Women put­ting ca­reers ahead of ‘a ring on it’


THE in­sti­tu­tion of mar­riage is seen as a cor­ner­stone of South African cul­ture, but many young pro­fes­sion­als are es­chew­ing tra­di­tion and mar­riage to con­cen­trate on their ca­reers.

It’s an in­ter­na­tional trend that now seems to be catch­ing on lo­cally. Women are learn­ing to be­come more in­de­pen­dent and have come to the re­al­i­sa­tion that “he doesn’t need to put a ring on it”.

Them­balethu Shangase saw the trend de­vel­op­ing among un­mar­ried Zulu-speak­ing women, and found while mar­riage rates among the group were low, pre­mar­i­tal child­bear­ing re­mains con­sis­tently high.

She de­cided to use this for the ba­sis of her Mas­ter’s de­gree re­search in pop­u­la­tion stud­ies at the Univer­sity of KwaZu­luNatal, un­der the ti­tle, “In­ves­ti­gat­ing Mar­riage As­pi­ra­tions and At­ti­tudes To­wards Pre­mar­i­tal Child Bear­ing: A Case Study of Un­mar­ried Fe­male Zulu-Speak­ing Stu­dents at Two Dur­ban Univer­si­ties”.

“Once women are ed­u­cated they can ac­cess the em­ploy­ment mar­kets and have a di­min­ished de­sire for mar­riage, thus for­go­ing mar­riage and pos­si­bly child-bear­ing,” says Shangase.

The study had spe­cial mean­ing for her be­cause of her Zulu her­itage. “It’s kind of like my story…”

The ground­work for the study took Shangase two years. She in­ter­viewed 30 Zulu-speak­ing un­mar­ried women at two KZN univer­si­ties over seven months.

The re­sults were ground­break­ing. Never be­fore has a study been done that specif­i­cally looks at the im­pact of ed­u­ca­tion on women’s mar­i­tal as­pi­ra­tions in South Africa. “Mar­riage rate de­clines are a global phe­nom­e­non. In South Africa, low mar­riage rates among the Zu­lus have been ob­served since the 1950s,” says Shangase.

She adds that over the years, there has been ex­ten­sive re­search into the trends of mar­riage de­clines. “Pro­fes­sor Dori Posel and Dr Stephanie Rud­wick re­searched the ef­fect of lobolo on mar­riage.”

Shangase be­lieves that given the low mar­riage rates among the Zulu pop­u­la­tion, co­in­cid­ing with a high rate of pre-mar­i­tal child­bear­ing, “it be­came im­por­tant to de­ter­mine if the two phe­nom­ena had an ef­fect on each other”.

De­spite her re­search find­ings be­ing unique to the study sam­ple used, Shangase be­lieves her work adds to the body of knowl­edge on the sub­ject.

The ma­jor­ity of the study par­tic­i­pants be­lieved the ef­fect of pre­mar­i­tal child bear­ing on a woman’s mar­riage po­ten­tial was de­pen­dent on what men de­sired. “Some men are not op­posed to mar­ry­ing a woman with an out-of-wed­lock child which they have not fa­thered, while oth­ers, es­pe­cially those who are tra­di­tional, are ve­he­mently op­posed to it,” she says.

“The ways in which the mod­ern woman gets to grips with the mean­ing of life, in­clud­ing mar­riage and child­bear­ing, is chang­ing. More­over, as much as the Zulu fe­male de­sires mar­riage, an early mar­riage is most likely achieved through sac­ri­fic­ing other per­ti­nent life goals. For the women in the study, their own fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence, the well-be­ing of their fam­ily and their ca­reer were of pri­mary im­por­tance and worth achiev­ing prior to mar­riage.”

Her re­search does, how­ever, bring up an im­por­tant ques­tion: Are Zulu women mov­ing to­wards a more mod­ern way of think­ing? Shangase is con­flicted when an­swer­ing, choos­ing to take a two-pronged ap­proach. “I think the young women in the study are pro­gres­sively seek­ing more egal­i­tar­ian re­la­tion­ships, but are also aware that in re­al­ity, there will be re­sis­tance to their ideals.”

A book on her find­ings could be on the hori­zon. She also hopes to pub­lish her work in­ter­na­tion­ally.


POIGNANT STUDY: Them­balethu Shangase grad­u­ated with a Mas­ter’s de­gree in pop­u­la­tion stud­ies at the Univer­sity of KwaZulu-Na­tal.

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