This article was written as part of a summer internship at The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi. It was published online here and in print.
ABU DHABI // Many Emirati women are now choosing to postpone marriage and starting a family in order to get an education and extra job qualifications, according to recent research. “Emiratis are getting married at an older age than in the past,” said Dr Monica Gallant, chairwoman of the business department at Dubai Women’s College. “I think that there is a greater understanding of the need for education. Economic pressures are encouraging women to become educated.”
Many women do not earn their bachelor’s degrees until age 22. Educated women get married at age 27 on average, while those without higher education marry younger, according to a study conducted by Zayed University in 2007. The trend to value education over marriage echoes the findings of a UK-based online relationship website, singlemuslim.com, which surveyed more than 3,900 participants and asked, “Do you think it is important to finish your education before getting married?”
Forty-five per cent of respondents said education was more important than marriage. Only a little more than 10 per cent said the opposite. However, many young Emirati women worry that as they age, marriage opportunities will decline. Miriam Omran, a 20-year-old student, said: “Let’s say you go on with your education, and then you find yourself in the end by yourself, no one to celebrate your success with. I want to get the maximum education I can get, but now I put both [marriage and education] at the same priority.”
“A lot of families have at least one 30-year-old or older woman unmarried,” added Shoula al Masoud, a telecommunications project manager. “If you pass a certain age, it is harder to find a man.” Ms al Masoud, an Emirati, went to the United States to acquire her master’s degree and moved back to the UAE to work. “Being educated has threatened men in my life experience,” she said. “Eventually, a man wants a woman to rely on him in big issues. If he feels threatened, she becomes unattractive.”
But attitudes among younger Emirati men are changing, according to the Zayed University study, which showed 74 per cent of men are willing to marry a woman with a higher education. According to the study, 63 per cent of women were willing to marry a man less educated than themselves. Jassim al Marzouqi thinks it is possible for a woman to balance both an education and a marriage, and would like to find an educated bride.
“I think it is very important for a woman to have a full education ? I think it would strengthen our relationship [if she were more educated],” he said. “Most women, at the moment, get married before they go into work, after they finish university.” The total number of marriages has dropped from 2007 to 2009, according to The Dubai Statistics Centre. “Marriage is fate,” Ms al Masoud said. “[Women] want a place to rest and feel safe, a home.
“I am very happy, and I still have hope to have a companion for old age. I’m a realistic woman. I didn’t think about [marriage] before, and when people look at me, they feel pity. But I see my friends, and they are exhausted. “It is written in my religion that making a family is important, but I am not less of a human being because I’m not married. I think that this is the best possible lifestyle; after marriage, women kind of lose their identity.”
firstname.lastname@example.org Are you a woman who has postponed getting married to further your education, or are you thinking of postponing marriage to go to college instead? Contribute to the debate and let us know your views.