The Marriage Market for Lemons: HIV Testing and Marriage in Rural Malawi

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Date and Time: 
Thursday, October 20, 2016
12:00 pm – 1:00 pm
Dan Bennett

Asymmetric information in the marriage market may delay marriage and reduce mar- ital surplus through adverse selection. In a simple two-period assortative matching model, unobservable partner quality in Period 1 leads some high-quality participants to delay marriage. A signaling and screening technology may increase the marriage rate and the marital surplus of high-quality participants. HIV status is an important hidden partner attribute in HIV-endemic settings. We test this model through a randomized evaluation of an intensive “opt-out” HIV testing intervention that offered free tests to young women and their partners every four months for 2.7 years. This intervention increases the in-sample marriage rate by 27 percent and the probability of pregnancy by 26 percent for baseline-unmarried women. Impacts are largest for beautiful women, suggesting that these observable and hidden quality attributes are complements. To relate our findings to the literature, we show that an alternative single-test intervention does not have these effects.