Matching on Height in India (Job market paper)

Abstract

In India, height is greatly valued in the marriage market, and the child stunting rate remains strikingly high. In this paper, I juxtapose these two seemingly unrelated facts and investigate the role of parents' marital sorting and matching in determining children’s height. First, I develop a two-sided matching model of the Indian marriage market to structurally estimate preferences for height. I do so while considering other critical drivers of marital sorting and matching, such as education and family wealth. I find evidence of significant positive assortative matching on height across religion-caste groups. Next, I study the change in complementarity in height over time, finding a mild increase on average but substantial heterogeneity by caste and religion. Finally, using the model estimates, I simulate parents' counterfactual joint height distribution under several hypothetical scenarios. Based on insights from the medical literature, I compute children’s potential height distribution (and hence their risk of being stunted) given the counterfactual distribution of matches. I find marital matching to have a limited impact on children’s average height, but a significant one on the level of inequality in children’s height. Specifically, my analysis indicates that complementarity in height in the marriage market can increase the standard deviation of the distribution of potential height by up to 3% and the prevalence of stunting by up to 4 percentage points.