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Investigating marriage aspirations and attitudes towards premarital childbearing: a case study of unmarried female Zulu-speaking students at two Durban universities.

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In South Africa, marriage rates among the Zulu speaking population have remained consistently lower than marriage rates among other ethnic groups. Moreover, the African Zulu speaking population group also experiences significantly higher rates of premarital childbearing. While the pattern of marriage decline coupled with an increased prevalence of premarital childbearing is also observed in developed countries, the variances between the minority and majority racial groups and the different age cohorts are not as glaring as within the South African context. International literature explaining the low and falling marriage rates suggest that women's increased access to education and employment has reduced the benefit of marriage for women, resulting in women choosing singleness or more loosely formed partnerships, such as cohabitation. This study explores the effect of education on South African Zulu speaking women’s attitudes towards marriage by investigating marriage aspirations and attitudes towards premarital childbearing of Zulu speaking female university students. The objectives of the study were to investigate how unmarried Zulu speaking females at university viewed marriage and its role in contemporary, post apartheid Zulu society, to ascertain if marriage was valued as a personal goal by unmarried Zulu speaking female university students and, lastly, to explore the perceptions of unmarried female Zulu speaking university students towards premarital childbearing ones. A case study approach was used, wherein 30 unmarried female Zulu speaking students from two universities in KwaZulu Natal, University of KwaZulu Natal and Durban University of Technology, were interviewed. The findings indicate an emergence of self reliant, confident and resilient women aware of and eager to take up the economic opportunities available to them; who, while acknowledging marriage as essential to establishing a stable family, believed it was not something they should rush into. They prioritised education, establishing their career, establishing their families at home, acquiring some financial resources, establishing themselves financially and developing themselves as individuals over early marriage. They also desired future partners with similar levels of aspiration, open mindedness and achievements. Interestingly, their desire for independence is not only driven by the opportunities available to them but is also somewhat prompted by a fear of abandonment and the consequences of this. In addition, for the women in the study, premarital childbearing, particularly among females of school going age and those at university, was not encouraged in the Zulu society but was largely a consequence of unplanned pregnancy. As such, it did not have a distinct influence on women’s marriageability; this was a choice highly dependent on the males. These findings lead to the conclusion that woman’s increased educational attainment results in the delay of marriage. Non marriage may, however, occur as a consequence of protracted partner searching and singleness as age relevant partners may no longer be available when the women are ready to marry. In a context where singleness and cohabitation were not preferred, protracted singleness increased the risk of premarital childbearing.


Master’s Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.