Education Pushes Back Age Of Marriage For Rural Women

In 2011, about 38% of illiterate women in rural area married before the age of 18--the legal age of marriage for women in India.

The median age at marriage for women has increased–from 19.4 years in 2001 to 21.2 years in 2011, according to Census data–but continues to be low compared to neighbouring China (25.6 years) and the global average (24.7 years), according to United Nations data.

The mean age at effective marriage for females–defined as the age at consummation of marriage–has increased from 19.3 years in 1990 to 21.2 years in 2011, according to Census data. In rural India, the figure was 20.7 years, while it was 22.7 years in urban areas.

We looked at data from Census 2001 and 2011, to correlate education and age at marriage among rural women. As the graph below shows, the more educated women were, the later they married.

Source: Census of India

Over the decade ending 2011, the percentage of illiterate rural women who married before 18 dropped 14 percentage points. Further, the percentage of women at various levels of education who married below 18 also dropped, indicating that as more women were educated, the average age of marriage rose.

In 2011, about 38% of illiterate women in rural area married before the age of 18–the legal age of marriage for women in India. This figure falls to 17% among women who completed matriculation, and further to 7% in women who completed their graduation or more.

The percentage of illiterate women who married between the ages of 18 and 25 stood at 56%, rising to 71% among women who completed matriculation and further to 73% among women who completed their graduation or more.

While those were the national trends, we looked at the literacy rates in some large states, and compared them with the average age at marriage for rural women.

In 2011, five of seven states considered for this comparison, with the exception of Kerala and Punjab, had lower rural literacy rates and lower age at marriage than the national average. Rajasthan, which had the second lowest mean age at marriage (20.1 years), had the worst female literacy rate in rural areas (45.8%) among the seven states considered.

Rural women in Kerala, the state with the highest female literacy rate in rural India (90.8%), had an average age at marriage of 22.6 years–highest among the seven states considered.

Education and higher income play a major role in increasing the mean age of marriage according to the United Nations Children’s Fund. A girl with 10 years of education has a six times lower chance of being pushed into marriage before she is 18.

Women in the highest family income bracket–defined as families which can afford all the 33 assets mentioned under a government wealth index–marry more than four years later than women in the lowest wealth quintile, according to the national family health survey of 2005-06.


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  3. While the inverse relation between age of marriage and education obtained is obvious in both 2001 and 2011 census, the article talks about ‘education’ further reducing the age of marriage across all levels of educational attainment. There is no evidence presented though that this change is due to education alone. The article doesn’t present figures which show how education contributed to increase in marriage age across the same educational attainment group over a decade.

  4. A lot of closeted progressive parents feel pressured by society to marry off their daughters at an early age. Education is a time consuming endeavor and generally looked upon favorably, so pursuit of education is used as an excuse to stall marriages by women and their parents. Improved financial and marital prospects are an added bonus. An educated guy who might have relatively progressive outlook would not want to marry a girl who is regressive and likewise for the girl. Although a lot of times education has nothing to do with political or social views a person holds but that’s what many people tend to think, at least in Asia.

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