The relative dearth of analytical work on marital status to date arises, in part, from the difficulties associated with collecting and interpreting data. The problems are particularly acute in South Africa as a result of the wide diversity in marriage forms, cultures, religions and languages. Inadequacies in coverage of large segments of the population during the apartheid years add to the difficulties. The paper describes some of the historical, legal and social reasons for the data difficulties. It then describes and examines data from various household surveys, the 1996 population census and administrative sources on type, prevalence and timing of marriage to assess the extent of the problems. Because census and survey data reflect perceptions of marriage, while administrative data generally record the legal system, the paper can consider differences between the two views of marriage, as well as differences between sources which purport to measure the same view. The paper concludes that despite the many problems in the data, careful analysis can reveal important trends in marriage patterns in the country.