More Africans are marrying spouses of different ethnicities

Education and urbanisation are only part of the explanation

Brooke Watson and Nelson Madubuonwu took part in traditional Nigerian wedding ceremony in New York last year.

In 2018 a dating app was launched targeting African diasporas in America. CultureCrush was described by its founder as an “inclusive ecosystem”. And if that were not romantic enough, the app promised to be the first to allow users looking for love to search mates by “nationality, ethnicity and tribe”.

For lonely hearts in Chicago or New York it may well be a useful feature. But in Africa, love, or at least marriage, is increasingly transcending ethnic boundaries. That is according to several studies published in the past two years, all of which find that it is becoming more common for Africans to get hitched to partners from other groups.

A paper published in January by Juliette Crespin-Boucaud of the Paris School of Economics found that the share of marriages that are “interethnic” ranges from 10 per cent of the total in Burkina Faso to 46 per cent in Zambia. The average share in the 15 countries she looked at is 20 per cent. Another study, published as a working paper in 2018 by Sanghamitra Bandyopadhyay and Elliott Green, respectively of Queen Mary University of London and the London School of Economics, found a similar figure among a sample of 26 countries: 22 per cent.

All researchers note that younger generations are more likely to spurn ethnic barriers. About 17 per cent of women’s first marriages in 1984 were inter-ethnic, rising to 26 per cent in 2014, according to Ms Bandyopadhyay and Mr Green.

Urbanisation is one reason for the increase. In cities there are more people from different backgrounds with whom to consort than in villages. It is harder for nosy relatives to interfere. Education matters, too. More schooling means higher incomes and more choices.

Yet there is more to the trends than schooling and cities, says Ms Crespin-Boucaud. Also important are changing cultural attitudes. These days marrying outside one’s group is less likely to be taboo. Why this has happened faster in some countries (such as Uganda) than others (such as Niger) is unclear.

Whatever the reasons, boundary-spanning marriages are good news, and not just for the happy couples. Another paper, published in 2018 by Boniface Dulani of the University of Malawi and three co-authors, suggests that children of mixed marriages are less likely to vote along ethnic lines. Ethnically driven politics has been used to explain many African woes, from conflict to corruption. So if love can blur these boundaries, all the better. – Economist.

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