changing nature of partner selection beginning in the 1960s has been associated with an increase in premarital sex, a rise in coital frequency in the first years of marriage, and a corresponding decline in the first birth interval (Feng and Quanhe, 1996; Rindfuss and Morgan, 1983; Thornton et al., 1994). Indeed, Rindfuss and Morgan (1983:259-260) asserted some 20 years ago that “a very quiet sexual revolution has been occurring in Asia that may be more far reaching and profound than the very vocal sexual revolution that has been occurring in the West.” However, studies from Vietnam and Indonesia suggest that, when premarital sex is reported by women, it is more often sex with a future spouse rather than with a more casual partner (Hull, 2002; Mensch, Clark, and Anh, 2003).

Consanguineous Marriage

A marriage is generally designated as consanguineous if the couple shares one recent ancestor; generally the label is attached to marriages between second cousins or closer relatives (Bittles, 1994). Given that arranged marriages are said to be on the decline, one might expect a reduction in the proportion of young people who are in consanguineous unions, although the countries for which there is information on trends in consanguinity are not the same as those for which there is information on trends in arranged marriage. Surprisingly, according to the data available, the prevalence of consanguineous marriage appears to have changed little in recent years. A comprehensive analysis of survey data in the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Western Asia found that the proportion of first cousin marriages declined in only 3 of 18 countries, and then only slightly (Casterline and El-Zeini, 2003).28 One-fifth to one-half of all marriages in these populations is estimated to be consanguineous (Hussain and Bittles, 1999:449).

Sholkamy (2001) and Casterline and El-Zeini (2002) give several arguments as to why cousin marriage is still common in the Arab region. For the groom and his family, the financial burden is thought to be reduced when he marries a relative, since the bride and her family are presumed to make fewer demands for furniture and housing. For the bride, her treatment by the groom and his mother is thought to be better (Hussain and Bittles, 1999). Moreover, assets are consolidated when the wife marries in the family. In Southern Asia, where the burden of dowries is high (see discussion of dowry below), marriage to a relative is considered “a more eco-


Data on consanguinity analyzed by Casterline and El Zeini (2003) come from the Gulf Family Health Surveys (GFHS), the Pan-Arab Project for Child Development Surveys (PAPCHILD), and the DHS.

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