The Changing Spousal Differentials in Socio-demographic Characteristics in Malaysia

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Nai Peng Tey


This paper uses matched couple data from the 1991, 2000, and 2010 population censuses to examine the changes in spousal differentials in age, education, and work status, as well as inter-ethnic and international marriages. The general trend is one of decreasing spousal age and educational gaps between 1991 and 2010. Although older-man younger-woman marriages still predominated, the spousal age gap decreased from 4.6 years to 3.9 years, and the proportion of marriages in which the husband was more than 6 years older than the wife declined from 30% to 24%. Educational homogamy (couples having the same educational level) rose from 53% to 64%, while the proportion of women marrying someone of higher education declined from 33% to 21%. Inter-ethnic marriage hovered around 4.2% throughout the study period, after rising from less than 1% in the 1980s. International marriages made up about 1.2% of all marriages in 2010, up from 0.8% in 1991. The labour force participation rate of married women had increased significantly, resulting in the rise of dual-income households. The changing spousal differentials in socio-demographic characteristics are bound to alter gender roles and relations that will impact Malaysia’s family institution and demographic outcomes.


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