The Unwed Revolution: Women expectations and opportunities beyond finding Prince Charming

Marriage is a traditional institution that has long been considered a cornerstone of Malaysian society and yet is facing new challenges, likely due to shifting societal norms and economic pressures. Why?

12 Feb 2024 11:31am
Illustrative purposes
Illustrative purposes

SHAH ALAM - There has been a noticeable decline in marriage rates, which has sparked concerns policymakers and researchers over the past few years.

Marriage is a traditional institution that has long been considered a cornerstone of Malaysian society and yet is facing new challenges, likely due to shifting societal norms and economic pressures.

As of the most recent data published last year, it stated that in 2022, 214,824 couples have been married, of which 168,726 are Muslims and 46,098 are non-Muslims. Malaysia experienced a slight drop 0.5 per cent in the marriage 2022 compared to 2021 where 215,973 couples married with 176,002 being Muslims and non-Muslims with only 39,971 marriages.

The year 2022 was the highest number of marriages in a seven year period between 2016 and 2022. In 2016 a total 207,882 were married; 2017 with 203,741 marriages; 2018 with 206,352; 2019 with 203,661; and 2020 being the lowest number of registered marriages with 186,297.

The general marriage rate for groom were 45.3 per 1,000 population of unmarried males aged 18 years and over, while the bride is 47.1 per 1,000 population of unmarried females aged 16 years and over.

When it comes to age of marriage, the average age for men to tie the knott is was 28 years old while for women, slightly younger at 27 years old. The higest number of marriages for both genders would be 25 to 29 years old.

Fret not, marriage is not only for the young as the the oldest average age for men to marry was at 92 years old, while for women was 86. The most concerning however is the marriage data compared to divorce rates in Malaysia registered in 2022. And although marriage rates was still a larget chunk (with 214,824 marriages) it still experienced a slight 0.5 per cent drop compared to the major increase in divorce.

The number of divorce and crude divorce rates increased in 2022 by 43.1 per cent with 62,890 cases from the previous year 43,936. This reflects a growing trend of Malaysian individuals choosing to delay or forgo marriage altogether. And although expectations, goals and societal norms have changed in “modern times”, many are still questioning why?

In a case study published in 2020, Noor Atiqah Mohd Isa, Nur Aqidah Misri, Muhammad Irfan Fazlan, Nor Shahidatul Nadia Razali, Nor Anis Ayuni Moktar, and Ku Aleeza Ku Aziz opined that despite singlehood being a social change that “challenges long-accepted norms of universal marriage among the Malays," people have delayed or decided to remain unmarried for a number of reasons.

The researched revealed that Malaysians tend to delay their marriages is because people are struggling to build their assets first to have a better living standard instead of settling down with someone else to share their struggles with. It also stated that this is rooted in their fear of losing their social and economic freedom, as these are normally taken away once someone gets married.

It was also asserted that rising educational opportunities and attainment have changed the role and traditional status of women which has significantly impacted the marriage statistics. More women especially the educated ones do not regard marriage as the only way to live a successful life, the researchers said.

"High expectations are also among the reasons stated for delay in marriage or singlehood where women are expecting for the emergence of perfect men, as the ones seen in movies. This is influenced by the phenomenon of rising perceptions of euphoria of idealism, where women idealise a partner that is ‘perfect’ and like the prince charming from Disney movies, which is to a certain extent, unrealistic and therefore, unattainable," the researchers noted.

The researchers suggested that the ways to cope with being single or marrying late, where marriage was a highly promoted culture in Malaysia, were by ignoring negative comments or responding to them politively and surrounding oneself with positive people to help stay positive.

Despite the lowering rate of marriages, on the bright side, the researchers highlighted that it provided a positive socio-economic impacts for Malaysians.

"Individuals became independent, people can learn to know themselves more and gain more soft skills such as learning financial freedom and living an individualistic life, as aligned with the lifestyle in more progressive countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States," the research said.

Meanwhile, former lawmaker and Batu MP Tian Chua said with the decline in marriage, which directly affect birth rates in Malaysia, has enabled to government to focus on the ageing population soon slowly creeping into the Malaysian society.

He said the government can finally focus better on the people by helping to bridge the social, economic, and political gaps between different groups of people in Malaysia.

He agreed with the research that the slow population growth was a symbol of a progressing country thus it was crucial to make suitable changes for the ageing population in terms of opportunities in education, careers, instead of the efforts in overpopulating a country that was not yet in par with its provisions in facilities and accommodations, among others.

Generally, he said the government could help existing married couples and singles by focusing on providing better support for working parents, improving access to affordable housing, and promoting gender equality in the workforce.