Publications by Author: Ambrus, Attila

Field, Erica M, Attila Ambrus, and Mzimo Torero. 2007. “Muslim family law, prenuptial agreements and the emergence of dowry in Bangladesh”. Abstract
To explain trends in dowry levels in Bangladesh, we draw attention to a widespread institutional feature of marriage contracts previously ignored in the literature: the mehr or traditional Islamic brideprice, which functions as a prenuptial agreement in Bangladesh due to the default practice in which it is only payable upon divorce. We develop a model of marriage contracts in which mehr serves as a barrier to husbands from exiting marriage, in which dowry can be divided into a standard price component and a term that ex ante compensates grooms for the cost of mehr chosen by the couple. The contracts are welfare improving because they induce husbands to internalize the social costs of divorce for women. We investigate how mehr and dowry respond to exogenous changes in the costs of polygamy and divorce, and show that both decrease when costs of divorce increase for men. This is in contrast with the predictions of models in which dowry serves only the traditionally considered roles of price or bequest. To test the model’s predictions empirically, we use novel data collected on marriage contracts between 1956 and 2004 from a large household survey from the Northwest region of the country, and make use of key changes in Muslim Family Law between 1961 and 1999. We show that major changes in dowry levels took place precisely after the legal changes, corresponding to simultaneous changes in levels of mehr. We argue that the documented pattern of responses can only be explained if dowries include a component of compensation for mehr, hence our study provides strong evidence of the role of legal rules governing marital separation in explaining dowry trends in Bangladesh.
Field, Erica M., and Attila Ambrus. 2006. “Early Marriage and Female Schooling in Bangladesh”. Abstract

This paper provides empirical evidence of the influence of adolescent marriage opportunities on female schooling attainment and gives predictions of the impact of imposing universal age-of-consent laws. Using data from rural Bangladesh, we explore the commonly cited hypotheses that women attain less schooling as a result of marrying young. We isolate the causal effect of marriage timing by exploiting variation in the timing of menarche as an instrumental variable for age of first marriage. Our results indicate that marriage age matters: Each additional year that marriage is delayed is associated with 0.30 additional years of schooling and 6.5% higher probability of literacy. Delayed marriage is also associated with a significant increase in use of preventive health care services, some of which appears to be independent of the change in schooling, indicating separate “age effects” of delaying marriage. In the context of competitive marriage markets we show that the above results can be used to obtain estimates of the change in equilibrium female education that would arise from introducing a minimum legal age of marriage. The resulting analysis implies that, under reasonable assumptions, enforcing universal age of consent laws would have a strong positive impact on female schooling.

Download PDF