Children of women in developing countries who get married later in life were found to have significant positive effects, finds a new study.
The research, conducted by academics at the University of Sussex, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Washington at Seattle and the World Bank, looked at data from tens of thousands of households across India.
It uncovers that children of women who get married later are more likely to complete their required vaccinations, have a higher weight-for-height, are more likely to enrol at school and attain better grades.
The paper, published in the Journal of Development Economics, looks at more than 32,000 women, aged 15-40, living in both rural and urban households across India. Previous studies have highlighted the health risks of early childbirth, for both mother and child; others have focused on its effects on the child's education. Uniquely, this investigation looks at a much broader range of indicators of child wellbeing and attempts to find out why marriage age in itself has such profound effects.
Among its findings, the study shows that children of women who delay marriage by one year are:
- 4.6 per cent more likely to complete their required vaccinations
- 3.1 per cent more likely to enrol at school
- Achieve 2.3 per cent better grades in reading, and 3 per cent better in maths.
Dr Annemie Maertens of the University of Sussex elaborates: "What our study is saying is that delaying marriage not only improves the mother's educational attainment or changes the kind of husband she marries. There's also a direct effect: because she's getting married earlier, she has different preferences, less health knowledge, possibly lower bargaining power and gives birth to more children.
"It's not enough to just work on the educational aspect: minimum age laws need to become enforced."
India's Prohibition of Child Marriage Act is clearly not being observed or enforced successfully, the researchers argue. The country's cultural acceptance of child marriage might play a role and, hence, in addition to better enforcement, the study suggests that incentive schemes -- such as the "Our daughters, our wealth" program in Haryana, India -- could offer a solution.
Dr Maertens says: "There are a couple of small-scale pilot programs that have been quite successful, which give a financial reward to parents of unmarried 18-year-old girls, and our paper is in support of those programs.
"In the absence of social norms, which have not been changed, and in the absence of the ability to enforce laws, you might want to consider other incentives."