Data source: United Nations
Marriages worldwide are following the same trend: people are getting married later – or not at all. But while following the same trends, marriage still looks very different across the globe.
The above map uses data from the UN to show the average age at which people get married by country. Since the UN draws its data from different surveys done on a country by country basis, the data is not always from the same year.1
The biggest differentiator of marriage age seems to be a country’s income, with people in developed countries marrying later. Nordic countries and Western Europe rank among the highest for mean age at marriage at above 30 years. Afghanistan has one of the lowest at 20.2 years.
Averaging the marriage age of entire populations hides the fact that men get married much later than women. This is true in every country. The gender age gap for marriage is wider in less developed countries: women get married 8.3 years earlier in Afghanistan to 1.8 years in France, for example. As we see in the below graph of worldwide averages of mean age of marriage, the gap has narrowed only slightly over the past 35 years.
It remains common today for women to marry very young in some developing countries. Thirty nine countries have data showing that 20% of women married by age 18. In twenty countries, a full 10% of women married by age 15. In only 2 countries, however, are 10% of men married before the age of 18. Still, men and women are getting married later in every region of the world. The average age of marriage for women increased from 21.8 to 24.7 years from the seventies to the mid 2000s, with the average age for men rising a comparable amount.
This has resulted in some fairly dramatic stats here in the United States. Today, less than half of American adults are married – down from 72% in 1960 – and almost as many babies are born out of wedlock as to married couples.
Nevertheless, around the world the majority of people still get married, even if they get married later. In all but a dozen or so countries, 80% of men and women have been married by age 49, and even more people commit to comparable or similar “consensual unions.” Despite all the global differences and changes, shacking up is still the norm.