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The International Marriage Market Is a Casualty of the Global Recession

September 3, 2010, 3:00 PM

In the first post I did for Dollars and Sex, Do Women Really Value Income Over Looks in a Mate?, I wrote about how dating sites provide a wealth of data for analyzing individual preferences on mate choice.  At that time, I discussed whether or not income matters for women who are looking for a partner.  That analysis was based on the US market and, I would argue, the results are very specific to western countries. In other nations, particularly those where many still live at—or close to—a subsistence level, the concepts of marriage and income are inextricably entwined.  India is such a country.

The use of dating websites in India is pervasive, particularly among the well educated and even more so among women who are seeking US and other non-resident husbands.  In the post-financial crisis era (we hope!), the income of these particular men might not appear as predictable as it has in the past. So are potential Indian brides looking elsewhere for their soul-mate/sole-provider?  If they are, then we can add another collapsed market to the list—that of the well-heeled, non-resident Indian groom.As far as I know, there has been no academic research on this topic.  But I do know this much: according to reports by Indian-based Internet dating sites,* there has been a decisive shift in the search priorities of women away from non-resident Indian men (many of whom have jobs in IT and finance) to resident civil servants. And who can blame them? The life as a wife of a government bureaucrat may not seem as luxurious as that of a wife of a US-based financier, but in the face of what we have seen in the last two years, it is certainly more predictable.

Among the matrimonially hopeful, it isn’t only the women who are changing their search priorities. It seems that the beginning of the economic downturn marked an increase in men searching for employed women—an increase of 15% in 2008. This suggests that in the face of increased employment uncertainty. Indian men are starting to think about risk-sharing inside the household. After all, if you become suddenly aware that you might not always be able to provide for your family, then perhaps it is better to hedge your bets with a wife who has a source of income. Think of it as nuptial employment insurance.  

All this reminds me of a presentation I saw at a conference a few years ago.  A recent economics graduate presented his work based on US online-dating data. In explaining why he had taken on this project, he said, “I was spending more time on dating sites than on my thesis, so I figured I might as well combine the two!” It isn’t hard to imagine a lonely economics graduate student perusing the Indian dating sites looking for the love of her/his life. Maybe one will take this project on.  After all, with millions of men and women registered on Indian dating sites (aka “data points”), who can resist taking a look at what has to be one of the largest and best organized marriage markets in the world?

*"Recession takes bloom off India's marriage market," The Globe and Mail.



The International Marriage ...

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