Age at first marriage

Age at first marriage

Age at first marriage

Median age in years when women ages 15 to 49 first married or lived with a consensual partner.

This indicator is calculated as:

(Number of women (within specific age group category) who have married / Number of women of all marital statuses) x 100

Calculations are conducted in the following steps (see MACRO/DHS, 2011):

  1. Age at first marriage or first union is calculated as the difference between date    when woman began living with first husband or consensual partner and date of birth of woman in completed single years.
  2. The numerators are the number of women within single year of age categories who have married or lived in a consensual union.
  3. The denominator is the number of women of all marital statuses.
  4. Numerators for each age category are divided by the corresponding age category denominator and multiplied by 100 to obtain percentages.
  5. Once the percentages have been calculated within specific age group categories, medians are calculated from the cumulated single year of age percent distributions for the ages women were first married.  The median is linearly interpolated between the age values by which 50 percent or more of the women were first married or lived in consensual union.

For example, if 10% of 17 year olds sampled were already married, 30% of 18 year olds, 41% of 19 year olds, and 62% of 20 year olds, the graph would show:

Age at first marriage

In this illustration, the interpolated calculated median by which 50 percent or more of the women surveyed were already married or living with a consensual partner is roughly 19.5, which when rounded up to the next completed year of age, is 20 years of age.

Alternative related indicators are the percentage of women who were first married before age 18, before age 15, or before the national minimum legal age.

Data Requirement(s):

Survey information on the ages when women were first married or entered into consensual unions and information on the total number of women ages 15-49 surveyed.  Data can be disaggregated by relevant socioeconomic and demographic factors, such as education and urban/rural location.

Population-based surveys such as the Demographic Health Survey (DHS) or Reproductive Health Survey.

This indicator can provide information on current status and trends over time in the age at which young women are entering marriage and consensual unions. Social expectations often put pressure on girls to marry and begin bearing children at early ages before they are emotionally and physically ready.

Adolescent girls who are married often find it difficult to access reproductive health services, negotiate the use of family planning methods with their partners, and marriage to older men may make girls more vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections and HIV. About 14 million women and girls between ages 15 and 19 (both married and unmarried) give birth each year and, for this age group, complications of pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death, with unsafe abortion being a major factor (UNFPA, 2005). Adolescent mothers are more likely to have children with low birth weight, inadequate nutrition and anemia, and these young women are more likely to develop cervical cancer later in life. Moreover, early childbearing is linked to obstetric fistula, a devastating and socially isolating condition that can leave women incontinent, disabled, and in chronic pain. An analysis of DHS data from 10 countries and related research show that early marriage is associated with gender-based violence (Hindin et al., 2008).

Studies show that higher median age at first marriage directly correlates with higher rates of girls in school (UNICEF, 2005). Helping girls go to and stay in school may be one of the best ways to foster later, chosen marriage, and is in keeping with achieving MDG #3, to promote gender equality and empower women through seeking to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education and improve ratios of females to males in tertiary education (UNDP, 2007).

Since the median is based on all women, including those who have never been married or lived in a consensual union, if disaggregating by age groups (e.g., 15-19; 20-24 years) there may not be a median for younger cohorts of women (since fewer than 50 percent of the cohort may have been married or lived in a consensual union).  More helpful indicators for tracking age of marriage trends for the younger age groups may be the percentage married before age 15 for those ages 15 to 19 years and the percentage married before age 18 for those ages 20 to 24 years.

women’s status, empowerment

While most countries have placed the minimum age for marriage at 18 and the practice of child marriage has decreased globally over the last 30 years, it remains common in rural areas and very low-income areas (UNFPA, 2011). Impoverished parents often believe that child marriage will protect their daughters, however, it generally results in lost development opportunities, limited life options, and poor health.  Even with a shift towards later marriage in many parts of the world, approximately 82 million girls in developing countries who are between the ages of 10 and 17 will be married before their 18th birthday (UNFPA, 2005).  One of the key interventions to tackling poverty and ultimately improving the health outcomes in a population is to delay age at first marriage, which generally translates into increased schooling and employment opportunities for girls and delayed childbearing.

Hindin, M., S. Kishor, and D. Asara. 2008. “Intimate Partner Violence among Couples in 10 DHS Countries: Predictors and Health Outcomes.” DHS Analytical Studies No. 18. Calverton, MD: Macro International.

MACRO International, 2011, DHS Statistics, Age at First Marriage, Calverton, MD: MACRO, Int’l.

U.N. Development Program, 2007, Tracking the Millennium Development Goals, MDGMonitor, New York: UNDP.

UNFPA, 2011, Child Marriage Fact Sheet, New York: UNFPA.

UNFPA, 2005, ‘The Promise of Gender Equality: Gender Equity, Reproductive Health and the MDGs’, State of the World Population 2005, New York; UNFPA.

UNICEF, 2005, Early Marriage: A Harmful Traditional Practice. New York: United Nations.  

Related content

Adolescent and Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health

Global Reproductive Health Indicators