ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Marriage Dissolution in India

Evidence from Census 2011

Although India's divorce rate is low in cross-national perspective, the separation rate is three times as large as the divorce rate. There is striking variation across states, with marriage dissolution lower in the North compared with the South and North-east, consistent with previous arguments regarding relative female autonomy across regions. Surprisingly, there is very little difference between rural and urban rates of dissolution of marriage across states.

Although marriage dissolution greatly impacts families, there are few estimates of the extent and correlates of marriage dissolution in India (Amato 1994; Pothen 1989).1 The Census 2011 data provides a good opportunity to understand some macro-level aspects of the phenomenon because, unlike previous censuses, it separately enumerated individuals who were divorced from those who were separated. It reports about 13.6 lakh individuals as being divorced, equivalent to 0.24% of the married population and 0.11% of the total population. To put this in international perspective, in Greenstein and Davis’s (2006) study of 71 countries for 1995–98, the divorce rate ranges from a low of 0.04% of total population in Georgia to a high of 0.46% in Belarus.2 And yet Gujarat’s divorce rate is greater than that of Belarus, and Bihar’s is close to Georgia, suggesting a striking level of regional diversity in India.3 Further, the separated population is almost treble the divorced population, and, to the extent that divorce is more likely to be reported as separation in India than elsewhere, this brings India’s figures closer to the centre of the global distribution.

This article explores marriage dissolution in India and state-level diversity using descriptive statistics from Census 2011 data and points to the need for a deeper understanding of underlying correlates, particularly the importance of women’s autonomy in observed rates of marriage dissolution.4

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