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Dowry continues to plague a country like India, more so today than before. Looks like the rising dowries and female infanticide feed into each other. For example in one of her papers, Anja Sautmann of Brown University tests the proposition that if women marry younger than men, increased population growth leads to a surplus of women in the marriage market possibly leading to dowry inflation.

There are other features that need to be added to the male female age gap at marriage in order to have such inflation. If we start with a situation of more males than females, population growth and add the practice of females marrying younger than males, then it leads to the problem of ‘marriage squeeze’. It literally means that there are few older men available to marry for women every cohort leading to increase in the dowry. This in turn leads to raising ‘a girl child’ deemed to be costlier than raising a male creating incentives for infanticide. You can find Anja’s interesting analysis of marriage squeeze in India here.

Worse economic conditions in rural parts only add to the problems created by marriage squeeze and dowry inflation.  In a post on my other blog, I describe some research that shows how negative rainfall shocks could lead to a lower probability of a girl child surviving  This happens because of lack of credit and insurance arrangements to tide over negative production and consumption shocks. So in the spirit of dismal science, a female child faces higher mortality risk because the poor rural household is trying to smooth consumption in the absence of any kind of insurance. Though it sounds cynical, it has interesting policy implications- specifically that providing some kind of consumption smoothing mechanism to rural landless households might lead to a better male-female ratio.

Natural economic and social forces might take its course and correct the social imbalances arising out of such socio-economic conditions. More women might prefer to stay unmarried and better economic prospects will only make easier. Rational brides and grooms might soon realize that age gap has to be reduced in order to increase the probability of getting married. But this all might take a lot of time and given the increasingly young population of India, the situation might only get worse if interventions are not deliberate to speed up the necessary process of change.

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