Causes of Marriage Breakdown in Contemporary South African Society

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  • May 18, 2023

Causes of Marriage Breakdown

Marriage breakdown is a complex and multifaceted issue that affects individuals and families in contemporary society, including South Africa. While the institution of marriage is valued and cherished, there are various factors that contribute to the breakdown of marriages. This article aims to explain three causes of marriage breakdown in contemporary society, focusing on social changes, economic pressures, and cultural influences.

Social Changes

One significant cause of marriage breakdown in contemporary South African society is the impact of social changes. The country has undergone a rapid social transformation in recent decades, resulting in shifts in societal norms, values, and expectations.

a. Changing Gender Roles: Traditional gender roles within marriages have been challenged as more women enter the workforce and pursue careers. This can lead to conflicts and tensions within marriages, as traditional expectations and responsibilities are renegotiated.

b. Individualism and Self-Fulfillment: Contemporary society places a strong emphasis on individualism and personal fulfillment. This can create challenges within marriages, as individuals prioritize their own needs and aspirations over the needs of the relationship. The pursuit of personal happiness and self-fulfillment can sometimes lead to the neglect or dissolution of marital commitments.

c. Decline in Social Support Systems: With urbanization and modernization, traditional social support systems, such as extended families and close-knit communities, have weakened. This lack of support can place additional strains on marriages, as couples may face challenges without the assistance of a strong social network.

Economic Pressures

Economic pressures also contribute significantly to marriage breakdown in contemporary South African society. Economic instability, unemployment, and financial stress can place strain on marriages, leading to conflicts and dissolution.

a. Unemployment and Financial Insecurity: High levels of unemployment and economic inequality in South Africa can place significant stress on marriages. Financial insecurity and the inability to meet basic needs can lead to tension, conflict, and breakdown within relationships.

b. Economic Disparity: Economic disparities between partners can also create imbalances within marriages. Financial disagreements, power dynamics, and feelings of resentment can arise when one partner has significantly more financial resources or earning capacity than the other.

c. Economic Migration: Economic migration, where individuals or families move to urban centers or other countries in search of better job opportunities, can also strain marriages. Long periods of separation, challenges in adjusting to new environments, and communication difficulties can all contribute to the breakdown of relationships.

Cultural Influences

Cultural influences play a significant role in shaping marital dynamics and contributing to marriage breakdown in South African society.

a. Traditional Gender Norms: Despite changing gender roles, traditional gender norms still prevail in many South African communities. Expectations around gender roles, power dynamics, and decision-making can create conflicts and dissatisfaction within marriages, particularly when these expectations clash with the aspirations of individuals.

b. Cultural Practices and Beliefs: Cultural practices such as polygamy, arranged marriages, or cultural beliefs around gender, sexuality, and marital obligations can contribute to marriage breakdown. When couples are forced into marriages or face societal pressure to conform to certain cultural expectations, it can create significant challenges and discord within the relationship.

c. Interethnic and Interracial Marriages: South Africa’s diverse society includes interethnic and interracial marriages. While these marriages can be enriching and promote cultural understanding, they can also face unique challenges related to cultural differences, societal prejudices, and family disapproval.


Marriage breakdown in contemporary South African society is influenced by a combination of social changes, economic pressures, and cultural influences. The impact of changing gender roles, individualism, and declining social support systems contribute to marital challenges. Economic pressures, including unemployment, financial insecurity, and economic disparities, can strain relationships. Cultural influences, such as traditional gender norms and cultural practices, also impact marital dynamics and contribute to marriage breakdown.

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