Arranged marriage, contrary to popular belief, is not a thing of the past. In fact, the practice of arranged marriage is traditional in many countries around the world. Students nowadays tend to have little to no knowledge about arranged marriage or is likely to be misinformed about the subject. In line with that, this essay aims to shed light on the topic of arranged marriages and why certain traditional practices like this should not be shunned as it aims to keep a cultural identity alive.
What is an arranged marriage?
An arranged marriage happens when the couple to be wed is introduced by each other by their parents or other family members, a matchmaker, or by an agency. Because the marriage partners may or may not be consulted, this situation implies a strong sense of family loyalty (Uberoi, 1993). An arranged marriage is a type of mate selection in which the individuals getting married has little or no choice in selecting a spouse because family members — usually parents — are more influential in the process.
In sociology, arranged marriages are viewed and studied as a particular form of mate selection. The practice of arranged marriages adds to the understanding of the functions of marriage, types of social authority, and the nature of the families living in traditional societies. However, arranged marriages are considered by some countries as unacceptable in principle when love matches are open for choosing. What these people fail to notice is that arranged marriages are certainly not rare, as a 55% of existing marriages today are comprised of arranged marriages.
Needless to say, the concept of arranged marriage is viewed differently by different people. In the Middle Ages, the kinship unit was very important in the transmission of property and the protection of the individual and the family. The bride and the groom were the least important unit in forming of a marriage because parents, other kin, the church, and the community all played major roles.
Accordingly, marriages in the Middle Ages – with similar events occurring in modern times – are done in the name of creating an alliance between feuding families or countries. Not only would this kind of arranged marriage continue to enhance the value of the kinship group, but also it would help keep the tradition of endogamy (a societal expectation that individuals should marry partners very much like themselves in terms of race, ethnicity, and class).
The practice of arranged marriages began in India and is done in an effort to unite and maintain their status and riches. In the traditional Hindu society, the practice of arranged marriage has been highly influenced by the fact that males and females were prohibited from intermingling. So in order to find a partner, they rely on their parents to make the matches that are suitable for them.
This means that a parent – or kin, matchmaker, agency, or technology for the modern times – is responsible for looking for the perfect match for their offspring. In the olden days, couples who were involved in the practice of arranged marriage could not express their opinion. Their parents base on the match’s social, educational, and economic background and also their age. In the modern era, even the likes and hobbies of the match is considered. The major difference with the traditional and modern practice of arranged marriages is the fact that the individuals have the right to refuse the match that has been made for them if the person is not to their liking after a few dates.
As mentioned earlier, the number of married people owing their marriage to arranged marriage is quite high as the number reached more than half of the married population all over the world. In India, 90% of the married couples comprise of arranged marriages with a little over 1% of them getting divorced. The divorce rate of couples wedded by arranged marriages is only 6.3% which is significantly lower compared to countries prioritizing love matches.
Are arranged marriages inferior to love matches?
Knowledge gained from studying unions of arranged marriages is useful in understanding and comparing the degree of satisfaction found among partners and the success of marital unions. If marriages based on arranged marriages is compared to with marriages based on romantic love or free choice by the marital partners, facts prove that arranged marriages are likely to last longer than love matches, be more satisfying in the long run, be more realistic and practical, and create more partner compatibility.
Moreover, in comparison with arranged marriages, romantic unions do result in a higher divorce rate, which may indicate more intense involvement, idealization of the marital partner, and subsequent disillusionment, leading to marital dissolution. On the other hand, arranged marriages are scrutinized by those who favor free choice in mate selection. This group argues that romantic unions result in greater marital happiness than in family arranged unions because the attraction is more immediate and compatibility more realistic.
Some individuals prefer to steer a middle course between having completely free choice and having a mate chosen for them. Choosing to blend the two together is a way for them to seek their own mate yet obtain family approval to avoid the risks of opposing their parents entirely. Moreover, these individuals may also want more free choice in seeing and communicating with prospective mates before the actual marriage.
What is the purpose of arranged marriages?
Arranged marriage is being practiced in many countries due to different reasons. Traditionally, arranged marriages was done in order to build alliances or strengthen relationships. Other than that, arranged marriage is used to strengthen family ties, keep the wealth secured, maintain reputation, and ensure a suitable alliance – not just for the individuals to be wed, but also for the family or clan. Even today, some of those habits have been carried on.
Marriage in traditional Japan meant that a couple became permanent members of an extended household and were expected to fulfill familial obligations. They were providing a vital link to ancestors by bringing infants into the world and taking care of elders soon to leave the world. Because of these important cultural mandates, it made sense that parents, rather than sons and daughters, would select marriage partners.
Recent studies done in India and Bangladesh listed a number of functions that arranged marriages serve. According to the studies, arranged marriages helped to maintain social stratification, to affirm and strengthen parental power over children, to keep family traditions and value system intact, to consolidate and extend family property, to enhance the value of the kinship group, to maintain the tradition of endogamy – a societal expectation that individuals should marry partners very much like themselves in terms of race, ethnicity, and class – and to aid young people in finding mates.
In looking at China’s modern-day society, it is possible to see how the communist government attempted to eradicate such aspects of traditional society by declaring arranged marriages to be invalid in the 1950s. Individuals in China were encouraged to select their own mates without parental consent, thus greater loyalty to the state than to the family. However, China’s policy was not accepted by many of the older generation. They maintained control over their children’s marriages because they had the economic resources to do so. The children could legally win the right to select their own spouse, but it was difficult to disobey parents with whom they might have had to live after marriage.
The authority of parents cannot be overemphasized. When the young live close to their parents and are dependent on them, parental power remains strong. If parents can arrange their children’s marriages while they are young, children will have fewer resources with which to oppose their parents. They are also more likely to be molded into a family culture with strict requirements.
Is the custom of arranged marriage still being practiced today?
Looking at the North American society, arranged marriages were common before the twentieth century. Parents in those times had more authority over their children, and marriages involved more practical considerations than they do today. It was when the institution of dating came into existence in the North American society that young men and women began making their own choices in mate selection.
However, it should be noted that the introduction of the automobile, the telephone, the existence of co-educational schools and colleges gave young men and women greater mobility and more opportunities to meet and communicate on their own. Although the majority of American parents do not, strictly speaking, arrange marriages for their children, both parents and society influence the choices that young people make in selecting mates in a number of ways. These influential external factors include friends and dating applications modern technology offers.
For example, individuals within the same social class are more likely to go to similar social functions and the same schools, and to live in the same neighborhoods. Some parents may also show strong disapproval of dating partners selected by their children. The trend still seems that the control of parents is likely to be stronger in families of higher social class, and is also dependent on how traditional the culture is.
Today, India still carries on the tradition of conducting arranged marriages not only to keep tradition alive, but because they have found arranged marriages to be extremely beneficial and successful. Apart from India, arranged marriages is still present in many Southeast Asian countries like China, Japan, and Korea. Other countries with similar traditions or cultural identities like Afghanistan, Israel, and Bangladesh also continue to practice arranged marriage.
From a sociology point of view in understanding how arranged marriages can be applied in today’s societies, we can see that the study of arranged marriages helps in analyzing societies going through transitions that are influenced by Western practices. The study of arranged marriages makes it possible to see whether cultural traditions are being maintained or lost. And as seen with the way arranged marriages is prevalent nowadays, colonialism has failed to erase some of the most striking cultural traditions that this world has.
In highly traditional societies such as those of India and Pakistan, filial piety is strong, and females have long been dependent on their families for economic and social support. As these countries become more industrialized, educational levels for both men and women rise, as do their opportunities for employment. These two factors are associated with a decrease in arranged marriages as the need for stability decreased in both parties. Consistent with this trend, one finds that areas that are more urbanized have higher rates of free-choice or love match marriages, while rural areas have a predominance of arranged marriages.
Finally, although it is likely that industrialized nations will have a weaker system of arranged marriages and a greater prevalence of marriages by choice, this does not mean that the system of arranged marriages will completely disappear. The concept of arranged marriage will evolve with the times and may even fuse with modern beliefs. It has already started now, as the matched couple has a right to decline the arranged marriage.
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Flanigan, S. (2017, October). Arranged Marriages, Matchmakers, and Dowries in India – Postcolonial Studies. Scholar Blogs. https://scholarblogs.emory.edu/postcolonialstudies/2014/06/20/arranged-marriages-matchmakers-and-dowries-in-india/
Uberoi, P. (1993). Family, Kinship and Marriage in India. Oxford University Press.