(A woman on a Lebanese dating site)
Lebanon ranks first among Arab countries in celibacy rates
at 85 per cent for unmarried men above 40
and unmarried women above 30.
The divorce rate in Lebanon has doubled
I asked a young Lebanese friend in his late 20's
why he isn't married. This was his response.
"Many young Lebanese are deciding against marriage. Both sexes overwhelmingly deem the very institution as demanding, outdated and inefficient."
Celibacy and divorce are becoming the new norm among Lebanese men and women.
Why is this in a country where women outnumber men by more than 2 per cent?
High celibacy, or spinsterhood, rates have been fueled by deteriorating socio-economic conditions. These include underwhelming economic performance that borders stagnation, low wages, high unemployment rates (between 25-30 per cent among working-age individuals), skyrocketing real estate prices, high dowries (or "Mahr" in Islamic law) - where applicable - and costly wedding ceremonies.
As a result, many are deciding against marriage. Both sexes overwhelmingly deem the very institution as demanding, outdated and inefficient. Single men are increasingly heading out of the country for better work opportunities overseas, whereas single women tend to remain but set about pursuing higher education as an achievable alternative satisfaction.
Consequent better education prospects and integration of women in the marketplace - Lebanon ranks first in the Middle East and North Africa region on the percentage of women in the workplace - have led many to consider career advancement at the expense of establishing a family.
MEN CAN'T PROVIDE
Women in traditional societies typically want husbands who can provide for them and assure the family good living standards. This is quite a non-starter more often than not in Lebanon at present due to the stated country-wide economic hardships.
Lebanese society is undergoing a rapid transformation with feminist ideas firmly taking root. Women are wholeheartedly embracing the shift from a traditional - if not conservative in many rural areas - society to one that is more open and liberal. By relying on good education levels and job opportunities, however low-paying, they are determined to take self-sustained control of their lives unsupported by a partner.
Also as women are either staying single or getting married at an older age (in their mid- or late 30s, if and when they do), Lebanon faces the dim prospect of an ageing population due to increasingly lower birth rates.
HARD TO DIVORCE
Naturally, the same economic and social factors behind high celibacy rates destabilize the lives of married couples too. But the system does little to help divorcing couples square their situations away. Lebanon consists of 18 religious denominations with the autonomy to administer marriage, divorce and alimony matters to their followers.
Various religious courts liaise then with relevant government bodies that govern disputes outside the religious context. The state, on its part, is unable to impose civil marriage, as it is widely not accepted by most of the all-too-powerful sects' leaders.
People who get married under religious law, as is mostly the case in Lebanon, have to strictly follow the script of their respective religious courts. The clergy - Christian and Muslim, alike - have vested interests in maintaining the status quo. Otherwise, it would be impossible for them to exert the same control over their followers on the religious and political fronts - let alone the lucrative returns that are amassed by the religious courts from divorcing couples over the settlement of their cases.
To make things even worse, fair divorce settlements are usually hard to come by. Some women, for example, struggle mightily to retain custody of their children even when that makes the most sense.
All of the above is further convincing single men and women to refrain from getting married for fear of running into similar troubles.
Needless to say, high celibacy and divorce rates are not the only quandaries lurking in Lebanese society. But both, with what they represent in terms of an increasing shift away from traditional family structures, are contributing factors to a grim outlook.
Strong societies are built on strong families. Alas, there are no indications that Lebanon will enjoy much of either in the foreseeable future.