CONTEXT: In Nepal, marriage occurs at a relatively young age and arranged weddings are widespread. However, recent changes in the family formation process and the timing of first sexual intercourse suggest that a transformation may be under way.
METHODS: Data on marriage, cohabitation and first sexual intercourse from the 2001 Nepalese Demographic and Health Survey were used to describe the family formation process. The sequence of these events and the intervals between them were explored for currently married men and women. Hazard models were used to identify factors associated with behavioral changes overtime.
RESULTS: The average age at marriage among women married before age 20 increased from 13.7 years for those born in 1952-1956 to 15.6 years for those born in 1977-1981, while remaining relatively stable for men married before age 25 (17.3 years for the 1942-1946 birth cohort to 17.7 for the 1972-1976 birth cohort). After individual and couple characteristics were controlled for, younger age at interview was associated with greater odds of simultaneous marriage and cohabitation for both genders (odds ratios, 1.3-1.7). Younger age at interview was also associated with premarital sex among men-those aged 39 or younger had significantly higher risks than older men of having had premarital sex, with odds ratios rising from 1.6 among those aged 35-39 to 1.8 among those aged 15-24.
CONCLUSIONS: It is important not only to promote education as a means of delaying marriage and childbearing, but also to implement programs and services that prevent reproductive health problems for young married couples.
International Family Planning Perspectives, 2008, 34(1):30-39
In Nepal, as in other southern Asian countries, marriage is universal and occurs at a relatively young age. However, age at marriage celebration has increased. While women born in 1952-1956 married at the median age of 14.6 years, those born at the end of the 1970s married at 16.5 years. (1)
This description, however, is somewhat incomplete, as in many Asian countries the marriage celebration, which marks the beginning of a conjugal union, often precedes actual cohabitation. Cohabitation may be delayed for months or even years for a variety of reasons, such as waiting for the bride to mature physically or waiting for housing to be made available. Consequently, to fully understand the process of family formation in Nepal,* we must take age at cohabitation into consideration. The median age at first cohabitation has been rising slowly, but still remains below age 18 for women born in the early 1980s. (2) Moreover, because age at first marriage has risen more quickly than age at first cohabitation, the interval between marriage and cohabitation has decreased. Men are also marrying at later ages, although for men born in 1942-1976, age at first cohabitation has remained more or less constant, at around age 20. (3) Recently, however, signs of an increase in men's age at first cohabitation have begun to appear. (2)
Young age at marriage in Nepal is closely linked to the widespread practice of arranged marriages, where relationships and agreements between families prevail over individual choices. Thus, a decline in very early marriage, accompanied by a decrease in the interval between marriage and cohabitation, may indicate a change in the marital decision-making process and an increase in the level of involvement on the part of spouses in the formation of their own marital unions.(4-6) Indeed, a number of recent studies have documented important transformations in Nepalese marital traditions.
For example, an analysis of data from the 1996 Chitwan Valley Family Survey, which was conducted in an area undergoing rapid social change in south central Nepal, showed the strong negative effects of three characteristics--school enrollment, employment and having, visited health care services--on the probability of ever marrying. (7), (8) Another study, using data from a survey conducted in Nepal in 2000 among 14-22-year-olds, concluded that later age at marriage is associated with greater involvement of young people in the marital decision-making process, as well as with urban residence and higher levels of educational attainment. (4)
A third study, using qualitative and quantitative data from a 2003 survey in the western Chitwan Valley, suggested that changing attitudes and behaviors toward marriage are a consequence of the diffusion of a new "developmental idealism." (9) In other words, an increasing number of people believe that the "modern" family is both good and attainable, and find several aspects of western marriage desirable. Education of women seems to be the most powerful influence on attitudes toward marriage. (9) More generally, shifting views result from changes in the socialization process. Young people who are educated, employed or exposed to media, have participated in youth clubs, have had nonfamily living experiences and have made residential moves appear to marry at an older age(7), (8) and to be more involved than other youth in the choice of their spouse.(10) Socializing with others may raise aspirations and change behaviors.(7), (8), (11)
If it is true that individuals socialized in a more modern way have more freedom to choose their partners, we might expect to see change in the nature of relationships between couples. For example, people may modify their sexual behavior.(5), (12), (13) If the social role of marriage as a contract between families weakens, then an increasing number of unions are likely to be formed on the basis of mutual decisions and love. Sex may become primarily an instrument of communication between the two partners rather than simply an instrument of procreation or a duty between spouses and may therefore play a more important role in the life of the couple. Eventually, sex may not require the legitimization of marriage.
In this study, we examine the process of family formation in Nepal for cohorts of men and women born in 1942-1981. We study the interactions between age at marriage, cohabitation and first sexual intercourse for males and females. Understanding recent changes in the family formation process and the timing of sexual initiation is fundamental to the design of successful government policies, programs and social interventions. Young age at cohabitation may put married couples at risk for reproductive health problems, while the postponement of marriage could lead young women and men to practice unsafe sex outside of stable relationships. (14)
DATA AND METHODS
In this paper, we analyze data from the 2001 Nepal Demographic and Health Survey (DHS). (15) The survey collected data on the background characteristics of the respondents, as well as information on marriage, fertility, family planning, reproductive health and child health. The primary respondents were 8,726 ever-married women aged 15-49; 2,261 ever-married men aged 15-59 were also interviewed. Data for currently married men are lined with those of their wives. Information on age at first marriage and age at first cohabitation* with the partner was collected for all men and women who had ever been married and had cohabited. Basic data were also obtained about the members of each household (sex, age, highest level of education, marital status).
Although sexuality has recently gained attention because of concerns over health and STIs such as HIV, nationally representative information is still relatively scarce in the Asian context for both males and females. (16) Nepal is the only country in southern Asia for which the DHS contains questions about the age at first sexual intercourse for males and females.[dagger] Information on age at first sexual intercourse was collected for all currently married individuals.
The main dependent variables in our analyses are age at first marriage celebration, first cohabitation and first sexual intercourse. Because these events are not always clearly identifiable and recognizable in developing countries,(17), (18) we follow the approach used by the DHS, which accepts respondents' definitions of marriage celebration, cohabitation and first sexual intercourse.
Sequence of and Intervals Between Events
Our description of the family formation process is based on the sequence of the following events: marriage, cohabitation and first sexual intercourse. As information on these events was collected only for currently married individuals who had cohabited, each respondent has experienced all three; however, differences appear in the order of and intervals between events. We are especially interested in whether these events occurred simultaneously or sequentially, and if the latter, the order in which they occurred and the duration of intervals between events. This perspective allows us to identify different types of sequences.
We use regression analyses to determine if changes in behavior are more widespread among less traditional groups. We study the forces that accelerate or dealy first cohabitation and sexual debut among men and women. We also examine the determinants of "love marriages" for both sexes (identified by simultaneous marriage and cohabitation) and of premartial sex for men. From the results of these analyses, we identify the individual determinants of change in the Nepalese family formation process.
The timing of cohabitation and sexual debut is studied using a discrete time event history approach, employing hazard models. We analyze the time from age 10 to first cohabitation and to sexual debut using hazard rate equations. (19) The dependent variables are the probabilities of cohabiting and of experiencing first sexual intercourse. A covariate that significantly reduces the probability of experiencing an event (when the estimated odds ratios are less than 1.0) signifies that people with that characteristic delay the event under consideration. We do not consider the wife's characteristics in the analysis of men's sexual debut, because the increasing proportion of young men who are having premarital sex rarely do so with their future wife.
In total, the analysis included 7,732 married women aged 15-49 who had already begun to live with their partner. In addition, we …