Why arranged marriage is costlier than you might think

…when parents are involved in mate choice,
sons are significantly less likely to marry college-educated women and women
engaged in the labor force, after controlling for individual and family
characteristics. I show that these effects are driven, at least in part, by
parental preferences and cannot entirely be attributed to correlation between
arranged marriages and unobserved characteristics. These results suggest that
lowering the incentive for parental control in mate choice may improve
investments in women’s human capital in India.

That’s from Divya Mathur; here is the paper, she is on the job market this year from Chicago.  I take the implicit model to be that parents want a wife who will obey her in-laws.  Sons want wives who will earn some money and be more interesting to talk to.  Put the son in charge and the supply of potential mates responds accordingly.


A classic chicken and egg problem. Woman human capital investment ->lowered incentives for
parental control-> Woman human capital investment. I think the new and better equilibrium will
come via rapid urbanization and successful demonstration effects in otherwise archaic minded
communities (something like "my neighbour's daugther married a smart, handsone man without
any dowry, all because she was herself smart and earning good money"). Already happening.

Prof Cowe, have you considered installing a system whereby the comments on this blog can be
ranked/rated.Most of the posts and comments here are quite interesting and I will like
such a feature.

Attempts to convince these people to embrace the idea of freedom for mate choice are always noble. But I am not sure that the economic route is the most persuasive one. The argument should be a moral one: people should be entitled to decide whom they want to marry to/live with. Besides, she seems to be hesitating in her conclusion ("may improve..."), which unavoidably makes people to wonder whether this is just a leap of faith.

Doesn't Ted's comment actually support Tyler's conclusion? What am I missing?

Ted - your intuition matches mine. Wouldn't you expect positive assortative matching to break down if parents are doing the matching? Unless they are purely altruistic that is. Parents may match for various objectives, and are probably responsive to financial and political incentives.

Obey the inlaws? There are a lot of other preferences that could express this. How about: more likelihood that the wife would physically and emotionally support inlaws in their old age, less likelihood of the wife divorcing their son, increased likelihood of more grandchildren, etc.

Ted, two points:
1) Given that you're reading this blog, you're probably above average socio-economic status - there is a bias here. You're more likely to know the doctors, etc.

2) For every marriage where someone "marries up", the person they're marrying is "marrying down" by definition.


Ted's comment makes no sense. The marriages in this study do involve someone marying up (and, by logical necessity, their partner marrying down). What the study says is that the women is more likely to be the one marrying up when the marriage is arranged than when it is not arranged. To be clear, this is a statement about relative, not absolute, frequencies. It might be that 90% of the time men marry up, but still they could be more likely to marry down in an arranged marriage than in an unarranged one. Said another way: this is a study about what direction one particular factor pushes the outcome, not where the average outcome lands after all factors have been accounted for.

de facto polygamy

Would you mind elaborating further on this point?

Wow, a female, Indian version of Justin Wolfers!

De facto polygamy comes in active and passive versions. The active version occurs when a man is romantically involved with two (or even more) women at the same time, the classic example is the high-powered Alpha executive who is married and keeps a mistress. Given the relatively even numbers of men and women in the prime marriageable ages, when some men take two or more women "off the market" they skew this balance.

Passive de facto polygamy occurs when a woman hopes (reasonably or otherwise) that an Alpha will come in and sweep her off her feet, and in the meantime rebuffs any attempts by lesser men to express interest in her. Classic nightclub behavior. Eventually many of these women come to their senses and will settle for a Beta or even an Omega, but not all do.

Maybe if you need your parents' help to find a mate, you're just not that great a catch.

when parents are involved in mate choice, sons are significantly less likely to marry college-educated women and women engaged in the labor force, after controlling for individual and family characteristics.

I guess that might be true on an aggregate basis. And it might have been true of the arranged marriages I am familiar with three generations back. But for the modern arranged marriages I'm aware of, this doesn't seem to be true at all. Education, at least, is one of the things that stands out as being particularly important as a qualification. Almost make-or-break, frankly. I can't imagine any of the elders among my relations signing off on someone marrying a woman who hadn't gone to college. At the very least.

Labour force participation . . . less so, but again, at least prior to the first children, all the wives in the arranged marriages I know of had jobs. I don't think anyone would exercise a "veto" over the issue, though.

Of course, I'm thinking of Korean arranged marriages, rather than Indian or Pakistani arranged marriages, so there may be significant cross-cultural variation at work. The household resources issue doesn't seem likely to be as significant for Koreans, because the married couple are unlikely to move into (and contribute to the budget of) the family home after they marry. And Korean society is fanatical about education, even for woman, so an untutored daughter-in-law would probably be a kind of social disgrace.

Regarding AK's comment:

1) Given that you're reading this blog, you're probably above average socio-economic status - there is a bias here. You're more likely to know the doctors, etc.

Maybe . . . but doesn't this comparison purport to correct for SES? I can imagine a situation in which wealthy urban clans tend to emphasize educated wives, and poorer rural clans tend to choose uneducated wives, but that doesn't seem to be what is reported.

Aren't some of the folks here, including TC, making a value judgement here? It is not obvious that a college educated female, is superior to one who isn't, from a male perspective. Perhaps arranged marriages provide males with an opportunity to choose from a wider range of females, versus the narrower population of college girls that they might otherwise meet.

In other words, arranged marriages expand the female candidate pool and let males make a more optimal choice (for them) which is, on average, less educated.

The preference of males for lower status females is a remarkably consistent theme across geography, time, and culture. The Koran addresses this issue. However, the idea is hardly unique to Islamic society.

Many of the comments reek of ignorance of arranged marriage. I daresay that Divya got off easily with a review committee that did not pick up on rather imaginative assumptions.

An example - take a look at how many male Indians at Mckinsey / BCG / Goldman Sachs have arranged marriages. I dont mean Americans of Indian heritage. These are chaps who could be considered to be at the top of the food chain. Clearly not folks whose parents have significant power over them. Tyler and Cowen - ask Professors of Indian background in your university - how many have had arranged marriages.

Divya says :
I assume that in an arranged marriage parents choose a spouse for their child primarily based on their own preferences, while a spouse chosen autonomously
in a love marriage reflects the child’s preferences. Furthermore, spouse preferences may differ between parents and children.
What a whole load of bollocks. Further, the assumption is false.

Point B : I dispute Divya's data - Middle class and college educated are closely intertwined. Could she break down the participants by community - not just hindu / muslim and christian..

Point C: There seems to be a disproportionate number of business families - rather skewed.

Point D: Mumbai is not India. The same study conducted in Calcutta or Madras or Bangalore or Cochin would have different results.

There are three considerations here.

1. Parents do have a better understanding of what family life will be like when kids are being raised than young adults and therefore there is an information asymmetry that it is at least partially rational to defer to. It's a lot easier to raise kids when the mom is home.

2. The factor that is missed in the above analysis is good looks, too. The guy may be willing to trade some greater difficulty raising kids and such with a working wife if she's hotter than the homely girl the parental units have picked out.

3. The guy these days probably has much better ability to date many women and therefore has a larger market from which to choose than ol' mom and dad retired back at home, who may only know a few marriagable girls around. So, that tilts in favor of more autonomy.

Having been very closely involved w someone who had an arranged marriage(I now know this is typical of middle Eastern men to fall in love and use their girlfriends until an arranged marriage becomes available)Eastern women need to know that these men Drs Lawyers accts etc... frequent strip clubs and continue their american affair if the girl is willing ( not so in my case) At the end of the day to be with someone you really love matters most...a degree will not make you happy or keep you warm at night.

lallalalallalalala haha u ppl have to marry a fool

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