Moral hazard in (arranged) marriage market

Posted in economics, society by jrahman on July 21, 2010

Once upon a time arranged marriages worked thus: parents and other guardians would meet, discuss negotiate agree to terms and conditions details, and a familial alliance would be established.  The lucky couple would meet each other for the first time on that floral bed on their night of nights.

Not any more.  The modern arranged marriage involves the prospective bride and groom meeting several times to explore their ‘compatability’ before any decision is taken to even begin discussing details.  This modern way of doing things is particularly prevalent among the diaspora. 

And this new-fangled way of arranging marriage, where parents choose and kids decide, have serious moral hazard problems.

In a marriage, it’s the couple that is going to live with the decision, so they will have to bear the cost or reap the benefit.  It follows that they should bear the risk.  This is the case for choosing one’s own partner.

But in a Deshi setting, a girl doesn’t just marry a guy, she marries into the whole clan (this is also true, though to a much lesser extent, for a guy).  This means that parents have a huge stake, and under some circumstances, it might be better for the couple to defer to the families.  The family is likely to have greater information set than the individual.  This is the case for arranged marriage.

Now what happens in this modern arranged marriages?  Parents choose for their kids a person with whom one can explore compatability (read: meet / date / fool around). 

Parents obviously want the kids to marry.  But what if the kids don’t want to?  What if the kids are just after a good time?

Anyone who has ever asked a girl out knows that this is a very difficult exercise.  If your parents arrange a girl for you, then you don’t have to face any risks of rejection.  Also, in Deshi setting, hooking up with a girl often involves discretion which is also costly.  A parent-sanctioned exploraion of compatability is in this context like legalised marijuana.  

And the same holds true for a girl, perhaps more so for a girl.

So what happens? 

Parents choose someone for you to meet in your summer vacation.  You go along, have fun, and then come the fall, tell the parents that ‘sorry this is not going to work out, we are not compatible’.

Talk about moral hazard!


3 Responses

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  1. fug said, on July 22, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    wow. never seen it like that before.

    anyway, have you heard of this rather elegant murrabi?

  2. jrahman said, on August 13, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    Fug, hadn’t heard of the elegant murubbi. Would like to though. Can you provide more information?

  3. On the wedding « Mukti said, on May 2, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    […] Mr Windsor.  I mean, what was he supposed to do?  He was not modern enough for our new-fangled compatibility-tested arranged marriage.  He loved another man’s wife, and the mother wouldn’t approve.  What good Desi boy […]

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