Friday, 7 August 2015

Bride price and the returns to education for women

Continuing the development economics theme this week, one of the most important and most studied development projects is the massive school building program in Indonesia in the 1970s, the Sekolah Dasar INPRES. Over 61,000 primary schools were constructed - about one for every 500 children aged 5-14, which roughly doubled the number of primary schools in the country, and increased the enrolment rates of children aged 7 to 12 from 69 percent in 1973 to 83 percent in 1978.

The effects of this program on educational attainment and wages for men were evaluated by Esther Duflo in this AER paper (ungated here). She found:
The INPRES program led to an increase in educational attainment in Indonesia. On average, the estimates indicate that the program led to an increase of 0.25 to 0.40 years of education (0.12 to 0.19 years for each new school built per 1,000 children), and increased by 12 percent the probability that an affected child would complete primary school. The estimates also suggest that the program led to an increase of 3 to 5.4 percent in wages.
A subsequent NBER working paper by Lucia Breierova and Esther Duflo (ungated here) showed that the effects on women's education were much smaller. Both studies make use of the fact that date and region of birth determine each person's exposure to the increased schooling (which overcomes the identification problem that would usually arise - since family characteristics determine the choice of schooling, and subsequent labour market outcomes).

Which brings me to this new paper (PDF) by Navaa Ashraf, Natalie Bau, and Nathan Nunn (all from Harvard) and Alessandra Voena (University of Chicago). Using the same dataset and identification, they set out to investigate the effect of bride price on education attainment among women. Bride price is the custom of the groom's family making a payment to the wife's family at the time of the marriage (it is the opposite of dowry). It's not about buying a bride - it is typically interpreted as rewarding the parents of the bride for their years of investment in their daughter, and compensating them for her no longer contributing to their household (directly). Bride price is (still) a reasonably common practice in parts of Africa and Asia.

The paper's findings are interesting:
We show that among ethnic groups that practice bride price, the amount that the bride’s family receives as a bride price payment increases with the level of education of the bride. Completing primary school is associated with a 100% increase in the bride price payment, completing junior secondary is associated with a further 40% increase, and completing college with another 100% increase. These relationships are very robust and remain strong even when conditioning on a large set of observable characteristics, as well as potentially endogenous characteristics like the groom’s education.
Essentially, they find that the impact of the school building program in Indonesia was much greater for ethnic groups that practice bride price, and was virtually zero for other ethnic groups. Moreover, they show similar results for Zambia (which had a similar, albeit smaller, wide-scale school building program in the 1990s and early 2000s). The reason why bride price had such positive effects on educational attainment for girls is that:
...bride price provides a greater incentive for parents to invest in girls' education, and it is these parents that are more likely to take advantage of the increased supply of schools by educating their daughters.
Bride price often gets and unfair rap, but this is one situation where it appears to have had a positive impact - young girls would have had less schooling in Indonesia had it not been for the existence of the bride price custom.

[HT: Kevin Grier at Cherokee Gothic]

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