Volume 46 - Article 28 | Pages 809–848  

Can status exchanges explain educational hypogamy in India?

By Koyel Sarkar


Background: In contrast to global trends in which education hypogamy occurs when a reversal in the gender gap has taken place, an increase in women’s education in India is closely followed by hypogamy, although women are still the less-educated gender. Two trends associated with this development suggest that educational hypogamy is a product of status exchange: an increase in educational hypogamy among lower-caste groups and a slow rise in caste exogamy.

Objective: The primary objective of this study is to determine whether status exchanges can explain educational hypogamy in India. The initial assumptions are that educational hypogamy can be explained by the desire of women to ‘marry up’ to attain the caste of the husband and of women who belong to higher castes (who have less to gain by caste status) to ‘marry up’ to benefit from the occupation of the husband.

Methods: The Indian Demographic and Health Survey 2015–2016 dataset and logistic regression models were used to address the research question. The findings suggest that the educational trade-off with social and economic exchanges is interconnected, which is affected significantly by the caste groups to which the women and their prospective husbands belong. When marrying less-educated men, the preference to rise by caste is high among lower-caste women, whereas the preference to rise by occupation is important among women belonging to higher castes.

Contribution: This study solves the Indian hypogamy puzzle by applying status-exchange mechanisms through education, caste, and occupation in the marriage market. It also shows that the growth in educational achievement for Indian women does not diminish social inequalities but provides other means by which social status can be exchanged.

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