Policies that help families to keep their daughters in school reduce the rates of early marriage. This is because once out of school, young women are vulnerable to early marriage since parents believe that their marriage prospects worsen with every year they delay.


These are among the conclusions of research from rural Rajasthan in India by Abi Adams and Alison Andrew, presented at the 2019 Royal Economics Society conference in April.  They find that a key motivation for parents to educate their daughters is the belief that education will increase the chances of marrying a well-paid and securely-employed man. But outside this, parents see few reasons to educate their daughters.


It suggests that removing barriers that prevent girls from continuing in school, such as the cost or distance, or increasing routes for girls who drop out of school to re-enter education will increase attendance and delay the age of marriage.


Their study examines parents’ decision making about their daughter’s marriage and education in a society where arranged marriages are the norm. It looks at the preferences of young women’s families and families’ beliefs about how a daughter’s age and education at marriage will affect who she marries.


The researchers presented a sample of over 4500 mothers with fictional stories where parents decide whether or not to accept particular marriage offers and how long to keep a daughter in school. They then compared responses when the stories explained who the daughter would end up marrying if the parents rejected the first offer of marriage to those when this was left uncertain. This enabled the researchers to uncover families’ beliefs about the value of education and age and marriage.


The research contributes to understanding early marriage in a context, rural Rajasthan, where girls typically leave school early and marry young. Previous evidence shows that in this setting a third of girls have dropped out of school by the age of 16 and over a third are already married by the age of 18. Female participation in work is low and young women tend to become part of their husband’s family with few opportunities to maintain independent relationships with their own families.


An understanding of the drivers of early marriage and school dropout is important given evidence that both exacerbates gender inequality by hampering women’s mental and physical health, earnings and autonomy. Both have also been shown to affect the health and education of the next generation.


‘Preferences and Beliefs in the Marriage Market for Young Brides’ by Abi Adams and Alison Andrew is presented at the Royal Economic Society annual conference in April 2019