The contemporary process of courtship, engagement, and marriage in urban Kenya

Shelley Clark, McGill University
Caroline Kabiru, African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC)
Rohini Mathur, McGill University

The marriage process in sub-Saharan Africa has undergone remarkable changes over the past fifty years, but surprisingly little is known about the emerging patterns. Drawing on detailed reports of 1,027 romantic and sexual partnerships, from over 600 urban youths in Kisumu, Kenya, this paper offers a rare empirical exploration of relationship transitions. We find that respondents’ level of independence, their marital aspirations, their feelings of emotional attraction or love, and their partners’ sexual fidelity are significantly correlated with whether a relationship progresses into engagement or marriage. Pregnancy is strongly predictive of subsequent engagement or marriage, but having sex is not. Our findings shed new light on how young urban men and women search for, and sometimes find, marriage partners in the context of rapid globalization and high HIV/AIDS prevalence rates.

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Presented in Session 174: Before marriage: engagement in contemporary societies