Billions of people live in arranged marriages. Why?
Posted Apr 27, 2010
In Western cultures, the choice of a spouse is up to the individual. We have institutions like dating that give young people a chance to accumulate relevant experience over a number of years, so that they can make an informed decision. In a way, dating offers the kind of experience with intimate relationships that summer jobs, externships, and volunteer work provide for youth in making career decisions.
In traditional societies, parents or other designated individuals choose a person's spouse (and occupation). These are sometimes called arranged marriages, in contrast to love marriages, though there are many varieties of each. A common rationale for arranged marriages is that young people are too immature and impulsive to make a wise choice, and experienced elders are likely to do better. In addition, in the West one chooses a partner to fulfill oneself, while in non-Western collectivist cultures, one's primary responsibility is to the group-to one's parents, kin group, ancestors, and others--all of whom have contributed to make one's current life possible and to whom one is obligated.
A study in Jaipur, India a few decades ago found that people in love marriages were more in love for the first five years, while those in arranged marriages were more in love for the next 30 years. (Of course, since Indian love marriages are viewed as immoral, their difficulties may be due at least as much to social stigma as to poor matches.) People do not expect to love their spouse at first-love is seen as something that develops (when it does) over time and through shared experiences.
Because the choice of spouse is not up to the individual, some traditional cultures keep young men and women apart to prevent sexual temptation from wreaking havoc. In public, a variety of devices from chaperones to burkhas maintain this separation. In some cases, the bride and groom may meet for the first time at the wedding. Even after marriage, gender segregation may continue at home, where-except for the married couple--women's social life exists behind closed doors and away from men.
Traditional cultures consider marriage as primarily an economic arrangement, and sex-apart from providing children-as a potential threat to larger and more important issues, such as feeding the extended family and caring for grandparents in their old age. For the same practical reasons, divorce is strongly discouraged. While these views seem unromantic to Americans, we are also aware that pregnant teens and divorced parents can look forward to harder economic times than monogamous couples.
I gave the Indian professors a candid appraisal of their prospective son-in-law's academic credentials. Different strokes for different folks.
Image Source: Yann Forget: Indian wedding http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Indian_wedding.jpg
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