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    A case for raising the marriage visa age

    by Sunny on 12th October, 2007 at 8:09 am    

    In March the government announced it was raising the age at which foreign nationals can receive marriage visas to enter Britain from 18 to 21. It was cited as an attempt to crack down on forced marriages. We covered it here and a huge discussion ensued.

    But this may not merely be about forced marriages; it may even help the education (and thus wealth) prospects of immigrant communities who usually marry their children abroad.

    Denmark recently enacted the same law but raised the age to 24. A reader recently sent me a paper looking at the impact it had in that country. It’s conclusions are interesting…


    It is well-established for several countries that immigrants who marry other immigrants lack behind in terms of educational attainment and other outcomes compared to immigrants who marry natives. If this phenomenon represents a causal impact of marriage behavior on educational outcomes, it provides economic justification for policy intervention in the marriage market of immigrants.

    On the other hand, if it is just a spurious relationship reflecting unobserved abilities or preferences, intervention is clearly not economically justified.

    The issue of policy intervention in the marriage market is a sensitive matter. Even large economic benefits from intervention may be outweighed by even larger non-economic costs due to value systems opposing intervention in this market. In addition, in order to comply with human rights, any policy intervention would need to have implications for natives’ marriage possibilities as well, which induces a powerful opposition against the interventions.

    On the other hand, if forced or arranged marriages are widespread phenomena, human right welfare effects for the young immigrants who are subject to these marriages may work in the same direction as the economic benefits. Though these issues are highly important, we only analyze potential economic factors and benefits in this paper.

    The much discussed policy intervention in 2002 in Denmark, ‘the 24-year reform’, which restricted spouse import, supplies us with exogenous variation in the marriage behavior of immigrants and offers a unique opportunity to investigate the issue of causality.

    We find that the reform induced a large drop in marriage rates among the 18-24-year-olds, and that this drop in marriage rates spills over to improved educational outcomes for some immigrant groups.

    We find that the causal impact of marriage on dropout from education after primary school is positive for males, no matter which subgroup we look at.

    Changing the treatment indicator or the estimation method also preserves the conclusion. However, for females, the association between marriage and dropout does not generally reflect a causal impact. Only for the youngest females aged 18-19 years, for Turkish females and for education beyond the secondary level, we find a positive causal impact.

    For the main part of the females, the association between marriage and dropout is due to correlation between unobservables influencing both marriage and dropout. Examples of relevant unobservable variables could be norms or traditions for marriage and education within the family.

    These figures should be compared to the magnitude of the gap in dropout rates between our sample of study and a matched sample of ethnic Danes which was about 7 percentage points before the reform. Thus, a substantial part of the dropout gap between immigrants and native Danes is expected to disappear as a consequence of changed marriage behavior due to the reform.


    For the liberal-left this presents a classic dilemma. On the one hand, this solution favours legislation to restrict people from making marriage decisions. On the other hand it helps men and women from minority communities in the short and long term. They end up staying in school longer, end up with a better education and consequently better off. Plus, their parents don’t ship them off early to marriages they don’t want.

    What do you do? I think the Danes made the right decision.

    You can read the paper from here. (PDF file).

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