Women in Abu Dhabi are marrying later, government figures show

Delaying marriage has led to a drop in divorces and is a result of better education and greater independence among the population, experts say.

Men pray ahead of a group wedding in Al Dhaid, Sharjah, last year, in which 68 grooms married. Sarah Dea / The National

ABU DHABI // Emiratis are waiting longer to wed and more are staying married, Abu Dhabi government statistics have revealed.

Local women were marrying at an average age of 23.7 in 1995 but this has steadily risen to 25.9 last year, figures released by the Statistics Centre Abu Dhabi (Scad) show.

Emirati men are also taking more time to get married. By last year they were waiting, on average, until 26.8 before tying the knot – almost two years longer than in 1995.

Delaying marriage seems to have led to a wiser choice of spouses as the rise in divorce rates has halted, experts said.

Dr Ahmad Alomosh, chairman of the sociology department at the University of Sharjah, said later marriages signified a shift in Emirati society’s priorities.

“Before, there was a stronger system of family. Now there is independence as women and men form their own personalities,” Dr Alomosh said.

“Marriage is no longer a priority. Education and work and other aspects in life are, even in the Arab world in general.”

He said women were now educated and capable of working and earning a living, so no longer needed to marry for financial support.

“She is independent financially so she will look for marriage later, when she is ready for it, as it’s no longer her first choice,” Dr Alomosh said.

Dr Soad Al Oraimi, a sociologist at UAE University, said: “This is completely normal. There is no need to question this.

“Back in 1995 there were fewer jobs and focus on education was less. Some did not finish schooling or university.”

Although Emirati society prefers women to marry younger, Dr Al Oraimi said the delay was of no concern. Neither was the shorter amount of time to have babies.

“She has room until she reaches 40,” she said.

Other experts have voiced concerns that the delay in marriage is not a choice, rather an outcome of fewer marriages, leaving a growing number of women as spinsters.

According to the report, marriage contracts saw a slight drop, from 5,708 in 2011 to 5,570 last year.

Mosabeh Al Kitbi, a Federal National Council member from Sharjah, this year quizzed Dr Maitha Al Shamsi, Minister of State and chair of the Marriage Fund, on the issue of anousa, or spinsterhood.

Dr Al Shamsi said the rising cost of weddings and dowries was to blame for more Emirati women marrying later.

“We did a study on the relation between the cost of marriage and anousa, and found a direct link,” the minister said.

The study found 78 per cent of Emiratis believed the expense of weddings and dowries led girls to delay marriage.

Meanwhile, divorce rates have dropped slightly for the first time in several years. Last year, 1,700 divorces were registered compared with 1,803 the previous year – a 5.7 per cent drop.

Although that still spells an end to one in three marriages, Dr Al Oraimi said even a slight decline was “great news”.

Dr Alomosh said the divorce drop was a direct result of women marrying later in life and making better choices.

“Now the woman picks. This leads to fewer divorces,” he said. “As long as the level of education is high, it is less likely for a woman to rush into marriage, and therefore a lower risk of divorce.”

Dr Al Oraimi agreed. “Matters have changed 100 per cent now. Before, the woman never had an opinion, not even on the marriage details. She was young when married.”

She said older women could impose their opinion on their families.

“Now, women no longer say yes to the first guy who comes and proposes. She picks. Before, only her parents picked.”