Abstract

In Africa and elsewhere, educated women tend to marry later than their less-educated peers. Beyond being an attribute of individual women, education is also an aggregate phenomenon: the social meaning of a woman’s educational attainment depends on the educational attainments of her age-mates. Using data from 30 countries and 246 birth cohorts across sub-Saharan Africa, we investigate the impact of educational context (the percentage of women in a country cohort who ever attended school) on the relationship between a woman’s educational attainment and her marital timing. In contexts where access to education is prevalent, the marital timing of uneducated and highly educated women is more similar than in contexts where attending school is limited to a privileged minority. This across-country convergence is driven by uneducated women marrying later in high-education contexts, especially through lower rates of very early marriages. However, within countries over time, the marital ages of women from different educational groups tend to diverge as educational access expands. This within-country divergence is most often driven by later marriage among highly educated women, although divergence in some countries is driven by earlier marriage among women who never attended school.

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