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Is Marriage Delay a Multiphasic Response to Pressures for Fertility Decline? The Case of Sri Lanka

John Caldwell, Indra Gajanayake, Bruce Caldwell and Pat Caldwell
Journal of Marriage and Family
Vol. 51, No. 2 (May, 1989), pp. 337-351
DOI: 10.2307/352497
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/352497
Page Count: 15
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Is Marriage Delay a Multiphasic Response to Pressures for Fertility Decline? The Case of Sri Lanka
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Abstract

It has been argued by Kingsley Davis that the pressure on a society exerted by increasingly rapid rates of growth can be reduced by a rise in female age of marriage as well as by the reduction of marital fertility. This appeared to be supported by a rise of almost seven years in the Sri Lanka female singulate age at marriage during the present century (with the country being described as Asia's "Ireland"), the first stage in an era of demographic change that has ended with low fertility levels. The causes of Sri Lankan marriage change were investigated during 1985 and 1987 by a collaborative program of the University of Colombo in Sri Lanka and the Australian National University. Both survey and anthropological methods were employed to study 10,964 persons living in 1,974 households in seven rural and urban locations of southwest Sri Lanka. Marriage histories were compiled, and special studies were undertaken of three groups: persons nearing and reaching the age at marriage; bachelors and spinsters of an age when people were normally married; and women over 60 years of age. It was discovered that the rising age of marriage for females had not been an attempt to limit fertility. The low traditional age at marriage had been enforced by parents through arranged marriage so as to forestall unsuitable marriages, especially those across caste. With the transition to a society dominated by nonagricultural employment and high levels of education, these aims became less important and parental pressure slackened. There appears to be evidence that young females themselves felt no great urgency about immediate postpubescent marriages, and with the reduction of parental pressure, female age at marriage spontaneously rose. "Love," or nonarranged, marriages are now in the majority and offer both advantages and disadvantages to the young and their parents alike. In both types of marriage further delays result from increased unemployment because of a consensus that the bridegroom must have satisfactory employment and increasing agreement that the bride also should have been employed.

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