The Changing Pattern of Marriage in Iran: Responses to the marriage squeeze

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Virginia Tech and Harvard University
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Djavad Salehi-Isfahani holds a BSc from University of London, Queen Mary College (1971), and Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University (1977). He is currently Professor of Economics at Virginia Tech and Non-Resident Guest Scholar at the Brookings Institution. He was Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Pennsylvania (1977-84), visiting faculty at the University of Oxford (1991-92), and Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution (2007-08). He has served on the Board of Trustees of the Economic Research Forum (2001-2006), a network of Middle East economists based in Cairo, where he has been a Research Fellow since 1993, and on the Board of the Middle East Economic Association. He is on the editorial board of the Middle East Development Journal published by the ERF. His research has been in demographic economics, energy economics, and the economics of the Middle East. He has coauthored, with Jacques Cremer, The World Oil Market, 1991, and edited two volumes: Labor and Human Capital in the Middle East, 2001, which was recognized as a Noteworthy Book of the year by the Princeton University Industrial Relations Section; and The Production and Diffusion of Public Choice Political Economy: Reflections on the VPI Center, with Douglas Eckel and Joseph C. Pitt, 2004. His articles have appeared in Economic Journal, Journal of Development Economics, Economic Development and Cultural Change, Journal of Economic Inequality, International Journal of Middle East Studies, and Iranian Studies, among others.

There is reason to believe that the sharply rising age at marriage in Iran in recent years is in part caused by an age imbalance in the marriage market, which is itself a product of the baby boom of the early years of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.  As a result of this baby boom, there were more than half a million more women than men in what social norms in Iran would consider marriage age.  During 2000-2006 the shortage of men has intensified; the “marriage sex ratio”, which we define as the ratio of men 25-29 years old to women 20-24 years old, has decreased by about 25%, pushing up the age of marriage.
We use survey data from 1984-2007 to show how the average age gap has declined for cohorts of men and women born since the 1930s, from about 8 years to less than 3.  The use of multiple surveys enables us to broaden the range of cohorts we study.  We also estimate a model of the effect of the sex ratio on the age difference.  We show that, controlling for individual characteristics, the sex ratio has the predicted effect on the average age gap.  According to our estimates, higher sex ratios are associated with a lower age gap between spouses.  These effects indicate that when there are fewer women of marriage age relative to men, the household is more balanced in terms of spouse ages, which generally favors the bargaining position of women in the household and bodes well for child education. 

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