Marriage is one of the foundations of traditional social values in Qatar. This institution makes it possible not only to pass on customs to future generations but also to maintain the stability of families. At the same time, divorce is socially undesirable and taboo. However, in recent years, there has been a continuous decline in the rate of both marriages and divorces in the country. This factor leads to the need to answer the research question: Why is there a decrease in the rate of marriages and divorces in Qatar in recent years? Although the researchers provide ample information about the statistics on this topic, there is no comprehensive information on the possible causes of this process. Thus, in order to answer the posed question, it is necessary to consider a complex of both cultural and demographic factors. In particular, the main reasons for the decrease in the rate may be pressure on women from society and traditions, a large number of migrants, as well as the expansion of education and labor opportunities for women.
The basis for assessing marriage and divorce rates in Qatar is statistics collected by government agencies. Planning and Statistics Authority (2018) notes that the general marriage rate for men in 2017 was 23.9 per 1000 people, while for women, it was 21.4 (p. 8). Additionally, there has been a steady decline in this indicator since 2011. The statistics for 2019 show a significant and even stronger decrease in the general marriage rate. In 2019, for men, it was 21.5 per 1000 people, while for women, it was 19.1 (Planning and Statistics Authority, 2020, p. 8). Thus, Qatar has seen a steady decline in the number of marriages over the past few years. In comparison with the indicators of previous years, the sharp decline in the period from 2018 is especially noticeable (Planning and Statistics Authority, 2020). Therefore, there is a shift in modern Qatari society, a shift towards fewer marriages.
Statistics also identify the number of divorces and the dynamics of changes in their rate. In 2017, the general divorce rate per 1000 people was 8.6 for men and 6.9 for women (The Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics, 2018, p. 18). In 2019, the data showed an additional decrease to 7.9 for men and 6.3 for women (Planning and Statistics Authority, 2020, p. 18). Considering the graphs of the dynamics of the rate of marriages and divorces, it can be noticed that they quite accurately repeat each other. This fact suggests that the decrease in the number of marriages and the number of divorces are directly related, which makes the identification of the reasons for the decrease in the number of marriages paramount.
Qatar has a distinct cultural setting based on traditional attitudes that affect marriages and divorces in the country. Hewitt and Churchill (2020) note that Qatar has the lowest crude marriage rate of all Arab countries. Additionally, the country’s special demographic and cultural conditions contribute to the continued decline in the number of marriages in Qatar. Most importantly, “marriage remains strongly patriarchal and is influenced by traditional customs such as consanguineous marriage” (Hewitt & Churchill, 2020, p. 70). At the same time, Qatari national women cannot simply marry a non-national man, whereas men can have more than one wife. These aspects explain the difference in the number of marriages and divorces for men and women.
However, the most important factor in this context is the population composition of Qatar. According to the Planning and Statistics Authority (n.d), there are 1,886,323 males and 749,755 females in Qatar for 2021. Thus, the number of men exceeds the number of women by about 2.5 times. Additionally, “88% of the population are migrants (mostly male migrant workers from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Philippines)” (Hewitt & Churchill, 2020, p. 70). Thus, with the increase in the number of non-nationals in the Qatari population, the number of options for marriage for many Qataris is decreasing, resulting in a possible decrease in the number of marriages. While marriage to a foreigner is possible under special legal conditions, society and the state encourages marriages between nationals or citizens of other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states (Hassan, 2018). This aspect shows “cultural affinity and transnational tribal residence and relations across the GCC” (Hassa, 2018, p. 154). However, Qatari men are increasingly marrying foreign women, while Qatari women are more influenced by tradition and family, which often prevents them from doing so.
Marriage in Qatar has a high social value and is a means of preserving and increasing family wealth. When choosing a potential spouse, many factors are evaluated including, “family reputation, educational level, financial prospects, religiosity, and personal character” (as cited in Hassan, 2018, p. 155). Thus, marriage for Qatari society is a way of passing on customs, traditions, social values to subsequent generations. Traditionally, women have had less control over the choice of spouse and are under significant pressure from society and family.
However, in the modern world, especially given the rapid economic growth of Qatar, this position is gradually transforming. Liloia (2019) notes that Qatari women are now actively involved in the development and promotion of initiatives to respond to social pressures. At the same time, they strive to preserve traditional values that are closely related to the history of their country (Liloia, 2019). Women in modern society are presented with more educational and work opportunities, which makes their lives more diversified. This aspect may be the most significant in explaining the continuing decline in marriage and divorce rates in Qatar. Additionally, as part of a rich tradition, a wedding in Qatar comes with high expenses (Ju, 2017). Thus, more and more modern women want to realize themselves and can also refuse marriage for rational economic reasons.
The institution of marriage is the foundation of Qatari society, as it helps to maintain social values and traditional order. Moreover, it is critical to ensure the economic stability of families and their development, so the choice of a spouse is extremely important. However, recently there has been a significant decrease in the rate of marriages and divorces, especially since 2018. This process has not been widely considered in the literature, as it has a recent origin, but is well supported by statistics. Possible reasons for this situation may be pressure on women, who have more limited choices than men. This factor, combined with increased educational and work opportunities, makes marriage less attractive for women. Additionally, the changing composition of society and a large number of migrants provide for more cross-cultural marriages, which are often not legalized.
Hassan, I. (2018). Social stratification in Qatari society: Family, marriage, and Khalījī culture. Journal of Women of the Middle East and the Islamic World, 16, 144-169.
Hewitt, B., & Churchill, B. (2020). Convergence and difference: Marriage and family life from a cross-cultural perspective. In W. Kim & F. van de Vijver (eds.), Cross-cultural family research and practice (pp. 57-102). Elsevier.
Ju, Y. S. (2017). Designing for divorce: New rituals and artifacts for an evolving world.
Liloia, A. (2019). Gender and nation building in Qatar: Qatari women negotiate modernity. Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, 15(3), 344-366.
Planning and Statistics Authority. (n.d). Qatar monthly statistics: Statistics of September 2021.
Planning and Statistics Authority. (2018). Marriage & divorce in the state of Qatar, 2017 (review & analysis).
Planning and Statistics Authority. (2020). Marriage & divorce in the state of Qatar, 2019 (review & analysis).