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THE BRIDES OF BOKO HARAM: ECONOMIC SHOCKS, MARRIAGE PRACTICES, AND INSURGENCY IN NIGERIA
Unmarried young men are often believed to cause social unrest. This paper documents that imbalances in the marriage market are indeed linked to greater violence in the context of the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria. Marriage markets in rural Nigeria are characterized by the customs of bride-price – pre-marital payments from the groom to the family of the bride – and polygamy. These norms diminish marriage prospects for young men, causing them to join violent insurgencies. Using an instrumental variables strategy, I find that greater inequality of brides among men increases the incidence of militant activity by Boko Haram. To instrument for marriage inequality, I exploit the fact that young women delay marriage in response to good pre-marital economic conditions, which increases marriage inequality more in polygamous villages. Supporting the mechanism, I find that the same positive female income shocks which increase marriage inequality and extremist activity also reduce female marriage hazard, lead women to marry richer and more polygamous husbands, generate higher average marriage expenditures, and increase abductions and violence against women. The results shed light on the marriage market as an important but hitherto neglected driver of violent extremism.
Keywords: marriage market, traditional cultural practices, extremism, conflict, income shocks