(December 2005) Families in the Arab world are undergoing major changes as new patterns of marriage and family formation emerge across the Middle East and North Africa. Universal, early marriage is no longer the standard it once was in Arab countries: The average age at marriage for both men and women is generally rising, and more Arab women are staying single longer or not marrying at all. While these trends are part of a general global phenomenon, they are also introducing new issues into Arab societies—issues that can confront deeply rooted cultural values and raise legal and policy challenges.

Written by Hoda Rashad, director of the Social Research Center at the American University in Cairo; Magued Osman, director of the Information Agency in Egypt; and Farzaneh Roudi-Fahimi, director of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Program at the Population Reference Bureau, this policy brief highlights current trends in marriage patterns of women in the Arab world, emerging policy issues, and links between marriage patterns and other social and demographic trends.