Little evidence from India is available regarding the ways in which early marriage may compromise young women’s lives and their reproductive health and choices.
Data from 8,314 married women aged 20–24 living in five Indian states, obtained from a subnationally representative study of transitions experienced by youth, were used to compare marital, reproductive and other outcomes between young women who had married before age 18 and those who had married later. Logistic regression analyses were conducted to identify associations between timing of marriage and the outcomes of interest.
Young women who had married at age 18 or older were more likely than those who had married before age 18 to have been involved in planning their marriage (odds ratio, 1.4), to reject wife beating (1.2), to have used contraceptives to delay their first pregnancy (1.4) and to have had their first birth in a health facility (1.4). They were less likely than women who had married early to have experienced physical violence (0.6) or sexual violence (0.7) in their marriage or to have had a miscarriage or stillbirth (0.6).
Findings underscore the need to build support among youth and their families for delaying marriage, to enforce existing laws on the minimum age at marriage and to encourage school, health and other authorities to support young women in negotiating with their parents to delay marriage.