A study by the Indian Statistical Institute finds that a when a husband’s mother is more educated, she could hold more decision making powers.

New Delhi: The results of a study on inter-caste marriage in India have wielded counter-intuitive but powerful results: increasing husband’s mother’s education by 10 years would lead to an increase in the probability of inter-caste marriage by 1.86 percentage points.

In other words, the education levels of a couple bear little to no difference on whether their marriage is inter-caste. Instead, the education of a groom’s mother is the biggest determinant in the occurrence of inter-caste marriage.

A group researchers from the Indian Statistical Institute has used this finding to reveal extraordinary details about the functioning of marriage in India, caste-based discrimination across rural and urban settings, as well as the effect of education on a woman’s bargaining power within the household.

“Although our results are not causal estimates of the effect of female education on inter-caste marriage, they suggest that increased education of the husband’s mother is associated with an increased probability of inter-caste marriage,” Arka Roy Chaudhuri, one of the researchers, told ThePrint.


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“This might suggest that educating women might loosen the stranglehold of caste on marriage,” he added.

The study, ‘Whose Education Matters: An Analysis of Inter-Caste Marriage in India’, says a majority of marriages are arranged by the parents, and the spouses barely know each other before marriage. The fact that most marriages are arranged means they involve two families. In fact, apart from consenting to the marriage, “individuals themselves have a very little role to play in their marriage decisions”, it says.

The other two researchers involved in the study are Tridip Ray, and Komal Sahai of ISI, Delhi.

Mother-in-law’s influence in family

Using data from the Indian Human Development Survey, which covers 1,420 villages and 1,042 urban neighbourhoods, the study indicates that as India becomes more modern, the position of mothers-in-law within arranged marriages is slowly changing, a shift that is steadily driven by education among other factors. But the significance of a husband’s mother’s education in particular — as opposed to his father’s education or wife’s parents’ education — has to do with multiple factors.

For one, the wife’s family has more to lose when it comes to inter-caste marriage. This means because the wife’s family is more heavily stigmatised, the occurrence of an inter-caste marriage is no more likely if her parents are well educated.

Three key factors

Further, a combination of three factors could explain why husband’s mothers hold the most influence. First, several studies have shown that higher levels of education among women increases their bargaining power in the household.

Second, studies on South Asian families suggest a mother is more responsive to the needs of her child than a father.

This together with the fact that marriages in India are determined by families means, “an inter caste marriage is more likely to occur when an educated mother can overcome this constraint and implement the best outcome for the son, empowered by her increased bargaining and decision making authority in the family.”

Although the study suggests the groom’s mother-in-law could have more of a say, this increase in bargaining power doesn’t necessarily apply to the wife within the marriage. Given  13.78 per cent of women from arranged marriages met their husbands only on the day of the wedding/gauna, and  that 98.07 per cent of inter-caste couples lived with their parents immediately after marriage, the figures seem to suggest that wives continue to hold a subordinate role to their mothers-in-law.


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The study also dismisses any notion of inter-caste marriage being more popular in urban spaces. The rate of inter-caste marriages has hovered around an abysmal 5 per cent for the last 40 years, and changes from urban to rural contexts hasn’t made a dent to the situation. “In fact, metropolitan areas have the lowest rate of inter caste marriages”, says the study.

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