Monday, April 03, 2006

Marriage Markets

Saturday we saw that bargaining theory applies to sexual relationships. Today we see that microeconomic theory applies to marital agreements in India. Basic micro says that prices reflect scarcity; the more scarce is an asset, the greater compensation those who control that asset can demand. In this case, the scarce asset is marriageable women, who have become rare thanks to sexual selection:
A declining sex ratio in the state [of Rajasthan] is prompting a girl's parents to spurn offers of marriage from men unless the potential groom's family also has a marriageable daughter for their son, the Sunday Express said.

The joint engagement pact, called “aata-saata,” or the “double-couple plan,” has emerged as young women find themselves much in demand in a state where the traditional preference, as in much of India, has been for sons.

Heavily skewed sex ratios have emerged in several parts of India as couples use ultra-sound technology to achieve their desire for a baby son despite such tests being illegal.

“There are no girls. If there is one in a house, the father is like a king. He can demand anything,” said Prahland Singh, the head of Bhorki village in Rajasthan.

The report said that dowry, where traditionally a bride's father had to bestow riches on a groom to secure a marriage, has completely disappeared from many parts of the state.

Rather the groom’s families are now offering to bear the cost of finding a suitable bride for their sons.
[emphasis added]
These are just the short-term adjustments. In the long run, I predict the high price now commanded by families with daughters will lead more couples to have female children. Fewer will use sexual selection to get male children; more will use it to get female children. We might also see a weakening of the traditional bias toward male children. As the ratio of males to females drops back down to normal levels, prices will fall as well.

More on sex selection and marriage markets here and here.

2 comments:

Professor B said...

Even with more families allowing female children, the traditional bias toward males will be hard to break (I agree, it would definitely have to be long run). The allowance of more female children seems to be more about what the families can gain when the girls are married off, continuing their treatment as objects, rather than diminishing the bias.

Mike Giberson said...

Sounds like they need an Al Roth-designed matching system a la the New England Kidney Exchange.

See Virginia Postrel's post at the Dynamist Blog, "Economics Saves Lives".