Premarital fertility, defined as fertility before first marriage, was found to be highly prevalent in Namibia. According to data from the 1992 and 2000 DHS surveys, the proportion of premarital births was 43% for all births, and 60% for the first birth. This seemed to be primarily due to a late mean age at first marriage (26·4 years) and low levels of contraception before first marriage. Data were analysed using a variety of demographic methods, including multiple decrement life table and multivariate logistic models. Major variations were found by ethno-linguistic groups: Herero and Nama/Damara had the highest levels of premarital fertility (above 60%); Ovambo and Lozi had intermediate levels of premarital fertility (around 40%); Kavongo and San appeared to have kept a more traditional behaviour of early marriage and low levels of premarital fertility (around 20%). The largest ethno-linguistic group, the Ovambo, were in a special situation, with fast increasing age at marriage and average level of premarital fertility. Whites and mixed races also differed, with Afrikaans-speaking groups having a behaviour closer to the average, whereas other Europeans had less premarital fertility despite an average age at marriage. Ethnic differences remained stable after controlling for various socioeconomic factors, such as urbanization, level of education, wealth, access to mass media, and religion. Results are discussed in light of the population dynamics and political history of Namibia in the 20th century.