Forced Marriage and Birth Outcomes


We study the impact of marriages resulting from bride kidnapping on infant birth weight. Bride kidnapping—a form of forced marriage—implies that women are abducted by men and have little choice other than to marry their kidnappers. Given this lack of choice over the spouse, we expect adverse consequences for women in such marriages. Remarkable survey data from the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan enable exploration of differential birth outcomes for women in kidnap-based and other types of marriage using both OLS and IV estimation. We find that children born to mothers in kidnap-based marriages have lower birth weight compared with children born to other mothers. The largest difference is between kidnap-based and arranged marriages: the magnitude of the birth weight loss is in the range of 2 % to 6 % of average birth weight. Our finding is one of the first statistically sound estimates of the impact of forced marriage and implies not only adverse consequences for the women involved but potentially also for their children.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    Because of the small size of our sample, we are unable to investigate other birth outcomes. We have too few observations for rare events, such as the incidence of low birth weight or neonatal and infant mortality.

  2. 2.

    These penalties are determined in a bride kidnapping bill that came into law in January 2013. Bride kidnapping had in fact been illegal since the 1920s, when the Soviet Union established laws banning it (Werner 2009).

  3. 3.

    It may seem awkward to ask such a question in a survey. When drafting the questionnaire, we consulted Nathan Light, an anthropologist who worked on the marriage market in Kyrgyzstan. He assured us that Kyrgyz people do not regard this information to be sensitive and that they talk about kidnappings openly. He encouraged us to ask the question as bluntly as we did. We know from conversations with Victor Agadjanian that questions about kidnapping were not problematic in their survey, either.

  4. 4.

    We only consider information about first marriages. The women in our younger generation sample were not necessarily still married to their first husbands at the time of data collection. A small share (2.1 %) of these women are married to a second husband, 7.6 % are divorced, and 2.2 % are widowed. We ignore the type of second marriage as well as children born during second marriages.

  5. 5.

    We would like to control for gestation duration, but as is typical for household surveys (see also Mansour and Rees 2012), this information is unavailable. Another important determinant of birth weight is smoking during pregnancy. Information on whether the women in our sample smoked at the time of pregnancy is also unavailable. However, very few women smoke in Kyrgyzstan; only 2.6 % of women in the younger generation smoked at the time of the survey.

  6. 6.

    There are 44 districts and 24 municipalities in the country; without Bishkek and Osh, these are 40 districts and 23 municipalities. Our sample contains observations from 35 districts and 10 municipalities.

  7. 7.

    The younger generation in our sample was born between 1968 and 1992. The oldest child of a mother in this younger generation was born in 1986.

  8. 8.

    We are grateful to Priscilla Hermida of Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador for this suggestion.

  9. 9.

    Unfortunately, the LIK does not contain information on whether respondents still live in the same district where they were born.

  10. 10.

    Excluding them (in unreported regressions) has little effect on the empirical findings.

  11. 11.

    In kidnap-based and arranged marriages, the first child is born, on average, 1.3 years after marriage; in love marriages, an estimated 1.0 years after marriage. This timing is inexact because we lack information about month of marriage.

  12. 12.

    We have heard anecdotal evidence that secondary school and university graduation ceremonies are a popular time for kidnapping. Families of the groom often promise to pay for the bride’s education, so marrying after graduation reduces costs for the groom’s family. The results presented in Nedoluzhko and Agadjanian (2015) are consistent with this claim: being in school more than halves one’s risk of incurring either a forced or staged kidnapping.

  13. 13.

    The reduced sample size does not modify the results by much: running the OLS estimation with district fixed effects for the 41 districts included in Table 4 leads to a kidnapping coefficient of –43g (insignificant) for the sample of kidnap-based and love marriages, and –86g (significant at the 10 % level) for the sample of kidnap-based and arranged marriages.

  14. 14.

    We experimented with different functional forms in the first-stage estimation. First, we ran the first stage as a probit model and used the resulting predicted probabilities as instruments in the second stage. Second, we categorized the district-level share of kidnapping into deciles and included these deciles as instruments. Finally, we added a squared term of the district-level share as an instrument. The F statistic of the excluded instruments remained high, between 31 and 90. The null hypothesis could never be rejected (p value between .38 and .92).

  15. 15.

    In alternate estimations, we added district-level population size, employment rate, and unemployment rate as controls (separately and together) in the IV estimation. Our results did not change qualitatively. None of these variables entered significantly in the first stage. The district-level share of kidnapping still predicted individual kidnap-based marriage highly significantly and with a high F statistic for the excluded instrument. The effect of kidnap-based marriage on birth weight in the second stage remained negative and was imprecisely estimated.

  16. 16.

    We also have information on the prevalence of chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, or high and low blood pressure, among our sample women. None of these are related with the type of marriage, either. However, we do not know whether these conditions were determined before marriage age or developed after marriage. Thus, they do not serve as a strict placebo test.

  17. 17.

    We combine all non-Kyrgyz ethnic groups. The same result emerges when we restrict consideration to Uzbeks, the largest minority group.

  18. 18.

    We are grateful to an anonymous referee for pointing this out.

  19. 19.

    In 2011, 1 US$ was worth about 45 Kyrgyzstani som.


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We thank four anonymous referees, Giovanna d’Adda, Victor Agadjanian, Kathryn Anderson, Bezawit Beyene Chichaibelu, Christopher Edling, Damir Esenaliev, Bernd Fitzenberger, Urakorn Fuderich, Adrian Garcia-Mosqueira, Robert Garlick, Priscilla Hermida, Aliya Ibragimova, Joshua Jacobs, Olga Kozlova, Bohdan Krawchenko, Natalia Kyui, Friederike Lenel, Sabine Liebenehm, Nathan Light, Mieke Meurs, Luciano Mauro, Huon Morton, Akylai Muktarbek kyzy, Dan Oldman, Kani Omurzakova, Sultan Omurzakov, Klara Sabirianova Peter, Daniel Schnitzlein, Cathy Starkweather, Artem Streltsov, Sebastian Vollmer, and Marlene Waske for helpful comments. We also received crucial feedback from participants of workshops, seminars, and conferences at the American University of Central Asia, El Colegio de Mexico, Humboldt University of Berlin, Leibniz Universität Hannover, University of Hamburg, University of Göttingen, University of Freiburg, and the New Economics School. We are grateful to the German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam for providing us with altitude data. All errors, omissions, and faulty interpretations remain our own.

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Correspondence to Susan Steiner.

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Becker, C.M., Mirkasimov, B. & Steiner, S. Forced Marriage and Birth Outcomes. Demography 54, 1401–1423 (2017).

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  • Forced marriage
  • Bride kidnapping
  • Birth weight
  • Kyrgyzstan