Many men are shying away from marriage. 

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More men in Kenya are shunning marriage. This is what’s at stake

What you need to know:

  • According to Dr. Dennis Shilabukha, an anthropologist at the University of Nairobi, social dynamics have evolved thus creating a lot of choices on marriage, including whether one will marry or not
  • Human beings socially operate under gatekeepers. If the gatekeepers who would push men into marriage are no longer around, it becomes easy to keep away from marriage

By all means, 36-year-old Brian Ochieng' would be considered an eligible bachelor. He is easy-going, kindhearted, and charming. He is well educated and has just completed a Master's degree. He lives in his own bungalow in Kikuyu, Kiambu County, and has a well-paying job as a tax and financial consultant in Nairobi.

Brian's close friends say he is an honest man who accomplishes whatever he sets out to do. With a well-paying job and a well-furnished home, the next natural thing for him would be marriage. But Brian is in no rush to tie the knot.

"I am not in a rush to get married. It is not a priority for me," he says. Brian has resisted all manner of pressure from his mother and aunts to get married. His response has always been an emphatic 'I will marry when I want!'

Brian is not the only middle-aged man shying away from marriage. "I don't think marriage is for me and I don't see any problem with staying single," says Eric Cheruiyot, 34, a former Sous Chef who now runs a fast food and bakery business in Nairobi. Cheruiyot says that a wife has become an avoidable, unnecessary expense in the modern world. "I have always been happy on my own. I do enjoy the company of women when I feel like it. But that doesn't mean I should tag them along and get hitched. I cherish my space and freedom to come home anytime I like and do things however I like," he says.

Social dynamics

According to Dr. Dennis Shilabukha, an anthropologist at the University of Nairobi, social dynamics have evolved thus creating a lot of choices on marriage, including whether one will marry or not. "In the past, marriage was a milestone in life. Men were subjected to a lot of pressure to find a wife and settle down because of their patriarchal position in society. In the modern world, the migration of labour from rural to urban and vice versa has increased social distance between young men and their communities," he says. This has resulted in a decrease in social pressure to marry. "Human beings socially operate under gatekeepers. If the gatekeepers who would push men into marriage are no longer around, it becomes easy to keep away from marriage," Dr. Shibalukha says.

Besides, getting married is no longer the best option for the modern man.

Women who would be ideal marriage candidates for men in their 30s and 40s are now putting their career and education ahead of marriage. A 2016 study by Consumer Insight shows that 52 percent of Kenyan women would choose a better-paying job over marriage. This implies that the days when women had to get married to survive have faded away. At the same time, the ideal woman many young men would want to settle down with is nowadays more economically empowered and sexually liberated. "The marriage pool has gotten shallower. With financial independence, the woman a man in his thirties would want is harder to manipulate and can determine which man or men she wants to be with, and at what point in her life," says sociologist Joseph Orinde.

Getting married is no longer the best option for the modern man. PHOTO|FOTOSEARCH

The sponsor syndrome

He says that the evolution of social behaviour and sexual interactions has altered the sexual and marital models. Take the sponsor syndrome. It has entrenched itself as an alternative to attaining financial freedom through sex, relationships, and even within marriage. Transactional sex has become widely accepted by young women.

A study on the sponsor phenomenon that was conducted by communications firm, A Well Told Story in 2016 found that over half of all Kenyan youth believe having an extra relationship with richer partners is okay with 35 percent admitting to having a sponsor. This study was titled #SEXMONEYFUN.

Dr. Shilabukha points out that the sponsor phenomenon could be breeding a cycle of revenge and bad marriages. He says that when a young marriageable man is shunned by a prospective girl because he isn't rich, chances are high that he may delay marriage until he gets the money. "If he decides to marry after getting the money, he may go into revenge mode. On one hand, he may think that the person he is marrying may have shunned him while he was poor or he may marry and become a sponsor on the side to revenge for the rejection he sustained," he says.

Hook-up culture

The adage of 'why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free' comes to play. In the sexual liberation era, relationships take different forms; hook-ups, Friends with Benefits, booty calls, and many other less serious forms. Moreover, with dating apps being the mode of today's meeting, casual sex is just a click away. Why then would a man want to go through the rigorous exercise of dating one person for years?

According to Ochieng', sex has become too easy to get, especially for the single well-off man. "I can get anything that a wife can give elsewhere with great variety. Why should I then be in a hurry to tie myself down?" he poses. Ochieng' admits that he is currently seeing three different women, all of who he has no intention of marrying. "They cook, clean, and give me good sex without taking away the freedom which comes with living independently," he says.

In some cases, men are not postponing marriages because they don't want to get married. They are delaying to get it right. "Marriage used to be the first step into adulthood. Now it is often the last. "The modern man views marriage as a form of capstone. The capstone is the last brick you put in place to build an arch. It is the last piece in the puzzle of life for most men," says Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist and the author of Labor's Love Lost: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class Family.

This is largely driven by the cultural perception that the man ought to be the breadwinner in the family. "I want to get married by age 40. But for now, I am busy trying to get rich," says Frank Kiama, 33, a County Government procurement officer.

Kiama says that his measure of worth as a man in marriage will be determined by his material possessions, career development, and personal achievements. "Women are more educated, they have great careers, and are making good money. If I want to retain my respect and position as head of the family, then I must first get richer, and advance my career," he says. His views resonate with data from the 2020 index on women empowerment by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. The data shows that unmarried women are the most empowered women in Kenya at 37 percent. This high rate of empowerment drops by 10 percent if these women get married or start cohabiting with a man.

Some men like Kiama would want to make it in life before getting hitched. For others, the perception that women are only interested in men who have already made it is the stone wall standing between them and marriage.

Fear of commitment

Joseph Kimani is one of these. He is well off, runs a wholesale hardware store in Nakuru town, and resides in the posh Milimani estate. "I know I can get a beautiful wife. But if I get married, I will live knowing that she chose me because of my money and social status and not because of love. My marriage will be crowded with fear that if the money is gone, she will leave too," says the 39-year-old businessman. His fear stems from his past two relationships with women who tried to turn him into their cash cow.

Some men feel that the modern urban and rural woman has become very complicated. Robert Wambua who runs a cyber café business along Tom Mboya Street in Nairobi says that marriage has become a competition and an equal rights movement of sorts. "We used to say that if you want to settle down, go to the village and get a girl. She will make you a good wife. Not anymore!" he says.

"All women now want is to be equal. They don't give us the same respect our mothers gave our fathers. Their education is making them think we are equals." Wambua adds that the concept of equality in marriage has been distorted to such a point where well-off women within marriageable age think marriage is a pass time they can get out of at will. "No man wants to spend the rest of his life with such a boisterous character as his wife. It's easier to stay alone," he says.

Fear, domestic strife, and family disintegration are the other fuel driving men from marriage. This includes experiences men had when growing up. "My parents divorced when I was 10 after my father caught our mom having an affair. She left me behind with my father in Yala, Siaya County," says Collins Okello, 35. He says that his father never remarried. "He brought me up single-handedly. In bitterness, he would often quip that women are a man's health hazard."

For two decades, Okello never saw or heard from his mother. "She left and never looked back. Not even for me." This experience installed an intense fear of marriage within him. "I have never understood why she would leave her flesh and blood. I have lived my years seeing my father suffer in silence from the humiliation of that affair and his broken home. He never quite recovered," he says.

"I am afraid of marriage. I can't survive living the kind of painful and heartbroken life my father has lived."

Then there is the man who won't marry to avoid leaving the nest. According to Orinde, this type of man is too lazy to survive on his own. "He will likely be jobless, or unable to hold a job, and too comfortable living in his parents' space to move out," says Joseph. This is the reason that has kept Josiah Mbugua from marriage. "I get free food and shelter here. If I get married, I will be kicked out to fend for my family. I am not ready for such an undertaking. I have never been good at searching for jobs. Marriage is not for me," says Mbugua, 38.

More marriages, more divorces

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics;

  • The number of married people was approximately 16.7 million by 2020 up from 12.6 in 2014
  • The rate of divorce was approximately 17.7 percent by 2020, and 10.5 percent in 2014.
  • One-third of all households contain two related adults of opposite sexes, who are presumably married.

Globally men are delaying marriage

The delay in getting married is not only a local phenomenon. A survey by Harris Interactive in the US shows that men aged between 25 and 34 years get married after nearly seven years of knowing a potential wife. The reason for this delay is due to obligations such as paying down outstanding student loans and gaining financial security. According to the 2020 marriages and divorces data from the journal Our World Data:

  • In the United States, marriage rates have been on the decline since the 1970s. Between 1972 and 2018, marriage rates fell by 50 percent.
  • Between 1990 and 2010, a decline in marriage rates was cumulatively recorded in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.
  • Among men who were born in the 1940s, about 83 percent were married by age 30. Among men who were born in the 1980s, below 25 percent were married by age 30.

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