Most north Indian states, from Punjab to Bihar, and Maharashtra in the west, have a high share of couples married for 40 years or more — they make up 11-12% of all couples, latest data from the 2011 Census shows. At the other extreme, the entire northeast belt has less than 7% of such marriages. In Meghalaya, just 4.1% of all couples have been married for 40 years or more, one-third of Haryana or Maharashtra.
Across the country, couples married for 40-plus years account for 10% of all couples.
Sociologists say this dramatic variation in duration of marriage across India has less to do with fidelity and love, and more with customs and health. Two key factors determine the duration of marriage – the couple’s age when they get married and how long they live. Since life spans are increasing all over, married life too is getting longer.
In most parts of the northern belt, traditionally, the average age of marriage is less. This is changing, but slowly. So, early marriage and longer life means many more long-lasting marriages. Of course, the divorce rate too is still quite low in India – just 1.1% of all marriages.
The situation in the northeast is the opposite. Professor Bimal Kar of Guwahati University told TOI that the low share of 40-plus marriages was mainly due to higher age of marriage and lower life spans.
The Census data bears this out: in Haryana, 21% of married men tied the knot before reaching 21 years (the legal minimum for marriage) compared to just 11% in Meghalaya. Similarly, 31% of married Haryanvi women were married before reaching the legally allowed 18 years, compared to 15% in Meghalaya.