Big Gains in India Seen From Higher Legal Marriage Age of Women

(Bloomberg) — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plan to raise the legal age for marriage of women carry “enormous” economic and social gains for the world’s second-most populous nation, according to the State Bank of India.


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The benefits range from lowering maternal deaths and improving nutrition levels in the near term to putting more girls in college and enabling women to achieve greater financial independence in the long-term, Soumya Kanti Ghosh, an economist with SBI, wrote in a report to clients Thursday.

“This is clear from the data,” Ghosh said. “The working age population increases with high marriage age.”

While the mean female marriage age in India is already above 21 years, about 35% of are married before then, with the current legal limit at 18 years, according to SBI. India is home to every third child bride in the world, with more than 100 million getting married even before turning 15, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Marriage at a young age means not even a quarter of women in India get into the labor force despite accounting for almost half of the 1.3 billion population. Women earn 35% less on average than men, compared to the global average of a 16% gap.

A government panel is looking at the right marriageable age for women in India, with Modi saying a decision would be taken soon. This would be the first revision in more than four decades and put India in the league of Asian peers such as China, Japan and Singapore.

The marriage age for women in India might be raised to 21 years, the same as for men, according to Ghosh, who sees the number of women graduates rising as much as 7 percentage points from 9.8% at present.

“The move will have other legal and psychological benefits also,” Ghosh said. “Any ground-level change will only happen when the psyche of people alter.”

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