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Bride and Groom HandsTo many people in Western societies, the idea of an arranged marriage may sound old-fashioned or, worse, repressive. After all, shouldn’t love and romance be the main motivations behind the decision to marry? How happy can your life be if other people are making decisions and agreements about who you’re going to have and hold? Although the practice has declined in many countries over the past two centuries, pre-arranged unions are still very common in South Asia and parts of the Middle East. Let’s take a closer look at this method of joining two in wedlock.

Examining the Data

You might be surprised at some of the numbers surrounding arranged marriages. It is estimated that over half the unions in the world are ones that involved an arrangement. Considering that the practice is still common in some of the world’s most populous nations like India, this shouldn’t come as a shock. You may be surprised, however, by the following information:

  • Arranged marriages account for an estimated 53% of matrimonies worldwide, but the divorce rates are about 6%, much lower than that of autonomous unions (40 to 50%).
  • In India, which is believed to account for almost 90% of global pre-negotiated espousals, only 1 to 3% of them end in divorce.
  • Divorce rates amongst other cultures with these types of mergers include 1% for the Amish in the United States and 7% for Orthodox Jews in Israel.

You might conclude that arranged marriages are better for participants, but there are other cultural factors that may account for the low divorce rates.

Defining Pre-Arranged Unions

In most cultures, these unions are usually coordinated by the parents of the future spouses or by contracting with a professional matchmaker. Different types of previously negotiated mergers exist:

  • Consensual: Parents or guardians select and then the individuals are consulted.
  • Self-selected: The individuals choose and then parents or guardians consider with the power to veto.
  • Exogamous: A third party finds and selects a couple irrespective of socioeconomic or cultural groups.
  • Endogamous: A third party makes connections based on socioeconomic or cultural groups.
  • Consanguineous: This refers to nuptials where the bride and groom share a grandparent or other near ancestor. This is often observed with first cousin and second cousin matrimonies in places like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and parts of North Africa.

In nearly all the above, participants can choose to give or withdraw consent. Forced marriages and child marriages, which are largely condemned, are not synonymous with the types of unions described above. Marriages of convenience, where two people tie the knot for personal gain, political reasons, hiding sexual orientation, citizenship, etc., are also distinct from pre-arranged unions.

Doing the Work

You might think of an arranged marriage as one where a bride and groom meet for the first time a few days or less before the wedding. That may be true in some cultures, but the reality is that many of these arrangements take considerable time and work, especially on the part of the ones coordinating the union. It is common for the future bride or groom to have a considerable amount of input in finding a spouse. Netflix’s 2020 documentary series “Indian Matchmaking” featured a consultant who worked on making matches among a range of clients, many of whom lived in the West and provided information and feedback about what they wanted in a partner. Communication was a major part in plans, and participants often expressed their hopes, concerns and ambivalence about meeting someone through a matchmaker.

Although autonomous couplings based in love and romance are what many of us envision for marriage, over half of global weddings are previously arranged, either involving parents or matchmakers or both. While the divorce rates would seem to suggest that an arranged marriage is the way to go, there are varying opinions on why these unions tend to last. Still, it’s important to keep an open mind about how things are done in other cultures.

Category: Marriage


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