Arranged Scissors 16: Liquidity

Ok so the last time I wrote about Arranged Scissors was more than five and a half years back, when the person who is now my wife had just about started on her journey towards ending up as my wife. And today she made a very interesting observation on arranged marriage markets, which made me revisit the concept. She tweeted:

It is a rather profound concept, well summarised into one tweet. Yet, it doesn’t tell the full picture because of which I’m writing this blog (more permanence than tweet, can explain better and all that).

Reading the above tweet by the wife makes you believe that the arranged marriage market is becoming less liquid, because of which people are experiencing more trouble in finding a potential partner on that market. And there is a positive feedback loop in play here – the more illiquid the arranged marriage market becomes, the more the likelihood for people to exit the market, which results in making the market even more illiquid!

But this makes you believe that there was a time when the arranged marriage market was rather liquid, when people were happy finding spice there, and then it all went downhill from there. The fact, however, is that there are two countervailing forces that have been acting on the liquidity of the arranged marriage market.

On the one hand, more people are nowadays marrying “for love”, and are hence removing themselves from the arranged marriage market. This is an increasing trend and has resulted in the vicious circle I pointed to two paragraphs earlier. Countervailing this, however, is globalisation, and the fact that the world is becoming a more connected place, which is actually increasing the liquidity of the market.

Consider the situation a century back, when most marriages in India were “arranged”, and when it was the norm to pick a spouse through this market. While that in theory should have made the market liquid, the fact remained that people’s networks back in those days was extremely limited, and more importantly, local. Which meant that if you lived in a village, you could get married to someone from a village in a small radius, for example. Your search space was perhaps larger in a city, but even then, networks were hardly as dense as they are today. And so there was a limited pool you could pick from, which meant it was rather illiquid.

And over time, the market has actually become more liquid, with the world becoming a more connected place. Even a generation ago, for example, it was quite possible (and not uncommon) to get “arranged married” to someone living in a far-off city (as long as caste and other such factors matched). In that sense, the market actually got better for a while.

But it coincided with the time when social norms started getting liberalised, and more and more people found it okay to actually exit the arranged marriage market. And that was when the illiquidity-vicious-circle effect started coming into play.

In recent times, connectedness has hit a peak (though it can be argued that online social networking has helped extend people’s connections further), and the vicious circle continues unabated, and this is the reason that we are observing that the arranged marriage market is becoming less liquid.

Oh, and if you’re in the market, do get in touch with the wife. She might be able to help you!

Community and age of marriage

I’ll be 26 within two weeks time. In fact, if you go by the Hindu calendar (which sacrifices short-term accuracy for long-term precision) I’m already 26. One question people constantly ask me when I bump into them is about when I plan to get married. Most of my friends also belong to the same approximate age group. When we meet up, discussion frequently veers towards “market entry”. About the arranged marriage market.

One common thread of discussion is “you belong to XXX community. you should’ve already fathered two kids by this age” or “you belong to YYY community. it’s ok even if you don’t get married for another six years”. Which makes me wonder why people from different castes and communities get married at different ages.

The Hindu scriptures divide a man’s life into four stages. At the end of the first quarter, which is brahmacharya, the boy is supposed to get married, and become a gRhasta. This division of life into four quarters in the Hindu scriptures is a clear indication that our ancestors knew about the Quarter Life Crisis so long ago. And they has prescribed a simple antidote to it – marriage. Yes, I admit that different people would feel the QLC at slightly different ages, leading to a small variation in marriage age. However, there seems to be no reason as to why this should depend upon one’s caste.

For one to get married, one needs to earn enough in order to support a partner and still lead a fairly comfortable life. Typically, you won’t want a quality of life that is much inferior to what you were leading at your parents’ place, before you moved out. When you are still a bachelor, you might be willing to accept a lower quality of life in order to maybe further your career. However, by the time you get married, you want to be closer to the quality you were used to in childhood.

We need to remember that the caste system was initially intended to divide people based on their occupation. Thus, it is fair to assume that even fifty to seventy years back, when most people more or less “lived within their caste”, people from similar castes were likely to take up similar kind of careers. Some would choose to join the family business, others would go out to set up their own business, a few others would join the government, and some others would join the army, and so on.

You need to notice that each kind of occupation promises its own kind of cash flows, and so in each of these types of professions, you take a varying amount of time in order to reach the standard of living of your parents.

If you observe, in most parts of India, the people who get married the youngest are typically people who belong to Lala communities. Once you choose to become a Lala, you forego an income, and live on pocket money. And it’s your family which decides how much pocket money you get, and typically your father and uncles and so on won’t want you to live an inferior life to theirs. And so your standard of living is always equal to that of your parents’. And you get married quickly.

Then you have people who work for a salary. If you look back, back in the 50’s and 60’s, the only employer (there wasn’t much of a choice in this) was the government. And irrespective of what degrees you had, or what colleges you went to, you were subject to a pay scale based on number of years in the job. And your salary would typically start off obscenely low. And it would take ages for you to reach the standard of living of your parents.

So that explains it. I know I haven’t taken any data points in between, but I suppose it shouldn’t be too tough. Lalas always live at the same standard as their families, and are thus eligible to marry the earliest. People working for salaries had no choice. They had to wait till the sarkar paid them enough to reach the same standard of living as their parents. And they married really late.

It is all because of Nehruvian socialism, I tell you. In case India was more capitalist back then, more people would’ve gotten rich enough to marry sooner. And this caste-based distinction in age of marriage wouldn’t have existed.

So the next time someone brings up some caste or community related stuff when encouraging or discouraging you to get married, tell them that it is all Nehru’s fault. Talk to them about our great scriptures, and their recognition of the Quarter Life Crisis. Argue from the point of view of your own QLC so as to conveniently hasten or postpone marriage. I’m sure that the scriptures, properly invoked, won’t fail you.