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Biosocial life‐course factors associated with women's early marriage in rural India: The prospective longitudinal Pune Maternal Nutrition Study

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Marphatia, Akanksha A 
Wells, Jonathan CK 
Reid, Alice M 
Yajnik, Chittaranjan S 


Abstract Objectives: By convention, women's early marriage is considered a sociocultural decision sensitive to factors acting during adolescence such as poverty, early menarche, and less education. Few studies have examined broader risk factors in the natal household prior to marriage. We investigated whether biosocial markers of parental investment through the daughters' life-course were associated with early marriage risk in rural India. We used an evolutionary perspective to interpret our findings.

Materials and Methods: A prospective cohort recruited mothers at preconception. Children were followed from birth to age 21 years. Multivariable logistic regression models estimated odds ratios of marrying early (<19 years) associated first with wealth, age at menarche and education, and then with broader markers of maternal phenotype, natal household characteristics, and girls' growth trajectories. Models adjusted for confounders.

Results: Of 305 girls, 71 (23%) had married early. Early married girls showed different patterns of growth compared to unmarried girls. Neither poverty nor early menarche predicted early marriage. Girls' non-completion of lower secondary school predicted early marriage, explaining 19% of the variance. Independent of girls' lower schooling, nuclear household, low paternal education, shorter gestation, and girls' poor infant weight gain were associated with marrying early, explaining in combination 35% of the variance.

Discussion: Early marriage reflects “future discounting,” where reduced parental investment in daughters' somatic and educational capital from early in her life favors an earlier transition to the life-course stage when reproduction can occur. Interventions initiated in adolescence may occur too late in the life-course to effectively delay women's marriage.



biosocial life-course risk factors, life-history theory, rural India, women's early marriage, women's education and growth trajectories

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American Journal of Biological Anthropology

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University of Cambridge, Grant/Award Numbers: Mary Euphrasia Mosley Fund, Suzy Paine Fund (Faculty of Economics), William Vaughn Lewis & Philip Lake II (Geography). Medical Research Council, Grant/Award Number: MR/J000094/1;