The Effect of Skewed Sex Ratio on Marriage Markets in India

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THE EFFECT OF SKEWED SEX RATIOS ON MARRIAGE MARKETS IN INDIA May 10, 2010 Riah Forbes Economics Stanford University Stanford, CA 94305 riah@stanford.edu under the direction of Prof. Anjini Kochar ABSTRACT This paper will explore how the declining sex ratio in Haryana, a state in north India, has affected the local marriage market. The ratio of the number of women to men has been falling over time, due to the strong preference for sons and prevalence of sex-selective abortion in this region. Studies show that lower sex ratios lead to higher female bargaining power, but I empirically show that there has been no change in female bargaining power in the region surveyed. I argue that the relative shortage of women causes a squeeze in the marriage market, which has two potential consequences: (i) an increasing age difference between spouses and (ii) an increased geographical spread of the marriage market. I test these hypotheses using primary data collected from households in three districts in Haryana. I conclude that the declining sex ratio has no effect on spousal age gap, but does increase the distance traveled by wives for marriage. This could explain the unresponsiveness of female bargaining power to the sex ratio change, since the marriage market is simply expanding geographically to compensate for the shortage of women rather than by directly altering intra-household dynamics.

Keywords: marriage market, Haryana, sex ratio, bargaining power, India, assortative matching

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank my advisor Anjini Kochar for her invaluable advice, guidance and patience over this two-year project, the Rai Foundation for assisting us with logistics in the villages and Geoffrey Rothwell for his advice about the Economics honors program. I would also like to thank Teresa Molina, Lorra de la Paz, Rebecca Schindel and Sze Suen for all their help, and Salone Kapur and Shruti Tibrewala for keeping me sane over the last few months. Finally, I would like to dedicate this study to the men, women and children I met in rural Haryana, whose strength, perseverance and good humor continue to humble and inspire me.

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  Riah Forbes Honors Thesis May 10, 2010

Table of Contents

I. Introduction………………………………………………………………………3 II. Literature Review………………………………………………………………..5 III. Theoretical Framework……………………………………………………..…13 IV. Study Setting & Data Collection……………………………………………...16 V. Empirical Strategy……………………………………………………………..23 VI. Results…………………………………………………………………...........27 VII. Conclusion & Discussion…………………………………………………….32 VIII. Appendix…………………………………………………………………….34 IX. References & Data Sources…………………………………………………...36

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  Riah Forbes Honors Thesis May 10, 2010

I. Introduction
India has dramatically improved against multiple social and economic indicators over the last few decades, but it has not been as successful at achieving gender equality. One significant measure of this inequality is the country’s sex ratio, defined as the number of girls per 1000 boys under the age of 7. This number is typically skewed slightly in favor of boys, at about 950 girls to 1000 boys, to compensate for the fact that women have a marginally higher life expectancy (Sen 2003). However, the sex ratio is far more skewed in India, at 927 girls per 1000 boys in 2001 (Census of India). While this does not seem substantially different from the normal rate, Sen points out that this statistic provides two reasons for concern. Firstly, the ratio has been worsening over time – it was 945 women to 1000 men in 1991 – and may continue to become increasingly skewed. Secondly, there is a huge variation in sex ratios across states in India; states in the South have much more balanced sex ratios than their counterparts in the North, some of which have sex ratios as low as 793 girls per 1000 boys. (see map in Appendix) It is commonly believed that once the sex ratio gets particularly imbalanced, the bargaining power of the scarcer sex...
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