The marriage squeeze and the rise in informal marriage in Brazil

Soc Biol. 1995 Spring-Summer;42(1-2):65-82. doi: 10.1080/19485565.1995.9988888.


Around the world, populations have experienced shortages of one sex or the other at marriageable ages, as a result of mortality declines. The solutions to this problem vary with the cultural context. Declines in the spousal age difference and increases in dowry payments (India) and polygamy (Africa) are two adjustments to a disequilibrium in the marriage market. We hypothesize that in Brazil the marriage market finds its balance by "recycling" men through highly unstable informal unions. Using census and 1984 survey data, we establish the relationship between a marriage squeeze and the increase in informal marriage. Census data and a competing-risks analysis of marriage choice provide evidence that a marriage squeeze has affected both the chances of marrying at all and the type of marriage entered.

PIP: The competing risks logistic model of the likelihood of entering a formal or informal union or staying single in Brazil reveals that race has a strong effect on marriage choice and marriage, only when region of residence is not included in the model. Blacks are more likely than Whites to enter informal unions. Asians are less likely to enter informal unions. Women in the northeast are less likely to enter formal marriages and more likely to enter informal unions than remaining single. Women in the south are more likely to enter formal marriages. Chances of entering an informal union are increased with urban residence and younger age. Increased schooling decreases the likelihood of entering a formal or informal union. Higher unearned income increases the likelihood of entering an informal union. After age 25 age becomes important in influencing the effects on entering informal and formal unions. Women over the age of 25 years and under the age of 35-39 years are less likely to enter formal unions and more likely to enter informal unions. Women over the age of 35-39 years are less likely to enter informal unions. The proportion of women working decreases the likelihood of formal marriage compared to remaining single and increases the likelihood of consensual unions. A greater supply of men increases the chances of entering a formal marriage rather than remaining single. The supply of men has no effect on remaining single compared to entering an informal union. Census data for 1980 on state level sex ratios and rates of divorced males per ever married women reveal that as the pool of marriageable men declines, it is easier for women to marry, stay married, and to remarry. It is more difficult for men to do so. The interpretation of findings is that Brazil's solution to the marriage squeeze is the recycling of marriage partners and an increase in informal unions. Other non-Latin countries exhibit different responses to the marriage squeeze, such as increased rates of polygyny or reduced spousal age differences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Brazil
  • Developing Countries*
  • Extramarital Relations*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marital Status / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Population Growth
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sex Ratio
  • Single Person / statistics & numerical data