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Olurode: Career mobility, search for good life delaying matrimony

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Lai Olurode, Professor of Sociology at the University of Lagos and former National Commissioner with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)

Professor of Sociology and former Dean, Faculty of Social Science, University of Lagos, Lai Olurode, in this interview with GERALDINE AKUTU, said several economic and social factors have gradually replaced the age-long marriageable age with age of affordability.

He also added that the search for sustainable livelihood and the good life has led to reduced family size.

In the absence of statistics on Nigerians of marriageable age, can we agree with the perception that Nigerians are not marrying early enough?

GLOBALLY and especially in fast-modernising third world countries, first age at marriage is increasing, except for those who are completely unreached and untouched by the school regime, and its overarching trigger effects.

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Since 1955 in Western Nigeria and soon after in others regions of the country, schooling and modern sector participation has continued to delay the age at which people get married.

Of course, going to school and getting married are not easy to reconcile, as economic pressures may not make them to operate simultaneously.

The needs of modern living in a globalised world are ever enlarging, and people are constantly redefining what they need to possess before settling down to marry.

Career, to some, is highly valued than marriage. In traditional settings, the demands are limited, status hierarchy is almost rigid, a chieftaincy title at the most.

Upward mobility has become a catchphrase.

So, marriage seems to be losing its significance these days. The bottom line therefore is, it is not when one gets married that matters, but what the parties are bringing to the table.

The important thing also is not how beautiful or how attractive the person is to you, but you deal more in the area of objective fact file such as, ‘is he or she employed?’ Attraction therefore becomes secondary, even if he or she is not attractive as long as he or she has a good job, probably bringing into the home a good car, or an apartment.

This may be the attraction that may bring you nearer because marriage is moving from the realm of emotion to the realm of reality.

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So, it is better for you to have your eyes open when you are recruiting a partner than for you to go into it in a hurry.

In a world that we are, a young couple needs a lot of resources to settle down, and wants to live in a decent apartment than in the ghetto. So, if your partner cannot support you financially, there will be pressure from the family.

The age at which you marry is also not so critical, but what is critical is whether you will live a decent life so that within two to three years of your marriage, you can still complete your reproductive circle, have two to three children and then still pay attention to your career because as you are striving to meet the obligations of marriage, you cannot run away from family pressure.

There is a simultaneous demand on young couple and you cannot resist pressure from even extended family members.

So, it is better for you to wait, deal with the likely pressure that will arise with members of your lineage, members of your extended family, whose education you need to support.

You may even have parents who may be growing old that need you to take care of them.

In order be in the good book of your family members, you have to weigh which one is more important to you.

Getting married shouldn’t let you shy away from such responsibilities. If you have benefitted from their largesse before, it is not out of place to reciprocate.

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For you to sustain good family power therefore, you can sacrifice early marriage or not marrying early to be able to meet those obligations and social responsibilities, which in our context, are very important because we don’t live as individuals, but we live our lives as members of family, or community.

So, anything that distracts us from doing those things within those realms, we will not be comfortable with it.

Also, in searching for someone to marry, we always look out for those that are socially and economically responsible, and those who we can share our world with.

Most parents or family members would prefer their loved ones delay their marriages for a couple of years than fall down in terms of mobility or social placement, and end up being in a position whereby they will depend on parents or the parents of their spouses in order to sustain a decent or reasonable life as a young couple. So, there is need to be ready before going into marriage.

That means we cannot talk of the ideal marriage age for people who have gone to school and are looking forward to decent, average livelihood?

There isn’t anymore an ideal age, in a chronological sense to marry. Theoretically, it could be said to be the age of puberty in traditional societies, and this is differently defined for boys and girls.

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For Muslims, the onset of menstrual cycle used to be significant, but almost everywhere tradition is fast crashing.

For instance, even though farming remains important, many are escaping its trappings and are at best oscillating simultaneously in the competitive world and traditional sectors of the economy, gaining additional skills for relevance.

Thus, what defines the age at first marriage for many is the ability to support a new family.

Many young boys and girls are rejecting the old ways of life, defining new ones, and turning deaf ears to parental pressure to venture into marriage.

Most do not wish to live in family compounds, or reproduce the routine lifestyle of old.

This desire and indeed the search for sustainable livelihoods are exerting pressure and pushing up age at first marriage.

The ideal age today, theoretically, is therefore being redefined as the age of affordability of the basic good things of life, which is impossible without visible employment.

In response to this search for sustainable livelihood and the good life, family size is reducing as well from six to seven children to three to four per family.

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Generally speaking, we can have a theoretical age at which people should get married, but there are factors in the environment, which incorporate elements of culture that determine the best age at marriage.

For example, in a largely illiterate family peasant society, people don’t need much investment in training to get a large number of people to be on the field.

So, in such a society, to delay marriage is to, somehow, rupture production and the production of material things of life itself because people have aspirations and need to take care of things before settling down in marriage.

Is it now safe to say that tying the knots for persons of marriageable age is no longer age-dependent?

Exactly what I said. Tying the knots is no longer age-dependent. 

Career pursuit, learning a trade, the desire to settle, waiting for a partner to complete his or her study are now critical variables in age at first marriage. 

So, many are opting for loose unions in place of marriage and its false imprisonment. Even when marriage is consummated, child bearing may be delayed and forgone for career mobility.

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Not a few women and men have had their social mobility frustrated or experience download for reasons of marriage. Marriage is nowadays being increasingly moderated by rational, rather than emotional considerations.

To rush into marriage without sorting out those key issues of readiness and eligibility is to rush out, or suffer pains and agonies.

Though old attitudes die-hard, but certainly, remaining single beyond marriageable age is less stigmatised as it was yesterday.

It makes little sense for an individual to simply respond to social pressure and go into marriage for the sake of the family or community when it is patently clear that the means to sustain a new family is simply missing.

Even though our society is becoming increasingly individualistic, and one needs to mind his/her business, individuals need to be prepared and not rush into any marriage in order not to also rush out for lack of happiness.

We need to build a consensus for the society to move away from seeing marriage as something that must happen at all cost.

Are there social consequences if people do not get married at a particular period of their lives?

Social consequences arising from delayed marriage include stigmatisation – being perceived as being maladjusted, irresponsible, and being thought of as unfit to hold leadership position.

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Also, the sexual orientation of an individual that is delaying marriage may attract damaging insinuations, and respect may be lost as a result of this, even as undue advantage may be taken of such persons, including unwelcome overtures and even sexual harassment. 

If marriage is delayed, the risk of having indiscipline children in advanced age is real when one may be too weak, or soft to enforce discipline in toddlers. 

The individual retirement benefits will probably be deployed to training children. Training or socialising children in advanced age can be very stressful, and capable of cutting down life expectancy.

How can such be addressed?

Counselling is important, just as it is important for the individual to save to counter and cushion the consequences of delayed marriage.

If the individual is afraid that she may not have a child because of age, she can visit a fertility management organisation or hospitals, where she can get sperm donation in order to have a child of her own, or even resort to child adoption.

It is not a new thing to be a single mother if you have good resources, but to avoid social stigmatisation, one can look for alternative.

You can get married for a couple of years, have a child or two, and get out of it.

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What roles can parents play in all of this?

Parents need to empathise with individual who suffer these delays.

Parental support and understanding of reasons for such delays are important rather than jibes and uncomplimentary remarks, which can be psychologically wrecking.

The pressure from parents is understood- wanting to plough their social investments in the weddings of children of friends and other significant individuals, but this must not be at the expense of their children.

Is there any role for government in reversing the trend?

Not just for government, but NGOs as well. Government should put in place more marriage counselling centres.

Mass housing for newly wedded couples should be encouraged and other forms of subsidies to avert increasing preferences for gay and lesbian marriages and such really perverted and unorthodox sexual orientations.

We also need to re-examine the importance of marriage and particularly of its guaranteeing old age care, through children that marriage makes possible.

Wealth flow theory that assumes wealth flow from children to parents is more theoretical than real as an increasing number of parents need to support their children throughout life. Wealth flow is perhaps now in the reverse.

Kano State government and another northern state for instance, have put in place, strategies to attract young people to go into marriage by way of empowerment.

Even widows are being empowered. We have to face the reality, and we also need social orientation.


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