Finding a “suitable” husband or wife in India ‘will become increasingly difficult’

4 February 2015

Marriage is an almost universal institution for men and women in India today. But by 2050, women could find it more difficult to find an eligible partner, particularly if they have been educated at university or college level, according to new research published in the journal, Demography.

A significant proportion of men in India currently marry women less educated than themselves. The research theorises that if current social norms persist by 2050 whereby university-educated or college-educated men are more desirable spouses than women similarly educated, there will be a ‘mis-match’ in numbers of ‘suitable’ men and women. Their model assumes that without a change in contemporary norms, the proportion of never-married women aged 45-49 will go up from 0.07% in 2010 to nearly 9% by 2050, with the most significant increase experienced by university-educated women. Their model also shows a rise in the percentage of unmarried men, particularly amongst those with little education.

The study involved researchers from the University of Oxford; the Center for Demographic Studies, Barcelona; and Minnesota Population Center, USA. They harmonised existing data* on current marriage patterns by age and education and applied these to population projections on the likely age, sex and educational attainment of the population in India by 2050 to develop scenarios for future marriage patterns.

There is huge social pressure in India for men and women to get married. The researchers analysed data from the National Family Health Survey for India (2005-06) and the India Socio-Economic Survey (1999, 2004) that show less than one per cent (0.6%) of all women and 1.2% of all men remain unmarried by the age of 50. More than half (54.4%) of the marriages in which the groom went to university involved brides schooled to primary or secondary level. Just over one quarter (26.6%) of women who had completed university ‘married down’, choosing less educated spouses, with most female graduates (73.4%) having husbands of a similar educational background. The (mean) average age for getting married the first time was just under 25 for men and just under 20 for women, with men around four years older, on average, than their wives, according to the data.

Existing population projection data (from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and Vienna Institute of Demography) shows that by 2050 there will be around 92 men for every 100 women aged 25-29 with a university education, as compared with 151 men for every 100 women from the same age group educated at university in 2010. The paper suggests that if projected marriage patterns were solely focused on the age-sex structure of the future population in India, men rather than women would have a problem finding suitable marriage partners by 2050. However, once education is factored in, the pool of suitable marriage partners for women shrinks –- if current eligibility criteria apply to future populations. For men, the percentage unmarried at the age of 50 also rises from 1.4% in 2010 to 5% by the age of 50, with the least educated likely to have the most trouble finding a wife.

Previous academic literature has suggested that men in India could be short of potential wives mid-century due to the skewed sex ratios at birth in India’s population. This is the first time that academic research has also taken into account the effect of education as well as expected changes in the age-sex structure for future marriage patterns in India.

Lead author Ridhi Kashyap, from the Department of Sociology at the University of Oxford, said: ‘In contrast to the East and Southeast Asian experience where non-marriage has become much more common, marriage in India remains universal. Traditional roles and expectations for women and men in India persist despite the significant social and demographic changes witnessed in recent years. This research shows that the rigid social structure still experienced in India will need to bend so age and education are not barriers to future unions. Otherwise, this research suggests the prospects of marriage for many in the future will diminish, particularly for highly educated women and men with little education.’

For more information, please contact the University of Oxford News Office on +4 (0)1865 280534 or [email protected]

Notes to Editors:

 The paper, ‘Potential (Mis)match? Marriage markets amidst sociodemographic change in India’, is published in the journal, Demography.

It is authored by R Kashyap, from the Department of Sociology and Nuffield College, University of Oxford, UK; A Esteve from the Center for Demographic Studies, Autonomous University of  Barcelona; and J García-Román from the Minnesota Population Center, University of Minnesota, USA.

Researchers developed future scenarios for marriage patterns in India using population projections by age, sex and educational attainment taken from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and Vienna Institute of Demography Population and Human Capital dataset.