Erica Field from Duke University will present "A Signal to End Child Marriage: Theory and Experimental Evidence from Bangladesh".
Child marriage remains common in many settings even where schooling and labor market opportunities have grown considerably. To explain this phenomenon, we introduce a marriage market signaling model in which bride type -- in our setting, social conservatism -- is not perfectly observed but preferred types have lower benefits of delaying marriage. This gives preferred brides an incentive to reveal their type by marrying young, shifting the market towards early marriage even when everyone benefits from delay. In this setting, a small incentive that shifts preferred brides towards later marriage can delay marriage of all types through spillovers, while a program that shifts bride's social norms -- or the distribution of bride types -- is predicted to have a weakly positive effect on early marriage. We test these predictions by evaluating the impact of a financial incentive to delay marriage alongside an empowerment program designed to promote less conservative gender norms among 15,576 adolescent girls in Bangladesh. Consistent with the theory, girls eligible for the incentive were 21% less likely to marry before 18, as were girls who were ineligible for the incentive but lived near treatment communities. Meanwhile, the empowerment program succeeded in reducing girls' degree of social conservatism but failed to reduce rates of underage marriage.