The impact of marriage timing on women's agency: Evidence from rural Bangladesh

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Early marriage remains a pervasive issue in developing countries, with an estimated 650 million women globally married before the age of 18. This is a particular challenge in South Asia, where the prevalence of child marriage is significantly higher than in other parts of the world, with one third of women between the ages of 20 and 24 married before the age of 18. Bangladesh, in turn, has the highest rate of child marriage in South Asia—59%—and the fourth-highest prevalence of child marriage in the world, with 22% married before the age of 15 (UNFPA 2019).

Numerous studies have shown the negative effects of early marriage on education, employment, health, and exposure to domestic violence for young brides. Yet limited empirical evidence exists on its impact on women’s decision-making within marriage. This is a crucial issue: The timing of marriage is a critical decision that can significantly influence women’s agency and decision-making capabilities within the household.

In a new paper in The World Bank Economic Review, we explore the impacts of early marriage in Bangladesh, examining how the age at which women marry affects their standing in the husband’s family, subsequently influencing their empowerment in the spousal household in both the domestic and productive spheres—finding negative impacts of early marriage across a range of measures.

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