The Social Rationale for Bride Abduction
AbstractWe study the social rationale for bride abduction, which is practiced in parts of Central Asia and elsewhere. Strong empirical evidence, detailed in Becker, Mirkasimov, and Steiner (Demography, forthcoming), exists that this practice is not simply elopement but a form of forced marriage with adverse consequences. It is shown that children born in kidnapped marriages have lower birth weight than children born in other types of marriage.
This fact suggests that we ought to ask why kidnapping is socially tolerated. We build a matching model with search costs in which older generations (who control social norms) have an interest in accelerating the marriage process for younger generations (who control marriage decisions) and can use the mandate that a prospective groom abduct a bride by a certain date as an enforcement mechanism to deter unduly long search processes.
This model also helps explain the apparent anomalous presence of bride abduction in Kyrgyzstan, where Kyrgyz women appear to have more autonomy, education, and social status than their peers in most other Central Asian cultures. Our model predicts that abduction is most likely to occur in societies where marriage search costs are high and young adults have substantial autonomy – a setting consistent with rural Kyrgyzstan, and especially in sparsely populated areas with substantial gender imbalances. Moreover, the existence of large migrant labor flows may actually exacerbate abduction, as it may encourage prospective brides to wait for the arrival of prospective husbands in subsequent periods.