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The Dreaded Embankment Paper

The Dreaded Embankment Paper

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Published by Randall Kuhn
Conditions of marriage such as dowries and consanguinity influence women’s subsequent life outcomes. However, research on the determinants of these conditions is largely descriptive. This paper uses a wealth shock from the construction of a flood protection embankment in rural Bangladesh coupled with data on the universe of all 52,000 marriage decisions between 1982 and 1996 to examine changes in marital prospects for protected households after embankment construction relative to unprotected households living on the other side of the river. First we use two-sided matching models with difference-in-difference specifications to describe the changes in
the marriage market, and show that protected households commanded larger dowries, married into wealthier families, and became less likely to marry biological relatives. The marriage market becomes more segregated by wealth, but the positive wealth shock does not allow women to delay marriage or reduce spousal age gaps. The same family is 40% less likely to marry a younger child to a cousin after the wealth shock, compared to their older child who married prior to the embankment construction. Second, we try to understand the structural changes that led to
this drop in consanguinity, and find that liquidity-constrained households use within-family marriage (where one can promise ex-post payments) as a form of credit to meet up-front dowry demands, and the wealth shock relaxed this need for taking an adverse biological risk.
Conditions of marriage such as dowries and consanguinity influence women’s subsequent life outcomes. However, research on the determinants of these conditions is largely descriptive. This paper uses a wealth shock from the construction of a flood protection embankment in rural Bangladesh coupled with data on the universe of all 52,000 marriage decisions between 1982 and 1996 to examine changes in marital prospects for protected households after embankment construction relative to unprotected households living on the other side of the river. First we use two-sided matching models with difference-in-difference specifications to describe the changes in
the marriage market, and show that protected households commanded larger dowries, married into wealthier families, and became less likely to marry biological relatives. The marriage market becomes more segregated by wealth, but the positive wealth shock does not allow women to delay marriage or reduce spousal age gaps. The same family is 40% less likely to marry a younger child to a cousin after the wealth shock, compared to their older child who married prior to the embankment construction. Second, we try to understand the structural changes that led to
this drop in consanguinity, and find that liquidity-constrained households use within-family marriage (where one can promise ex-post payments) as a form of credit to meet up-front dowry demands, and the wealth shock relaxed this need for taking an adverse biological risk.

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Published by: Randall Kuhn on Dec 28, 2010
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 Marriage Market Effects of a Wealth Shock in Bangladesh
A. Mushfiq Mobarak*
Yale University
Randall Kuhn
University of Denver
Christina Peters
Metro State College of DenverAbstract
Conditions of marriage such as dowries and consanguinity influence women’s subsequent lifeoutcomes. However, research on the determinants of these conditions is largely descriptive. Thispaper uses a wealth shock from the construction of a flood protection embankment in ruralBangladesh coupled with data on the universe of all 52,000 marriage decisions between 1982 and1996 to examine changes in marital prospects for protected households after embankmentconstruction relative to unprotected households living on the other side of the river. First we usetwo-sided matching models with difference-in-difference specifications to describe the changes inthe marriage market, and show that protected households commanded larger dowries, marriedinto wealthier families, and became less likely to marry biological relatives. The marriage marketbecomes more segregated by wealth, but the positive wealth shock does not allow women todelay marriage or reduce spousal age gaps. The same family is 40% less likely to marry ayounger child to a cousin after the wealth shock, compared to their older child who married priorto the embankment construction. Second, we try to understand the structural changes that led tothis drop in consanguinity, and find that liquidity-constrained households use within-familymarriage (where one can promise ex-post payments) as a form of credit to meet up-front dowrydemands, and the wealth shock relaxed this need for taking an adverse biological risk.
JEL Codes
: O1, J12, O13
Keywords
: Marriage, Embankment, Flood Protection, ConsanguinityNovember, 2009* Corresponding Author: ahmed.mobarak@yale.edu or 203-432-5787.Address: 135 Prospect Street, P.O. Box 208200, New Haven, CT 06520-8200
 
 1
1. Introduction
Across the world, a woman’s marital prospects have important implications forher subsequent life outcomes. Characteristics of the bride and her family at the time of marriage in conjunction with the characteristics of her spouse and his family determinethe conditions of marriage such as dowries, marrying biological relatives, and age atmarriage.
1
These conditions in turn affect socio-economic outcomes for the woman andher children, including the likelihood that she will have to endure domestic violence, hersocial status in her husband’s home, her school attainment, health status, and her controlover reproductive choices.
2
Marrying a cousin or uncle, a surprisingly common practicearound the developing world, can decrease the amount of dowry required, but increasesthe risk of genetic diseases among offspring.
3
 Although the literature on the consequences of marriage is large, the evidence onthe determinants of the conditions of spousal matching is mostly qualitative or descriptive(e.g. Fruzzetti, 1982; Huq and Amin, 2001). A few studies account for multiple co-varying determinants of marital prospects, and use cross-sectional regressions onrelatively small samples of survey data from rural India to show that older, taller, moreeducated grooms of high caste living in areas with a larger supply of potential bridescommand larger dowries, and that spouses mate assortatively in age and education.
4
Thefact that families can offer compensating differentials along many unobservabledimensions in order to secure a desirable match is a significant challenge to empirically
1
Dalmia, 2004; Rao, 1993; Foster 1998
2
Jahan, 1991; Tiemoko, 2001; Bloch and Rao, 2002; Wickrama and Lorenz, 2002; Jensen and Thornton,2003; Suran et al, 2004; UNICEF 2005; Field and Ambrus, 2008
3
In the mainly Muslim countries of West, Central, South Asia and North Africa, marriage between closerelatives account for between 20 and 50 percent of all unions. Cousin marriage appears to be a social normin Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, where about 50% of marriages are between first cousins. Caldwellet al., 1983; Bittles, 1994; Bittles 2001; New York Times 2003, BBC 2005.
4
Rao, 1993; Deolalikar and Rao, 1998; Dalmia and Lawrence, 2001; Dalmia, 2004
 
 2identifying the precise determinants of marriage outcomes in these studies. We exploitthe construction of a flood protection embankment in rural Bangladesh coupled with preand post embankment data on 33,000 marriages in treatment and control villages toexamine how a plausibly exogenous change in certain households’ wealth manifests itself in marriage market outcomes such as dowries, socio-economic status of the spouse, ageat marriage, and consanguinity (i.e. marrying biological relatives).The flood protection embankment in rural Bangladesh that we study induced adiscrete improvement in socio-economic conditions for families living on theembankment side of the river relative to the opposite bank that remained unprotected.The major effect of the embankment was to extend the crop growing season, therebyincreasing relative wealth for households on the protected side, though it also may havereduced flood risk exposure. We investigate differential changes in the conditions of marriage for protected households using panel data on the entire universe of marriagesacross a fourteen-year pre and post-embankment period.Our paper is constructed in two parts. The first part uses stylized two-sidedmatching models of the marriage market along with difference-in-differencespecifications to describe changes in the marriage market following the wealth shock, anddocuments changes in dowries, spousal socio-economic status, and a drop in marriagesbetween biological relatives. In the second part, we explore structural changes that led tothis drop in consanguinity. We find that liquidity-constrained households facing dowrydemands used consanguinity as a costly solution for their lack of access to credit to makethe up-front dowry payment.

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