, Volume 55, Issue 6, pp 2371–2394 | Cite as

From Privilege to Prevalence: Contextual Effects of Women’s Schooling on African Marital Timing

  • Margaret FryeEmail author
  • Sara Lopus


In Africa and elsewhere, educated women tend to marry later than their less-educated peers. Beyond being an attribute of individual women, education is also an aggregate phenomenon: the social meaning of a woman’s educational attainment depends on the educational attainments of her age-mates. Using data from 30 countries and 246 birth cohorts across sub-Saharan Africa, we investigate the impact of educational context (the percentage of women in a country cohort who ever attended school) on the relationship between a woman’s educational attainment and her marital timing. In contexts where access to education is prevalent, the marital timing of uneducated and highly educated women is more similar than in contexts where attending school is limited to a privileged minority. This across-country convergence is driven by uneducated women marrying later in high-education contexts, especially through lower rates of very early marriages. However, within countries over time, the marital ages of women from different educational groups tend to diverge as educational access expands. This within-country divergence is most often driven by later marriage among highly educated women, although divergence in some countries is driven by earlier marriage among women who never attended school.


Education Marriage Africa Cohort Hazard models 



We are grateful for helpful feedback from Sarah K. Cowan, Amal Harrati, Jennifer Johnson-Hanks, Jayanti Owens, Hyunjoon Park, Will Lowe, and Kenneth Wachter. Previous versions of this research were presented at the Population Association of America Annual Meeting (April 2017, Chicago, IL), the International Union of the Scientific Study of Population Annual Meeting (October 2017, Cape Town, South Africa), and the African Studies Works in Progress Series at Princeton University (April 2017, Princeton, NJ); and benefitted greatly from suggestions from members of the audience. Research reported in this publication was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number P2CHD047879. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Department of Social SciencesCalifornia Polytechnic State UniversitySan Luis ObispoUSA

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