“Young, Male and Aimless”: Why Do Men in India Delay Marriage?

Marriage is highly revered in India, so it is remarkable that men marry later, said sociologist and demographer Alaka Malwade Basu, and not because they choose to live as single people before settling down.

“I have been haunted by the sight of groups of young men hanging out on street corners around the world, but especially in Indian towns and villages, during my frequent trips there,” said Basu, a former teacher. of global development. and currently Visiting Scholar in Sociology at the College of Arts and Sciences.

Basu and co-author Sneha Kumar of the University of Texas, Austin, analyzed data from the Indian National Family Health Survey (NFHS), finding that economic changes, including unemployment, force adaptations to traditional marital practices – forcing men to wait longer and sometimes pay to tie the knot – but not enough for a modernizing overhaul of this deeply traditional institution.

Although more single men could spark political unrest, she said, women could benefit in the long run, becoming more educated if they marry later.

The study, “Bride Price, Dowry, and Young Men With Time to Kill: A Commentary on Men’s Marriage Report in India,published in the November 2022 issue of Population Studies: A Journal of Demography.

Unemployment and delayed marriage are linked in many parts of the world, Basu said, but the link has particular significance in India, where traditionally men do not need money to marry and start a family. family.

“A still popular joint family system means that sons do not have to leave home and establish an independent life after marriage, and the expenses of the wedding are borne almost entirely by the bride’s family in most areas. of the country,” Basu said. “Yet there is this link between male unemployment and delayed marriage.”

The statistical link prompted Basu and Kumar to explore trends in India’s “marriage market” – the match or mismatch between available brides, and the gaps in the demand and supply of each.

The norms of marriage in India define the institution as a “canary in the coal mine” of Indian society as a whole and highlight the differences with other societies, namely the West and the Middle East.

“Even today, marriages in India are largely arranged by families, although young men and women increasingly have veto power and follow rigid customs regarding marriage in their own language, group, religion and caste,” Basu said.

Marriage is also nearly universal in India, Basu said; in 2015-16 NFHS data, only 1% of women aged 35-39 and 2% of men aged 40-44 had never been married. Moreover, women are expected to marry men of higher socio-economic status – or at a pinch, equal.

Traditionally, these practices have put pressure on girls’ families, leading to widespread gender-selective abortions among women and the “pernicious practice”, as Basu calls it, of dowry, whereby families have to pay a groom to seal the marriage. OK.

But the statistical lag in marriage among Indian men has alerted Basu to a marriage market that may be tilting against men and in favor of women.

To analyze marriage delay, the researchers divided eligible single people into three groups: those without much education or decent jobs; those who have studied but do not have a job; and those “lucky enough”, Basu said, “to have a good education as well as a good job”.

The distribution of the pool of potential brides in these groups highlighted the importance of employment for men seeking marriage. It turns out that brides’ families are no longer impressed with education alone; they also want a groom to have a paid job.

“Some men, those who don’t have a decent job or a job, especially when they are not highly educated, find it difficult to get married,” Basu said. “And so we have men in that category either paying the girls’ families – the ‘bride’ practice that exists in other parts of the world – or postponing marriage until they find a job and can be more assertive in the marriage market.This second group is made up of young men who we see enrolling more and more for diplomas and/or strolling the streets without doing anything.

These findings underscore the strength of cultural institutions in India, especially those related to marriage, Basu said: “These cultural institutions are adapting to economic changes, but they are not facing any serious overhaul. Unlike other parts of the world, there are still no signs of widespread cohabitation or extramarital motherhood, or permanent non-marriage.

Without jobs that may be lost or wives and children who may suffer, unemployed single young men are poised to cause or be recruited to cause social and political unrest, Basu said. On the other hand, she said, “young women who become more educated and marry later may yet prove to be the harbingers of modernization and social change in the country which otherwise seem to be lagging behind. come”.

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