Predictors of Marital Dissolution During a Period of Rapid Social Change: Evidence From South Asia

Abstract

Few studies have examined the causes and consequences of marital dissolution in non-Western settings. This article explores the fundamental factors that may predict marital dissolution in a mainly agrarian setting in South Asia, where collectivism has historically been valued over individualism and where life is centered on the family. Using event history analyses with retrospective life history data from the Chitwan Valley Family Study conducted in rural Nepal, I explore the possible predictors of marital dissolution. Results suggest that couples in which wives married at older ages and chose their spouse in conjunction with their parents face lower risk of marital dissolution, while wives’ work increases the risk. Moreover, couples married for longer durations and couples who have more children face lower risks of marital dissolution. The influences of many of these factors have changed over the last few decades, pointing toward the important role of changing social context on marital trajectories.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Of the 921 divorces that were filed in the Chitwan District Court between 2000 and 2009, 99.6 % were filed by wives (up from 92.4 % of the 249 divorces filed in the 1990s).

  2. 2.

    Quotes presented in this article are from in-depth interviews conducted in the fall of 2010. Respondents included 30 women and men between the ages of 18 and 45. These respondents were residing in neighborhoods of varying distances from the local city, Narayanghat, and represent the different ethnic groups in the area.

  3. 3.

    Only 7 % of ever-married women ages 40 and older in the 2008 CVFS sample had been married more than once.

  4. 4.

    The measure of marital dissolution indicates marital breakdown, and separation due to temporary migration is not coded as a marital dissolution.

  5. 5.

    Because of possible concerns about linearity, I also tested models with a series of three dummy variables to indicate age at marriage, each representing approximately one-third of the sample: under age 17, ages 17–19, and ages 20 and older. These models revealed that the odds of marital dissolution decline with increasing age at marriage, relative to marrying before age 17. To test whether women who marry at the high end of the age range are skewing the results, I also estimated a model in which women who married at or after age 30 (a total of 21 women in the sample) were dropped from the analytic sample. Results were nearly identical to those shown in Model 1 of Table 2.

  6. 6.

    This does not exactly parallel the trends shown in Fig. 1. Those data reflect numbers from Chitwan court records, while these data are from self-reports of either separation or divorce among women who may not have been residing in Chitwan at the time of marital dissolution. Moreover, court records are more likely to be sensitive to relaxation of laws restricting divorce (Goode 1993), and thus it is not surprising that self-reports are more stable.

  7. 7.

    Interactions with a measure indicating marital cohort (not shown), rather than calendar decade, reveal similar but weaker results compared with those shown in Table 3.

  8. 8.

    Interactions between variables reflecting years of schooling and decade (not shown) revealed no significant associations, regardless of the inclusion of measures for age at marriage or number of services within an hour’s walk during childhood.

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Acknowledgments

I am grateful for support from the Population Studies Center at University of Michigan (Grant Nos. R24 HD041028 and T32 HD007339), from the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina (Grant Nos. T32 HD007168 and R24 HD050924), from the National Science Foundation (Grant No. OISE 0729709), and from the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies. I would like to thank the Institute for Social and Environmental Research in Chitwan, Nepal for collecting the data used here; William Axinn, Abigail Stewart, Jennifer Barber, Dirgha Ghimire, Rachael Pierotti, William Story, Lisa Pearce, Prem Bhandari, and Jessica Pearlman for helpful comments on earlier versions of this article; and Cathy Sun for assisting with data management. All errors and omissions remain the responsibility of the author.

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Jennings, E.A. Predictors of Marital Dissolution During a Period of Rapid Social Change: Evidence From South Asia. Demography 53, 1351–1375 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-016-0504-8

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Keywords

  • Marital dissolution
  • Divorce
  • Marriage
  • Rural
  • South Asia