

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“Having a wife is a burden because today you can’t expect anyone else to feed you and your family,” said a respondent, 22-year-old Mark, unmarried but with a child from an earlier relationship.

One coping mechanism, the report says is delaying marriage for both sexes in favour for non-marital unions such as ‘come we stay’ arrangements.

“Shifts in marriage are especially striking in Nairobi, where the average age of marriage is the highest in the country — 22.1 for women and 26.1 for men — and where the majority of young adults in unions are cohabiting rather than married,” says the study.

At only three per cent, Guinea had the lowest number of women entering a marriage while already with first pregnancy.

Many of the women in Africa who get children out of wedlock, the study says are increasingly finding it difficult to marry apart from in Chad and Senegal.

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Unwed mothers

“Chad and Senegal are the only two African countries where mothers generally marry faster than their childless peers,” says the study.

In Kenya, the study shows the duration unwed mothers take before they can marry has increased from about three years in the 90s to about four years today.

Unwed mothers in Uganda are likely to marry slightly earlier then Kenyans, while Tanzanians are likely to stayout of wedlock longer but not as long as the 14 years in Namibia.

The authors suggest such delay may be due to the women opting to continue with education and careers or lack of marriage opportunities.

“Many men also are not willing to care of children not from their own loins while unwed mothers may be seen to have lost some market value compared to their childless peers,” says the study.

But the Nairobi study says city women, marriage is no longer a matter of life and death.

“With their increasing participation in paid employment, Nairobi women are now able to be household breadwinners and to look after their children without marriage.”

For men, the study concludes, the main concern about marriage is being unable to support a family. For women, “early marriage” is described as a social ill, associated with dropping out of school and possible life-long suffering to be avoided.

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