Academic journal article Demographic Research

Ethnic Differences in Transition to First Marriage in Iran: The Role of Marriage Market, Women's Socio-Economic Status, and Process of Development

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Ethnic Differences in Transition to First Marriage in Iran: The Role of Marriage Market, Women's Socio-Economic Status, and Process of Development

Article excerpt


This paper, using data from the 2000 Iran Demographic and Health Survey and a range of time-varying district-level contextual information derived from the 1986 and 1996 censuses of Iran, applies a discrete time hazard model to study ethnic differences in women's transition to first marriage. The model specification accounts for both spatial and temporal changes in the socio-economic context of transition to marriage. We found ethnic-specific responses on women's marriage timing to changes in the socio-economic context between the mid 1970s and 2000. Some ethnic groups appear to be more resistant to change despite sharing similar changes in their socio-economic context.

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1. Introduction and background

Between 1976 and 2000, Iranian women experienced an increase of more than three years in their age at marriage. The female singulate mean age at marriage (FSMAM) slightly increased from 19.7 years to 19.9 between 1976 and 1986, but rose more substantially to 22.4 by 1996 (Kazemipour 2004) and to 23.0 by 2000 (calculated from the 2000 Iran Demographic and Health Survey). Some studies (Abbasi-Shavazi 2000; Abbasi-Shavazi, McDonald, and Hosseini-Chavoshi 2003; Mahmoudian 2005; Abbasi- Shavazi, Hosseini-Chavoshi, and McDonald 2007) have attributed the changes in women's age at marriage to changes in the socio-cultural and institutional setting (ideational changes related to the Islamic Revolution, changes in the minimum legal age at marriage, urbanisation, access to means of communication, women's education, economic hardship, etc.). Other studies (Jafari-Mojdehi 2003; Doroudi-Ahi 2004) have highlighted the role of marriage market, and more specifically the shortage of marriageable men, in the later marriage of Iranian women.

Marriage in Iran is also characterised by ethnic differences in women's marriage timing (Abbasi-Shavazi and Sadeghi 2005). Iran's population consists of various ethnic groups. Persians constitute nearly half and other ethnic groups (Turk, Kurd, Gilak, Mazandarani, Baluch, Lur, etc.) make up the rest of the population (Abbasi-Shavazi and Jones 2001). Iranian ethnicities are specific in terms of language, religion, and their geographic distribution. The Kurd, Lur, Baluch, Gilak and Mazandarani groups originate from Indo-Europeans (Aryans) and their languages are specific branches of the old Persian language (Afshar-Sistani 1987). The Gilak and Mazandarani groups mainly reside in the north, Kurds in the west and the north west, Lurs in the south west, and the Baluch group in south east of the country. Turks mainly live in the north west of Iran and their language is a branch of Turkish language influenced by Azeri, the language of the local population of Azerbaijan before the great migration of Turks to this area in the eleventh century (Atabaki 1993). These ethnic groups adhere to different sects of Islam with the Lur, Gilak, Mazandarani, and Turk groups being Shiite, and most Kurds and the Baluch group being Sunni Muslims.

Ethnic disparity in women's marriage timing is shown in Figure 1. The mean age at first marriage of ethnic groups was diverse in the mid 1970s (between 16 and 20 years). During the 1990s, we witness a convergence in the trends with different ethnic groups stabilising their level at different paces. In the late 1990s, the marriage timing of most ethnic groups converged but two groups exhibited considerable differences. Specifically, the marriage timing of the Persian, Turk, Kurd, Lur, and Mazandarani groups converged at around 20 years but Gilak women still married later (22 years) and Baluch women married earlier (17 years).

These differences in marriage timing can be related to the specific cultural and socio-economic attributes of ethnic groups. Some marriage patterns have been common among all Iranian ethnicities including endogamy, arranged, and supervised marriage (Harris 1977; Afshar-Sistani 1987; Askari-Khaneghah and Kamali 1995; Kazempour 1996; Nik-Kholgh and Nouri 1998). …

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