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The Middle East today is a very youthful region, due to the consequences of the demographic transition. As mortality declined and life spans rose, youthful cohorts are now marrying later in life. Delayed marriage has become the norm, particularly for men who may not marry until their late twenties or thirties. The political and economic context of delayed marriage is causing debate and controversy in the Muslim world, since early and universal marriage had been the norm and sexuality had been linked to marriage.

The consequences and meaning of the youth bulge in the region, however, can only be fully comprehended if we examine the political economy of youth through the lens of the "marriage imperative." It is not only the demographic transition, the greater participation of women in the labor force and education, changing gender norms, or globalization which has delayed marriage.

The financial costs surrounding marriage (housing, dower, jewelry, celebrations, furniture and furnishings) themselves may be the source of delayed marriage as young people and their families wait years before they can accumulate the massive sums needed to marry. Through statistical, economic, political, and anthropological data, this paper first highlights the financial pressures that marriage places on young people and their families. The paper argues that we must conceptualize the political economy of youth through the lens of the "marriage imperative" because the financial investment in marriage takes years to accumulate and influences other key transitions of adolescence, including schooling, employment, education, and identity formation.

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