Marriage Institutions and Sibling Competition: Evidence from South Asia
Using data from South Asia, this paper examines how arranged marriage cultivates rivalry among sisters. During marriage search, parents with multiple daughters reduce the reservation quality for an older daughter's groom, rushing her marriage to allow sufficient time to marry off her younger sisters. Relative to younger brothers, younger sisters increase a girl's marriage risk; relative to younger singleton sisters, younger twin sisters have the same effect. These effects intensify in marriage markets with lower sex ratios or greater parental involvement in marriage arrangements. In contrast, older sisters delay a girl's marriage. Because girls leave school when they marry and face limited earnings opportunities when they reach adulthood, the number of sisters has well-being consequences over the lifecycle. Younger sisters cause earlier school-leaving, lower literacy, a match to a husband with less education and a less-skilled occupation, and (marginally) lower adult economic status. Data from a broader set of countries indicate that these cross-sister pressures on marriage age are common throughout the developing world, although the schooling costs vary by setting.
An earlier draft of this paper circulated under the title, "Sisters, Schooling, and Spousal Search: Evidence from South Asia." I am grateful to Erica Field, Michael Kremer, and especially David Cutler, Claudia Goldin, and Lawrence Katz for their guidance throughout this research project. I thank Ruchir Agarwal, Anne Case, Amitabh Chandra, Joyce Chen, Tom Cunningham, Supreet Kaur, Michal Kolesar, Ed Glaeser, Seema Jayachandran, Kyle Meng, Sendhil Mullainathan, Daniele Paserman, Nancy Qian, Monica Singhal, and seminar participants at BU, Harvard, Princeton, RAND, Yale, UCLA, UT Austin, and the World Bank for helpful comments and suggestions. Bishnu Thapa provided excellent research assistance and sage insights into Nepali society. This research was supported by the Multidisciplinary Program on Inequality and Social Policy (NSF IGERT Grant 0333403) and the NBER Aging Program (NIA Grant T32-AG000186). The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
“Marriage Institutions and Sibling Competition: Evidence from South Asia.” Quarterly Journal of Economics, August 2013, 128(3): 1017-‐‑1072.