European Journal of Law and Economics

, Volume 45, Issue 1, pp 1–28 | Cite as

Child-bride marriage and female welfare

  • Paola A. SuarezEmail author


“Child-bride marriage”—the marriage of prepubescent girls to adult men—has well-known nefarious consequences for females in developing countries where such marriage is often practiced. To improve these outcomes, developing-world governments have adopted several policies aimed at raising female marriage age. This paper investigates the effects of these policies for females in developing countries where parents strongly prefer sons to daughters. I find that raising female marriage age in such countries may have the unintended consequence of increasing the prevalence of female infanticide and sex-selective abortion. Where parents strongly prefer sons to daughters, some parents seek to dispose of their unwanted daughters through child-bride marriage, female infanticide, or sex-selective abortion. By raising the cost of child-bride marriage relative to infanticide or abortion, policies that raise female marriage age induce such parents to substitute the latter disposal methods for the former. I evaluate one such policy in Haryana, India and find empirical support for this prediction. My analysis suggests that from the perspective of female welfare, child-bride marriage may be a second-best institution, or constrained optimum, in developing countries that exhibit strong son preference.


Child brides Female welfare Minimum marriage-age Conditional-cash transfer Educational program Infanticide Abortion 

JEL Classification

D10 131 J18 



I thank Peter Leeson, Chris Coyne, the Editors, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and suggestions. I gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and the Classical Liberal Institute at New York University School of Law.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsGeorge Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

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