Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Marriage - some statistics

Last year, on 22 April 2015, I attended a lecture titled "Marriage : The golden cage" by Prof K Srinivasan, 
National Fellow ( ICSSR) MIDS & Emeritus Professor, International Institute for Population Sciences, Deonar, Mumbai. The lecture was at MIDS, Adyar. This lecture was a comparative study of the statistics of marriages (1) among various states in India (2) India and a few selected countries. Statistics on marriages versus live-in relationships were also discussed. The major variables were age groups, number of children, changes over time.

I usually don’t write about social studies, at least not in the structured academic way they are discussed, but this was quite fascinating because, it was a quantitative study – actual numbers were on hand – rather than just a random discussion based on opinions. The title gives away the academically popular socially leftist prejudice against marriage, typically out of touch with the more conservative society at large, which nevertheless makes the same joke about marriage in public discussions. My perception is that social conservatives simply avoid such studies, preferring to mouth inane bromides rather than collecting statistics.

The actual paper published in Economic and Political Weekly but also available at this blog, can be studied here and has extensive statistics. The MIDS audience – only about thirty people, half of whom were MIDS students or researchers - seemed barely interested in what was being presented. They were looking for opportunities to rebel against popularity of marriage and criticise the inequalities of caste. I would perhaps have had the same mindset twenty years ago; I have changed.

The Biggest Gap
I found the statistics eye-opening. The biggest gap I could see from the statistics was between Asian and European countries – not between developed and developing economies or even between caste groups or religious groups or geographical regions in India. I suspect this is why these statistics are not discussed more often in pubic fora. The groups studying these data are abysmally dismayed by social conservatism and traditionalism in Asia.

While the age of marriage has risen across all countries, the prime drivers seem to be individual prosperity and formal women’s education.

For example, the percentage of unmarried women in the age group 15-19 has risen from 29% in 1961 to 88% in 2011. The effects of the Sarda act and the war against not just child marriage are quite visible. In fact, this has morphed into the war against teen marriage, in the last forty years, as regardless of party, all  Governments and most of society have meekly accepted that all teenagers are “children”, and that lawyers, social activists and parents have far superior judgment and jurisdiction over teenagers’ social lives than their own natural biological or social urges. This is the triumph of the Constitutional machinery over Biology, as insidious in my opinion as the forced sterilizations during the Emergency in India.

More and more Indian women get married in their twenties, and a small but growing percentage in their thirties. Indian men get married five years later than women, across age groups.

There is a steady secular rise in age of marriage in age groups 15-19 20-24 25-29 but secular decline in 30-35.

Marriage is later in Kerala for women but most do get married, in spite of higher literacy and better health conditions.

Mean age at marriage
Year Kerala TN
1961 16 16
1991 19 18
2011 22 24

The speaker listed the following as Causes for drop in marriage rates in western societies. Some of these are now coming true in urban India.
  1. Rise in individualism 
  2. Economic independence of women
  3. Skill specialization
  4. Rising gender equality 
I suspect migration and breakdown of communities are also major factors. Most jobs are not available locally, young adults prefer the adventure and social freedom of living in different cities and countries, especially out of the control and supervision of the parents and relatives. I also suspect that tremendous influence of cinemas, showcasing romantic storylines, music of the same nature, and extremely limited opportunities for socializing with the opposite gender are significant factors. But I don't know if sociologists study these. School and college offers some shot at romance, but most people prefer spouses of different age groups, and this is not possible in colleges. It sometimes happens in the workplace, but the choices are severely limited. The explosion of social dating websites and apps in western society, show that they have similar difficulties finding suitable partners, with none of the fallback options of caste and family (both of which are apparently seen as weaknesses rather than strengths by most sociologists).

Divorce Rates

Unmarried women past age 30 are 19% in Korea 26% in USA, 35% in Japan, but in France and UK  they are in high 40s, nearly 50s in percentage. These are partly because of late marriages but mostly because of high divorce rates in Western countries.

Single women at age 30-34
Year France Japan India UK USA
1961 10 10 NA NA NA
2011 48 35 4 48 36

(Note: Several of these statistics can be found in the paper published in Economic & Political Weekly and also found in this blog. But some statistics were presented at the  MIDS lecture, and I quickly jotted them down – they are not in the EPW paper as tables.)

Out of Wedlock Births
The real conservatism of Asia is shown by these statistics. Live in relationships and out of wedlock births are negligible in Asia. They are less than 1% in Japan and India. These are 9% in UK 40% in USA.

Population is below replacement rate in Korea Japan (incidentally also true of Germany Russia and Italy, as I have seen from other articles).

The primary driving force is easy cheap contraceptives.

Caste and Marriage

Contrary to popular opinion, we are quite united by caste, not necessarily divided by it, based on these statistics below.
Study by Das and Roy findings below (survey not census)
Caste very strong among Muslims and Christians even among SC/ST. (Shouldn’t Indian society be cheering this secularism?)

Same caste marriages are:
97% in TamilNadu
Low 80s in Kerala Gujarat Maharashtra Haryana
High 90s in UP, MP, Rajasthan Karnataka Chattisgarh 

Women marrying outside caste 10% India 2% Tamilnadu
Women marrying outside economic group 21% India 14% Tamilnadu
Women marrying lower caste men 12% in Kerala 1% in Tamilnadu 

Women marrying outside caste in Tamilnadu is lowest in India, said the speaker, and said this was a surprise considering the long history of the anti-caste Dravidian movement in Tamilnadu.


I stumbled upon an unusual article, from one of the people I follow on Twitter, statistically discussing time of marriage, IQ, corruption, civic sense etc in Europe. The basic marker is called a Hajnal line that divides Eastern from  Western Europe. Based on the age at which women marry. I include this because it is relevant and fascinating.

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