COVID-19 and Marriage Migration in Kerala

Marriage migration is the largest permanent migration in the state of Kerala, and the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about changes in its patterns. Krishnakumar C.S. and Jayakumar M.S. write about these shifts, and their potential socio-economic impacts on Kerala’s society.

Krishnakumar C.S. and Jayakumar M.S.

image of the close-up of a priest holding the hands of a newly married couple.
Image: Shijan Kaakkara/Wikicommons

Marriage migration is a rarely discussed topic in Kerala, though it is the largest permanent migration in the state, having significant economic, social, cultural, physical, and demographic implications. Irrespective of religion, migration is allied to marriage as an indispensable cultural practice in the state. As per the last Census (2011) of India, marriage is the reason for migration for around 51 per cent of women and 7.4 per cent of men in the state. Most of the marriages in Kerala are still arranged by kin along caste, class, and religious lines. They are also guided by the geographical distributions of caste and religions. The skewed pattern of gender in marriage migration is largely determined by the patriarchal social structure prevailing across caste and religious domains in the state. 

In the past, the distance covered in marriage migration in the state was usually quite short. But now, consequent to economic liberalization and globalization, the modernization of industries and technological development across the globe have opened new avenues for young Malayalis. Their perceptions of marriage also underwent changes. Digital media such as online marriage portals, social media, and other internet-based media have changed the means of family formation across distant places. Now, educated women choose men as partners from afar and vice versa. Nevertheless, the aforementioned skews continue to shape marriage migration.

Socio-economic Implications and Policy Needs

Even though women in Kerala play crucial roles in education, health, and economic development, the society still remains patriarchal as crucial decisions are made by men. After marriage, the wife usually moves to her husband’s house and settles there. This has larger implications in socio-economic and demographic spheres. Marriage migration leads to redistribution of population and significant changes in the age structure of the population at the macro and micro levels. As a social practice, it separates women from their place of origin/birth and adds to the place of destination. Along with this happens the movement of capital of various kinds, including human and social. Therefore, it makes significant structural changes in the labour force, demographic dividend, human capital, and wealth transfer.

While the impact of marriage migration on society and development is complex, few have studied this phenomenon. However, available evidence suggests that compared to others, marriage migration is greater among poor and less educated women. In general, marriage migration is negatively related to work participation rate and effective literacy rate at the state level (Krishnakumar and Jayakumar, 2019).

In most cases, marriage migration is permanent in nature. The woman would continue to live in her husband’s home or place. After marriage, her movement and freedom are very often restricted by her husband, his family, or both. It is possible that she may not get emotional support from the in-laws. Very often, she has to build new social capital within the constraints set by her husband or family. This may be one of the factors that negatively affect the empowerment or agency of women after marriage.

Elsewhere, we have pointed out the need for a policy for the welfare of marriage migrants at the state level (Krishnakumar and Jayakumar, 2019). Such a policy must address the issues of dowry, marriage expenses, women’s agency, verbal and physical violence at the destination, and protection of the migrant’s assets, particularly physical and financial assets. At the grassroots level, the policy must ensure that marriage migrants live with dignity and safety. Understanding the cultural and ground realities of India, we advocate such a policy for all states and at a national level.

Marriage Migration Post COVID-19: Mitigating Health and Financial Risks

During the COVID-19 pandemic, reports indicate significant changes in marriage patterns and marriage migration. In most of the families, lockdown and other restrictions have badly impacted livelihood. Besides, return migration from the Gulf and other regions would escalate unemployment, economic constraints, and social issues in the state. It is possible that many youths would have to postpone their marriage for some time, or may even discard their decision to marry in the near future. They are also likely to seek alliances from nearby places.

There is great risk involved in getting pregnant during pandemics like COVID-19. Prenatal and postnatal care also became risky at this time. Therefore, awareness programmes to postpone pregnancy may help avoid risks.

Marriage has become an important occasion to showcase the social status of a family through the extravaganza in the ceremonies. Restrictions to social gatherings have resulted in the postponement of a large number of marriages, with negative outcomes not only for the number of pregnancies but also for marriage migrations. In the lockdown period, most of the individual marriage brokers and marriage bureaus have stopped functioning, barring a few online marriage portals, pointing to the lower demand for their services. If pandemic conditions persist for the long term, this would increase the age of marriage that would in turn reflect on marriage migration rates.

Even before the pandemic, costs related to the marriage of daughters was unaffordable for many families. Many cooperative banks provide loans for marriages. The neighbourhood groups of Kudumbasree organization too extend support for marriage. However, the debates over the outcome of these initiatives still continue. The heavy financial burden of marriage puts households into heavy debt, with skyrocketing gold prices adding fuel to the fire. In the future, it is possible that more restrictions, self-imposed as well as governmental, would have to come into force on the expenses and mode of marriages. Therefore, more studies are required to understand the impact of the pandemic on various aspects of marriage and marriage migration in Kerala. 


  • Krishnakumar C.S and Jayakumar M.S. (2019), Marriage Migration in India: Exploring the Dimensions, Research Report, Inter-University Centre for Alternative Economics, Department of Economics, University of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram.

About the authors: Krishnakumar C.S. is Director at the Institute of Development Research, Thiruvananthapuram. His areas of interest are demography of health, human development, and migration. He can be reached at krishnaidr[at]gmail[dot]com.

Jayakumar M.S. is Director at the Centre for Diaspora Studies, University of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram. His areas of specialization are migration and diaspora, social exclusion, and ageing and technology. He can be contacted at jayanmadhavan[at]gmail[dot]com.


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  1. Very good article 👌👌….It is a serious issue … Restrictions on marriage expenses are necessary while considering gold prices. People have to move back from building up fake dignity on the basis of marriage expenses and dowry . Once again congratulations to authors for this more relevant article.

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