Economic Contexts of Intimacy and Marital Dissolution among Young Women in Malawi

Jeong Hyun Oh, The University of Chicago

The intimate bonds between partners is a critical component of family life, yet few studies have investigated emotional dimensions of marriages in transitioning societies, let alone their determinants and consequences for marital dissolution. Applying social exchange framework, this paper investigates whether and how economic exchanges between couples shift the nature of relationship quality, and ultimately, relationship dissolution. A case study from Malawi shows that both affectionate dimensions – how much partners care and discuss – and intimate dimensions -- how much partners trust and commit to each other – have remained constant in midst of significant economic changes in the past decade. Among older cohorts, traditional gift economy outweighs other economic measures based on formal employment and “modern” wealth in predicting affectionate dimensions of relationships. However, women' income has become a significant determinant of affectionate dimensions among most recent cohort. Intimate dimensions are uncorrelated with economic exchanged between couples. Interestingly, traditional gift economy also heightens the risk of divorce while household wealth reduces the risk. These analyses show that different modes of exchange have distinctive effects on marital relationships and call for a more comprehensive framework to understand intimacy under economic changes.

Keywords: Longitudinal studies

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  Presented in Session 194. Economy, Education, and Fertility