Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Divorce statistics in Malaysia

It’s an oft-cited “statistic” (at least in Western countries): 1 in 2 marriages end in divorce. It’s a result of the weakening of the “traditional” family unit. People are more casual about their romantic relationships, which leads to lack of commitment to see through a lasting marriage.

How true is it though? Or more appropriately, does it apply to Malaysia?

Divorce as a topic has been in the news in the past few weeks. We have read about a growing concern about the local divorce rate. We discovered that one of the state governments has a small but successful program to sponsor a second honeymoon for couples thinking of heading to divorce. Based on the success of that program, they were considering expanding the program. Then we heard of another proposal for enrolling husbands in some sort of grooming course to better their appeal to their wives.

Strange and fantastic news indeed. So what feeds this fear on divorce rates? Is there some basis for this fear? Just how bad a beating is the institution of marriage suffering in Malaysia?

To do my research, I didn’t go for a primary source, such as the National Registration Department and/or Jabatan Kemajuan Islam Malaysia (JAKIM), although my source did rely on those two sources. After searching online, I found a paper researched by Samuel Chan Hsin Chien and Mohamed Sarif Mustaffa, for the Faculty of Education, University Technology Malaysia, Johor. The paper’s main purpose was to discover the situation of divorce in Malaysia.

From the two primary sources mentioned above, the authors of the research paper have obtained statistics on registered marriages and divorces amongst Muslims (from JAKIM) and Non-Muslims (from NRD) for the years 2000 to 2005, with a breakdown by state. The authors reached two conclusions from the data gathered.

First, although the divorce rate has grown moderately over the five year period from 9.88% to 12.83%, this is still small compared to some developed countries such as the US (51%, 1998), Australia (49%, 1996), Canada (48%, 1995), and Germany (44%, 1997). I don’t know the source of their statistics for those countries, but it does fit the standard notion that 1 in 2 marriages end in divorce. Unfortunately, those are also old statistics, so the situation may have changed now. No matter. It’s not the direction I’ll be looking at.

The second conclusion the authors reached is that the divorce rate amongst the Muslims is keeping proportionate to the increasing number of marriages, but the situation is not the same with the Non-Muslims. With the Non-Muslims, the number of marriages actually declined, while the number of divorces doubled. This led to an increasing divorce rate amongst the Non-Muslims, from 2.63% to 7.19%. Whether this is a trend that continued beyond 2005 and still continues today might be worth examining in detail. Nevertheless, the divorce rate amongst the Muslims is still significantly higher, increasing from 14.71% to 15.51%.

Comparison of marriage and divorce rates between Muslims and Non-Muslims
Playing around with the data, I came up with a graph comparing the split between Muslim/Non-Muslim marriages and divorces. It’s instructive to note that demographically, the ratio in the population is roughly 60%/40% Muslim/Non-Muslim. Looking back at the graph, it appears that a larger portion of Malaysia’s Muslim population is getting married as compared to the Non-Muslim population. Still, more than 80% of the divorces in the country were between Muslim couples. Although the gap between share of marriages and share of divorces is shrinking, that’s still about 15 points higher than the ratio of marriages between Muslims and Non-Muslims.

Average divorce rates (2000-2005) by state in Malaysia
An interesting side story arises once we examine the data breakdown by state. Considering the average rate of divorce over the years examined, we discover that the top three worst states in descending order are Selangor, KL, and Penang, all with an average divorce rate above 15%. The three best states in ascending order are Sabah, Kedah, and Johor, incidentally the only states together with Sarawak and Negeri Sembilan with divorce rates below the national average of 11.55%. So Sabahans have the best marriages, and Selangorites have the worst? I’m not going to touch that topic with a ten foot pole.

So what do the authors make of this state of affairs? What are the major drivers of divorce in Malaysia? Unfortunately, the paper does not delve into this issue, but instead cites “numerous foreign literatures” (sic) as stating that the top three factors that influence divorce are “1) infidelity, 2) no longer in love, and 3) emotional problems.” It’s very likely that those factors are inter-related, and possibly so with other factors as well.

Are these the main factors that play a role in the Malaysian context? I don’t know. I have not located any research that studies this. But if they do, does that mean those state programs we read about recently are on the right track?

I should take this opportunity to note that I, too, am now a statistic. I join the ranks of the many faceless ones people always hear about. Those supposed sad cases, or scandals. Now I know, there is nothing to be either proud or ashamed about. It just is. Adjustments are made. Life goes on. And no, I’m not interested in participating in a survey. Not now at least.


Fu said...

O what hope is there to achieve an ever-lasting relationship of your own, when everything around you crumbles to the ground?

Meor said...

hope our talk earlier was more help than despair.

keep positive, because there's always hope. :-)

1038 said...

Hi there !
i m a student doing a research on the increasing divorce rate in malaysia..
would u mind 2 share with me some of ur findings..
hope to hear from u soon.. thanks!! ^^

Meor said...

Dear Yi Lin,

(did i get that right?)

Unfortunately, I'm not actually a researcher. But I can share my main source article with you. I'll drop you an email later.

Thanks for dropping by and commenting!

Aileen said...

Please... Can you help me out?
i m a student doing a research on the increasing divorce rate in malaysia..
Is it okay for you to share me some of your findings..
i hope to hear from u soon.. thank you very very much~ ^^,

Meor said...

Dear Aileen,

Thx for reading and commenting.

If you'd like me to email you, just reply to this comment with your email address. Don't worry, it won't show automatically since my comments are moderated for the older posts.

mz_zizie said...

do you have a statistics of early marriages in malaysia?

Meor said...

Dear mz_zizie,

Sorry, I don't have any other statistics. What would you classify as an "early marriage"? Marriage before 18?

Anonymous said...

i m jeslyn here.. i m doing a research on the ideal age for marriage and divorce related problem and i m finding for some literature review on early marriage.... can u help out? my address is

Meor said...

Dear Jeslyn,

As I mentioned when I replied to mz_zizie above, I don't have any other statistics except this I already posted in my blog article. Also, what would you classify as an "early marriage"?

Anonymous said...

Hi Moer,

I believe everyone can make a difference if both husband and wife will work on it together.

I am preaching about marriage tomorrow in our lighthouse church in Penang. This is because of what is happening.

There is no happily ever after but there are marriages filled with love.

Reconsider it and go deeper, you will find it.

Fang Ting said...


i wonder if you have any statistics on the historical data - no of marriages in malaysia.

i would appreciate if you can email me the information or data if you have any. I have went through the government websites but there are no much information from there.

Many thanks,

Meor said...

Dear Delphanie,

First, sorry for the long wait. Been awhile since I checked my blog.

I have one source of info, which is a research paper. That paper used statistics from the National Registration Department and Jabatan Kemajuan Islam Malaysia from 2000-2005. Other than that, I can't help much as I haven't done any serious research in this matter (refer my replies to other comments in this thread).

Do drop me a message if you want me to email that primary source.