Dubai: The age of marriage among UAE residents has been increasing due to demographic, economic and sociological changes.
Education, rising cost of living and growing independence of individuals are some of the factors that are adding pressure on marriages and thus delaying it worldwide - and the UAE is no exception.
The age of marriage for women with higher education is around 27 years, while for those with little or no education, the age is around 18, said Zinnat Bader, professor of sociology and adjunct faculty at American University in Dubai.
The age of marriage for men is slightly higher, although there is no precise and contemporary data on the UAE in the matter.
This is not an easy time for couples trying to establish families in the UAE.
"With the considerable inflationary pressures in the UAE as a whole, it is quite obviously getting more difficult to get married and stay married in the UAE, especially for the middle class. For the more well-to-do expatriates, the meteoric rise of the wedding industry with all its commercialised paraphernalia and display at luxury hotels augurs a new fashion trend," Zinnat said.
Mariam Al Shamsi, 21, is a new bride who got married right after obtaining a diploma. Over 500 guests were invited to the wedding. "The expenses were very high," she said, "but they did not make it smaller because this is the only option."
Young people across the region will talk about financial cost when asked why they are not getting married, Paul Dyer, research associate at Dubai School of Government, told Gulf News. "Apartment cost, dowries, wedding preparations and the ceremonies, etc. Traditional weddings are expected to be grand and are thus rather costly."
Getting married is expensive, and maintaining the marriage is even more so.
Mir Murtaza Yaseen Ali, 29, a Pakistani banker, would like a wife who works to help shoulder the costs of running a household. "I would want my wife to work because it's unhealthy for a person to be unproductive and a working wife would help maintain a good standard of living," he said.
Abdullah Ahmad Abdullah, a 30-year-old UAE national from Al Ain, has been married for six years and has three children. "It's becoming increasingly difficult to bear the rising costs of living, especially house rent," he said.
Hussain Al Numeiri, 22, a UAE national graduate, wants to finish higher studies. "An educated couple is better than an uneducated couple," he said.
But despite some precautions, there are break-ups.
Zinnat Bader told Gulf News: "In the UAE, roughly 46 per cent of marriages end in divorce, with 30 per cent not surviving even the first year of marriage. The changes that have come about as a result of modern influences tend to foster less tolerance, greater individualism, social alienation, and endemic stress. All these emanate from the pressure to acquire more even as incomes are getting eroded and resources are becoming more thinly spread."
"For the lower social strata within the local and Gulf nationals residing in the UAE, the ability to purchase the same amount of food as a couple of years ago, or the ability to pay rent and clothe their young is becoming a struggle and is usually a trade off between one essential over another, so the strain of sustaining a family home is beginning to be felt," she said.
"The rental market in Dubai and Abu Dhabi puts a lot of pressure on younger couples who want to start on their own, so Emirati couples can live in the extended household to bring down some of the costs," Dyer said.
Women are choosing to marry late and devote their youth to acquiring education and career. For women, the possibility of having an independent life-style built on an enviable financial stake that is the outcome of one's own endeavours, may be quite tempting.
"More women are opting not to get married, and a good number of men tend to marry non-citizens because it's expensive to marry another citizen. The percentage of Dubai residents who never got married went up from 24 per cent in 1993 to 27 per cent in 2005, and of those who got married down from 74 per cent to 70 per cent," Dyer said, citing the Dubai Statistics Centre 2006 yearbook.
A common marital problem in the Gulf countries, Dr Raymod Hamden, a Dubai-based clinical and forensic psychologist and specialist in domestic psychology, said is the power struggle between husband and wife.
- 85% of women prefer to marry men older than themselves by one to 10 years
- 68% of men prefer to marry women younger than themselves
- 63% of the female population are willing to marry a man with a lower educational qualification than themselves
- 74% of the men said they would accept marrying a woman with a higher educational degree than their own
- 81% of women thought it was important to get married as compared to 75% of men
Source: Zayed University survey conducted in 2007 with a sample of 200 male and female students