Economies of Courtship: Gender, Class and Matrimonial Transactions in Egypt
Vignette One: Frustrated Love
Randa & Elwan:
Engagement broken off because of their inability to finance the establishment and
maintenance of a new household (from the Naguib Mahfouz novella
The Day the Leader Was Killed, 1989).
Pressure of economy
Randa ends up marrying her boss, ex fiancé kills boss and pres is murdered (2
Vignette Two: Love Postponed
Zeinab & Muhammad:
Engaged for six years while they saved up to afford the goods necessary for a
respectable marriage (interviewed in Minya, southern Egypt, in 2010).
The bride was old in age (31) for an unmarried Egyptian woman
Grooms father was burdened w/ wedding expenses from 2 daughters
Vignette Three: Forbidden Love
Usama & Shaimaa:
Entered into a secret marriage when his parents, who he depends on for his livelihood,
objected to the match because she was divorced (interviewed in Cairo, northern Egypt,
Topic: The Economic Foundations of Family Formation
What are the causes and consequences of the high costs of marriage in contemporary
Definition of Term
Defining the “costs of marriage”:
Who? Incurred by brides, grooms, and their families.
What? Expenditures on housing, furniture, appliances, jewelry, celebrations, etc
o “Bride wealth” works opposite of dowry (Muslim), money given from
groom to bride as her property for her to use to buy linens, china …
When? During courtship and engagement.
Where? Contemporary Egypt.
How? Customs govern who pays for what, but the level and timing of
expenditures are negotiated by brides, grooms, and their families.
Why? To symbolically mark a new life-stage and the new relationships that come
with it. To prepare the newlyweds to set up a new family.
Outline of Today’s Talk: Research Questions Addressed SOCB49
1) How, why, and with what effect have the costs of marriage changed over time?
2) How do high marriage costs affect marriage timing today?
3) Do women benefit from high marriage payments today?
4) Why do people today insist on such high marriage costs?
5) Are high marriage costs causing couples today to seek alternative kinds of sexual
The Egyptian Context: Introduction
NE corner of African continent
The Egyptian Context: Marriage
For most Egyptians, marriage is the only pathway to residential independence
and sexual activity
o Sexual activity outside of marriage is frowned upon
“Love” versus “arranged” marriages
o When asked how they met their partner, they said institutional
o Most marriages in past were arranged
Relied on family to find someone for them
Marriage stages for Muslims: engagement, signing of the marriage contract,
o Engagement period was to fall in love
If you didn’t, engagement would be called off
Very fluid, can exit and enter
o Marriage contract singing is part and parcel as part of the engagement
Kind of an extension of the engagement, needs to have ceremony
Marriage stages for Christians: engagement, marriage
o Do not have the same contract
The Egyptian Context: Economy & Labor Market
The previous generation benefitted from a government employment guarantee
Today’s young people are entering a labor market where unemployment is high,
jobs are informal, and wages are low
o 2006, 69% of people earning wages fell below the poverty line
Compared to other age groups, youth are more likely to be unemployed and to
have low wages
While unmarried youth have no children to support, they (particularly young
men) have to finance their own marriages
How Have the Costs of Marriage Changed Over Time?
Figure 1. Mean Total Cost of Marriage (Including Dower) in 2006 Egyptian Pounds
Across Five-Year Marriage Cohorts, Ever-Married Women Aged 16-49, ELMPS 2006 SOCB49
Asked woman how much they spent on marriage cost (celebration, house, bride
1985 – 1989 decrease in marriage
1995 – 2006 avg cost if $700
Among Which Groups Have the Costs of Marriage Changed Over Time?
Figure 2. Mean Total Cost of Marriage (Excluding Dower) in 2006 Egyptian Pounds
Across Five-Year Marriage Cohorts by Wealth, Ever-Married Women Aged 16-49, ELMPS
Possible Explanations for the Rise and Fall of Marriage Costs
o Extended families are the norms
Extended families are made up of several nuclear families SOCB49
Will all live under the same house
o Shift from nuclear to extended, cost rises
Changing consumption standards
o From rural to urban areas
o Men to earn a better living have diminished
Less able to afford everything they would like to purchase for
their martial homes
Possible Consequences of the Rise and Fall of Marriage Costs
o As marriage cost rise, delay gets longer b/c it takes longer to save up
o High cost of marriage may result in never marrying
Recap of Research Question One
1) How have the costs of marriage changed over time?
Marriage costs increased from the early 1970s to the early 1980s.
After 1985, marriage costs declined dramatically.
This pattern of a rise and decline in marriage costs was most pronounced for the
middle and upper classes.
Marriage costs for the poor dropped steadily over this period.
In Northern India, dowry only came around in 1930s and has been rising
Recap of Research Question One (cont’d)
1) Why have the costs of marriage changed over time?
Nuclear families have become more and more common over time, so family
nucleation cannot explain the trend of rising then declining marriage costs.
Little is known about consumption standards, but it is likely that couples see
more and more goods as ‘necessary’ for married life.
o Little evidence
Men’s migration opportunities have diminished since the early 1990s, and this
may have driven lower spending on marriage.
Recap of Research Question One (cont’d)
1) With what effect have the costs of marriage changed over time?
Women and men (to a lesser extent) have been marrying later and later over
time. Rising then falling marriage costs do not appear to have impacted marriage
timing over time.
Very few Egyptians never marry, and never-marriage does not appear to be
affected by trends in marriage costs.
Little is known about how rates of secret marriage have changed over time. SOCB49
For Which Groups Are Marriage Costs Most Burdensome at Present?
Figure 3. Months of Savings Needed to Finance Marriage Costs for Brides and Grooms
Married in 1990 or Later, Based on Monthly Salary Reported by the Bride or Groom in
2006 and Contribution to the Cost of Marriage Reported by the Bride, ELMPS 2006
How Do Labor Market Experiences Affect Men’s Marriage Timing? SOCB49
First survey 1998, second was 2006, same respondents
Selected people in 1998 who were not married, also looked at employment
In 2006, whether they got married and at what age
Looked at 4 preidtors of marriage timing
o Never and ever worked
o 1998 unmarried: out of labour force, unemployed, employed
o Working in public sector or private sector (informal workers w/ unstable
o Measure of job quality (unsatable/stable, wage…)
Results for men
o Ever worked: hazard of marriage is 13x higher than people that had never
o Men who were employed were 59% more likely to get married
o 79% less likely to marry working in public sector
o Good jobs 27% more likely to marry
o Worked, employed, public sector, good quality job more likely to
marry and married earlier
How Do Labor Market Experiences Affect Women’s Marriage Timing?
Women’s marriage timing is unaffected by their labor market experiences.
Bars are equal
What Explains Gender Differences in the Determinants of Marriage Timing?
Two factors may explain why men’s marriage timing is more sensitive to labor market
experiences than women’s:
First, grooms shoulder most of the costs associated with a new union, and they SOCB49
therefore must be able to afford their share of marriage expenditures.
o Grooms pay 60% of marriage costs
Second, cultural expectations dictate that husbands should be the breadwinners
for their househ