Health and Early Marriage in Rural Malawi

Monica J. Grant, University of Wisconsin at Madison
Erica Soler-Hampejsek, Population Council
Barbara S. Mensch, Population Council

Recognition of the role that health plays in selection into marriage is not new, but it has been largely neglected in research in resource poor countries. The role that health may play in the transition to first marriage is particularly of interest in Malawi, where recent stagnation in the age at first marriage may reflect the pressures that the HIV epidemic is exerting on young adults. In this paper, we examine whether health serves as a selection factor into early marriage. If men choose younger women as their wives because of their assumed lower likelihood of HIV infection, we hypothesize that observable signals of health should be associated with the transition to first marriage. We examine this relationship using three indicators of health—self-reported health status, an index of recent symptoms, and Body Mass Index (BMI). Preliminary analysis suggests a significant positive association between BMI and the transition to marriage.

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Presented in Session 115: Marriage and Union Formation in Developing Countries