Modern marriage trends in Kazakhstan


Aida Alzhanova answers questions

Specialist in strategic an.organizational development. She devoted 13 years of her career to the UN - she headed the country office of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Kazakhstan, worked at the headquarters of the Fund in New York, Asia-Pacific Department.

Deputy Permanent Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the UN in New York,
Adviser to the Minister of Foreign Affairs; she coordinated the work of foreign experts on state development under the leadership of Tony Blair.

She has work experience in the Academy of Sciences, "Samruk-Kazyna Pharmacy", public foundation ADAM DAMU,
worked as a consultant to internationa.organizations UN and OSCE. Expert on Gender Equality and SDGs.

Founded the ACG
consulting company. Trainer, coach, facilitator.

Corr .: In recent years, there has been a decrease in marriage rates in Kazakhstan, a shift in marriage to later ages, divorce increase. Can we call the existing trends signs of the so-called second demographic transition and a departure from the traditional model of marital behavior?

The second demographic transition - a decline in fertility along with an increase in life expectancy - is a global trend that cannot be avoided by any country.  If many developed countries have completed it, then Kazakhstan is at its final stage. And such indicators as the age of marriage and divorce number, which are rising every year, reflect the impact of this trend on the country's demographic development.

This is due to fundamental shifts in the life cycle of a modern person - life expectancy is high, and reproduction, which was the main life function of a short-lived person, is now only one of the periods of life.

Scientific and technological progress has created many opportunities for individual  development and self-realization, which affect the demographic behavior of a person.  More and more people are pursuing higher education, pursuing career development and therefore postponing marriage until later periods.  If earlier it was men’s prerogative, then with the advent of modern contraception, women can regulate their fertility, plan children birth and at the same time pursue a career and self-development.

The massive entry of women into the labor market has shown that women are competitive for jobs and have raised their economic and social status.  Therefore, an attempt to put women in the family sidelines leads to a decrease in interest of traditional marriage and, accordingly, to divorce.

On the other hand, society’s imposition the head role on a man, making him responsible for the full provision of all family members, also has a negative impact on the men’s decision to marry only for the sake of children.  Men, as well as women, need a friendly atmosphere in the family, where he is not looked at only as a breadwinner, but also as a person with his own emotional needs.

The departure from the traditional family model, which created the appearance of physical security for a person, is dictated by the need of both sexes for a friendly and emotionally safe atmosphere in the family, which is difficult to create in the vertical hierarchy of the traditional family.

In addition, with early marriage, young and immature people fall into material and moral dependence on relatives, on the basis of which they give themselves the right to interfere in the internal affairs of a young family, which can lead to family breakdown.  For example, in accordance with the National Report “Kazakhstan Family 2019”, more than 60% of respondents named the interference of relatives as the main reason for divorce.

Thus, the conflict within the family occurs due to the discrepancy between the functionality of the traditional family and modern realities based on respect for the rights of each individual.

Corr .: How can the trends observed in marriage and divorce rates reflect on the country birth rate?

Since Kazakhstan cannot avoid the influence of the global trend dictated by the second demographic transition, we will observe a gradual increase in life expectancy and a decrease in the birth rate in the next decade on a background of traditional family forms and marriage relations changes towards diversification: an increase in civil and guest marriages, single-parent and childless families.

In this case, the functional stability of the traditional family (parents and children) will be determined by the models of gender relations.  The higher level of gender equality and partnership in the family produce more responsibility and efficiency in economic, moral, educational, protective and other important functions performed by family members.

In addition, these processes are significantly affected by another global trend - urbanization, which is 58% in Kazakhstan, and according to forecasts, it will reach 70% in 2040.. 

The birth rate in urban conditions is always lower than in rural areas due to the higher education level of urban residents, the high cost of housing and services, the availability and variety of cultural and leisure resources for self-development.  And the divorce rate in cities is always higher because of the higher education level of women and their equal contribution to the family economy, and, accordingly, higher requirements for partnerships than traditional ones.

Corr .: Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the situation in the global economy is predicted to deteriorate, and our country also faces difficult economic challenges.  How much can this affect, in your opinion, on the rates of marriage and divorce, on the country’s demographic situation in general?

In times of crisis, fertility always declines.  Since the consequences of the pandemic will make themselves felt for several more years, the birth rate is likely to decline.  Everyone who planned the birth of children will be postponed until better times.  It is also necessary to take into account that every year there is a gradual increase in the age of marriage for women, a decrease in the number of marriages and an increase in divorce, and it is necessary to take into account the emigration mood among the population of reproductive age.  This trend will continue in the coming years, exacerbated by the economic crisis.

But the most important factor is that the smallest generation in the history of independent Kazakhstan, born from 1995 to 2002, is entering reproductive age - the minimum number of births was in 1999, only 217 thousand children, and in 2019 - 403 thousand.  Therefore, in the coming years of this decade, we will observe a decline in the birth rate.  If over the past five years, an average of 398 thousand children were born per year, then in the next 5 years (according to forecasts (, an average of 341 thousand children will be born in Kazakhstan per year.  As a result, by 2025, the country "won't get” about 250 thousand children.

Considering that the forecasts were made before the crisis, it is possible that by the end of the year, after the adjustment, the figures may become even lower.  But by the end of the decade, stabilization will occur and a slight growth will begin, because those who were born from 2006 to 2015 will enter the reproductive age - the “golden” decade of fertility in the history of modern Kazakhstan, and, most likely, the economic consequences of the crisis will be overcome by that time  ...

Corr .: In China, according to the media, after the lifting of strict quarantine measures, a significant increase in the number of applications for divorce was recorded.  Experts fear that this situation may be observed in other countries after the end of the self-isolation regime.  In your opinion, how much the state of emergency and quarantine measures can affect the final indicators of marriage and divorce rates for 2020?

In Kazakhstan, even without quarantine, the number of divorces is growing every year.  To a large extent, this is influenced by the family economic state and the maturity of the relationship.

I think this year divorce statistics will be disappointing.  Our country's resource-based economy was going through a difficult period without a pandemic due to low oil prices, and quarantine only aggravated the state of the economy - many people were left without income and anxiety increased.

An indirect indicator of problems in families is the increase in cases of domestic violence during quarantine.  That is, in those families where violence was potentially presented but was not manifested due to less contact of family members, now all problems spill out in a confined space.

Especially, this will affect city dwellers living in small and rented apartments, limited in the ability to move in open space.  By the way, the divorce rate in cities was higher than in the regions without the crisis.  Under more isolation in cities than in regions, divorce rates in cities will rise.
The number of marriages will decline, mainly due to decrease in the number of young people, and economic problems will only exacerbate the situation.
In 2018, the country developed the "Roadmap for the development and support of the family for 2019-2024" project, the main indicator of which is a decrease in divorce rates.  What additional measures need to be taken or what measures need to be strengthened in order to reduce the divorce rate in the country?  How can the situation be influenced in the context of globalization, urbanization and against the background of changes in the value system?

As far as I know, the draft Roadmap was not approved.  As an indicator, the reduction in the divorce rate is very worthy, but hardly achievable by the methods mentioned in this project - creation of special centers for young families at educational institutions and youth resource centers, the distribution of brochures, psychological testing, etc.  Why?  Because, as I mentioned above, the functional stability of the modern family is determined by the model of gender relations - the more equal and partnership relations, the easier it is to overcome family crises.

In many families, working women carry a double burden of contributing to the family budget and are responsible for running the household.  The additional burden in the form of unpaid domestic work, which is greatly underestimated by men, leads to psychological and physical exhaustion of women, which negatively affects the relationship between spouses.

An equal distribution of family and household responsibilities between spouses strengthens relations and increases the responsibility of both parents for the upbringing and development of socially healthy children.  Patriarchal relations in the family often lead to insufficiently open communications between family members, the dependence of the whole family on the opinion and decision of one person (the head of the family) and violence.

In this regard, in order to strengthen family and marriage relations in modern conditions, it is necessary not in words, but in practice to expand the understanding of equal rights and opportunities for any family member, regardless of gender; to focus on cultural and spiritual socialization, which is assessed through the quality of leisure -  jointly spent free time, psychological atmosphere in the family and the level of culture of adult family members.

The state must develop and strictly apply laws that ensure gender equality, safety and protection of all family members, primarily minors, from domestic violence, including psychological, physical, sexual, economic, etc.

It is necessary to introduce the subject of human rights, gender equality, sex education in educational institutions, starting from school;  involve young people in social and humanitarian volunteer programs to help those in need, the disabled, the elderly; to foster empathy and a sense of belonging;  create opportunities for joint cultural activities with the whole family;  fill media content with non-discriminatory family values, suppress sexist statements by public figures, especially parliamentarians and government officials.

Additional questions:

Corr .: If we turn to history, until the 20th century, the creation of a family was a condition for a person's survival, and not his free choice or the realization of the right to strive for happiness.  With the development of urbanization, the situation has changed, people's approach to relationships and the creation of a family has undergone evolutionary changes, when the need to survive was replaced by other motives: to find happiness, self-realization, to find a person with common interests.  Loneliness eventually became the norm.

Many young Kazakh women under 30, being successful in their work, are no longer in a hurry to register relationships, they often are very skeptical about the stability and strength of the institution of modern marriage, and not ready to change their personal comfort for the arrangement of family life.  And this is a ubiquitous trend that is being broadcast to the masses.  But what about traditions, foundations, friendly families gathered for a large dastarkhan?  How to pass on the correct family values to your children if the trend of loneliness continues in the coming decades?

Since women are equal participants in the labor market, the economic factor no longer plays a decisive role in the sustainability of family and marriage relations.  Pressure and interference in these relationships from older relatives and social condemnation of independent women lead to narrowing and limiting toxic family contacts and the preference for social contacts in a circle of equals - friends, colleagues, partners of interest.  Considering the various opportunities for leisure and recreation that have opened up, the traditional family gathering for a large dastarkhan - th.organization of which requires a lot of effort from women - is no longer an attractive way of spending free time from work.

Respect for the individual's rights to self-realization regardless of gender, communication without violating personal boundaries and stereotypes, lack of control and violence over the individual, recognition of equal rights and opportunities for men and women - these are modern social concepts and skills that contribute to maintaining warm and healthy relationships with relatives  and others.
Corr .: New types of marriage have appeared - trial marriage, weekend marriage, or guest marriage, when young people live separately and do not run a common household;  distance marriage, in which the spouses live in different cities and periodically visit each other.  Add Child free to that.  In Kazakhstan, many of these formats are already popular and threaten with an even greater demographic decline.  How will the situation change, given that the number of unregistered marriages is increasing every year?

New types of marriage, characteristic of the younger generations born after the 1980s, are a manifestation of internal protest against the traditional patriarchal family and the search for new forms of relationships with partners.  Relationships that are not related to common housing and household issues or children, as a rule, are built on common interests and values, while respecting the partner's right to self-realization.  If the rights of one of the partners are violated, then the couples break up quite painlessly, without exhausting divorce proceedings, and the search for a more suitable partner begins.
This is partly due to the increase in life expectancy.

The Childfree subculture was born on the wave of emancipation in the twentieth century as a protest movement that demanded motherhood not as an obligation, but as a right. As the goal was achieved, the motives for remaining childless changed and may differ for different sexes, age categories, and social status. For example, often for men it is the fear of economic insolvency, the inability to feed the family. For women, this is the fear of stopping career growth. Some consider their childlessness as a humanitarian mission to save the Earth from overpopulation, while others do not want children because of this environmental situation or fear, which does not help protect children from violence.

This phenomenon has not been deeply studied in Kazakhstan, but judging by the statements of childfree supporters, it looks like a protest against social pressure on the individual and some do not want children because of the high level of corruption. These are mainly young people who have a pronounced protest potential, but with age and experience, their goals and life values ​​may change.

To summarize all of the above, the new forms of family and marriage relations are a protest against the millennial patriarchal way of life in the family, which does not correspond to modern realities. And any protest cannot be extinguished by the pressure of society on an individual. For example, in Japan and other industrialized countries of Asia (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea), where fertility rates are the lowest in the world, women, being in a subordinate position, silently protest by refusal of having children.

You can learn more about this topic in the June issue of the NATIONAL ECONOMY online journal on the website

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