Shafiq R Khan

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Anta-Santa (exchange marriage): Parental Transfers and Marital Bargaining


Marriage is perhaps the epitome of an incomplete contract. Its terms can never be fully specified ex-ante or enforced ex –post. A vast body of literature has thus highlighted the role of post-marital bargaining in determining intrahousehold allocations.
 In traditional societies , where women’s  formal   legal rights are often weak and divorce  is highly stigmatized  , bargaining power can shift  radically in favor of the man  once the women commits herself to marriage .   This fact should have implications for the form of the marriage ‘contract’; in particular, its ex- ante provisions should reflect the interests of the wife & her family in deterring or mitigating ex-post malfeasance on the part of the husband.


      In this Article, we argue that exchange marriage in north India can play just such a role. Bride exchange, known as anta-santa or watta satta  also known as Golta (Literally, ‘give-take), usually involve the simultaneous marriage of a brother – sister pair from two households.     Remarkably,   Anta-santa now accounts for about a third of all marriages in rural areas, and is even more prevalent in parts of Do’ab. Anta-santa is more than just an exchange of daughters, however; it also establishes the shadow of mutual threat across the marriages. In this arrangement, a husband who ‘mistreats’ his wife in certain ways can expect his brother –in –law to retaliate in-kind against his sister.
           Such reciprocal threats operating across marriage can be credible and may, consequently, prevent inefficient marital outcomes; in particular, actions which the wife more than they benefit the husband. The idea is that husbands generally have coercive power over their wives, whether through emotional intimidation, the use or threatened use of violence, or the ability to expel her from the household. Actions such as these may, however, permanantely destroy some of the marital surplus, either by limiting the gains to future cooperation between the spouses or by bringing the disgrace upon the family or families involved. family ‘honor’ is particularly susceptible to publicly observable acts, like banishment of the wife to her natal home. Our theoretical argument  uses the fact that , when one party in a  negotiation can permanently destroy the surplus to be bargained over , and thereby extract a larger share for himself , inefficient equilibria  can arise; in other words , threats might actually be carried out.
Anta-Santa (exchange marriage) 
Parents may be wiling to restrain their son from such destructive (albeit privately rational) behavior, but only if they could also be assured that the in-laws of their daughter would restrain their son in the same way. An exchange marriage essentially facilitates coordination between two sets of in laws.

         While model of exchange marriage is unique, there are several linkages to past work. La Farrara (2003), in the context of credit transactions, shows how the family or kin – group fills the void left by the absence of legally enforceable contracts. La Farrara explicitly models the way in which families punish deviations from a particular equilibrium, although the mechanisms are quite distinct in the two cases.  Zhang and Chan (1990) are perhaps the first to suggest that the form of the marriage contract might reflect ex-post bargaining considerations. Parents, they argue, choose the size of their daughter’s dowry ex-ante taking into account its effect in the value of her threat point.  however, is that Zhang and Chan assume that the marital bargaining solution is efficient.  By contrast, Bloch and Rao (2002) analyze a specific signaling game with an equilibrium featuring so-called dowry violence.  In our model, which is more general, marital discord , including but not limited to domestic  abuse, occurs even though there is perfect information about the husband’s ‘type’(Fernandez and Glazer (1991) were the first to demonstrate that labor strikes and other inefficient outcomes can emerge in bargaining games under complete information.   To our knowledge, this idea has never been applied to spousal bargaining before.).  Main concern is with the instructions that may emerge to deter such inefficiency.   In this respect ,  our work fits in to a broader program  that seeks to  rationalize institutional design  in light of commitment  failures  (see, e.g., North  and  Weingast  ,1989 ; Greif,1993).
It is important to note that the allocation of goods or time within the household may not differ at all between conventional and exchange marriages. Instead, we examine measure of marital discord: estrangement, domestic violence, and the wife’s mental health (depression and anxiety). 

The main empirical challenge is to deal with systematic selection into exchange marriages.   For   example, anta santa arrangements may tend to be chosen by low status or traditional households, in which women may be treated more poorly on average irrespective of marriage type.   If so, anta-santa might spuriously appear to be detrimental to women (Indeed, popular press accounts of watta satta in Pakistan often lump it together with other ‘undesirable’ practices like child - marriage and honor – killings.).       
A similar effect may arise, as the theory itself will suggest if men who are less averse to intimation of women select in to anta-santa marriages.  Yet, the very nature of the institution offers us a plausible instrument.  Exchange marriages opportunities are limited by the presence of age and sex appropriate siblings. 
A anta-santa bride normally must have an available brother (although satta (santa) can be arranged with uncles and other relatives, brothers are strongly preferred.)     
Moreover, given the preference for grooms to be older than brides, the likelihood that a woman is in a antta santta marriage increasing in the numbers of older brothers she has relative to total older siblings (While an analogous argument applies to the siblings of the husband (since he must also have an available sister), using demographic composition of the husband’s family as an instrument is more suspect, for reasons to be discussed.). The demographic  composition  of  the  wife’s natal family , particularly  the  age pattern ,  is  arguably  uncorrelated with any of the unobservable  that determine her  treatment in her husband ‘s family .

         To understand the motives behind exchange marriage,   we need to take into account the preferences    of six actors; two husband—wife pairs and their two sets of parents.  For ease of       notation  and analytical  convenience , we assume  that both couples  and sets of  parents  are  identical  to each other  in every  respect .   Parents  are assumed to have exactly  one marriage  son and one marriage  daughter and to make all marital arrangements , acting as a unitary  decision- maker in so doing ; i.e. , any conflicts  between the father  and  mother  over  preferences toward their  children.    
Parents  have  convex  preferences  over  the utilizes of  their  son  and  daughter, Children are assumed to display no altruism, neither toward their parents nor toward each other.      
Despite this assumption, we can see that brothers end up acting in the best interests of their sisters.
Parents  make monetary transfers to both their children, which may include bequests and dowries.  
In particular ,it would not be unreasonable to claim that , in rural north India, where typically move into their husband’s intergeneration ally  extended  family , it is more costly for parents  to make transfers to their married daughters than to their sons  ( perhaps because signaling  a  willingness  to  make  such transfers opens  them  up  to  extortion ).  In this  case , exchange marriage may  serve to  substitute  for  parents ‘ financial  support  of their  married  daughters .

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