Forgotten Marriages? Measuring the Reliability of Marriage Histories

Sophia Chae, Arizona State University

Marriage histories provide an invaluable source of information for researchers investigating nuptiality. While researchers typically acknowledge the problems associated with their use, such as misreporting dates and omitting unsuccessful or short marriages, it is unknown to what extent these problems occur and how they affect our knowledge of marriage in Sub-Saharan Africa. Ideally, the validity of marriage histories would be measured by comparing them against public records; however, this is not feasible in many parts of Africa. Alternatively, their reliability can be measured by comparing marriage histories of the same respondent from two different points in time. I do this using data from the Malawi Longitudinal Study of Families and Health. I investigate whether respondents consistently report their spouse(s), status of marriage, and dates of marriage across two survey waves. Because I find evidence of misreporting, I test how underreporting marriages and inconsistently reporting marriage dates affect marriage indicators.

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Presented in Session 216: Insights and Lessons for Improving Collection and Use of Existing Demographic Data Generation Systems