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17 March 2023: Are educated women likely to marry later?

Context: 

  • In February, the government of Assam started a major crackdown on child marriage. However, social activists pointed out that the problem wasn’t being fixed properly because women didn’t have enough access to education.

National Family Health Survey (NFHS) findings:

  • According to statistics from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), better education levels may be more important than income in postponing a woman’s marriage.
  • A woman with more than 11 years of schooling has a typical marriage age of 23, whereas a woman with fewer than five years of schooling has a median marriage age of 17.6.
  • The findings also show significant differences in the married age of rural and urban women, as well as Dalit and upper-caste women.

Role of education or wealth in determining a woman’s marriage:

  • Education has a long history of being important. The word “significant” is used rather than “determining,” which is too strong. According to NFHS data, while education has had a consistent impact over time, poverty has had an increasing influence. However, the data should be treated as hints rather than facts.
  • Yet, sure, wealthier individuals are no longer marrying their girls off at a young age. But among the really poor, this behaviour is considerably more prevalent. Poverty is the most important predictor of early marriage.

Control of the rich over their young children:

  • For the rich, notions of self, status, and place in society are more significant. They believe that if they are strong and affluent yet can’t even govern the youth, how can they expect to achieve anything else?
  • If daughters marry in the ‘wrong’ way, their standing in society is called into doubt. And the child’s marriage influences the marriage of the following generation as well.
  • They want to influence their children’s marriage choices in order to keep control over land, possessions, and family lineage.
  • Early marriage may still be common among some economically better-off castes. For example, among the Gujjars, a woman may be engaged before finishing school and then continue her studies after marriage.

Role of marriage in Indian society:

  • It is the most important institution. Upon their marriages, daughters assume responsibility for their families. When it comes to boys, the task is to find them work, which will ideally lead to marriage.
  • For women:
    • Marriage is a woman’s principal source of financial stability. This is made up of several levels of payments, such as dowry, and what each family will contribute to the marriage.
    • Second, social identity While marriage is nearly universal, a woman who remains unmarried remains an anomaly.
    • The third factor is sexual respectability. People who want to be socially respected engage in sexual interactions within marriage.
    • The fourth choice is to have children.
  • The majority of marriages are endogamous. This is critical for the preservation of caste and community lines and hierarchies.

Women’s empowerment and marriage:

  • The marital contract has changed very little, and girls and women have very little liberty. Even the most educated woman finds herself shouldering the whole household load, and the man is still thought to have the right to decide how the family should be run.
  • When underage marriage is considered the most dangerous thing that is happening, that means there is a very limited view regarding this. If we believe that marrying at a later age inherently leads to more empowerment, autonomy, and independence, we are mistaken.

Reasons for families supporting late marriage:

  • Several families’ daughters work in low-wage occupations. They are working, maybe for their own dowry, so they postpone marriage, or they are assisting in the education of their siblings.
  • Boys with a professional job and a decent education are more likely to seek a wife who works. This becomes another reason to postpone the daughter’s marriage. Parents believe the daughter will have a better marriage as a result; everyone believes that an educated person will be treated better.
  • They are unaware that domestic violence is prevalent among the educated and middle classes.

Marriage scenario among women of SC, ST, and OBC:

  • In the case of Dalits, Adivasis, and OBCs, there is a strong link between caste and poverty.
  • Families that fall into one of these categories feel socially disadvantaged in the marriage market.
  • They are unemployed and subject to assault from those higher up in the hierarchy. All of these elements combine to make girls even more susceptible.
    • Dalit girls are especially susceptible to sexual predators because young, upper-caste men believe they have a right to access them. Marriage provides some safety for these women.