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"Marriage à-la-mode: The Marriage Contract" by William Hogarth: a satire on arranged marriages.

This is a background article. See [Psychological aspects of aranged marriage]] An arranged marriage is a marriage that is established before involving oneself in a lengthy courtship, and often involves the arrangement of someone other than the persons getting married. Such marriages are relatively rare, but still numerous in the Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia. Other groups that practice this custom include the Unification Movement, royal families and devout Hindus.

An arranged marriage involves the parents of the married couple to varying degrees:

  • In a forced marriage, the parents choose their son's or daughter's future spouse with no input from the son or daughter. This form of arranged marriage is rare in so-called Western societies, but not quite as rare in other parts of the world. If the son or daughter refuses the choice, he or she may be punished, or in rare cases, killed. In most such cases, the marriage simply takes place anyway, overriding the bride's or bridegroom's objections. Motivating factors for such a marriage tend to be social or economic, i.e., the interests of the family or community that are served by the marriage are seen as paramount, and the will of the individual is insignificant.
  • In a traditional arranged marriage (not forced), the parents choose their son's or daughter's future spouse with some input from the bride or bridegroom to be. If either the son or daughter refuse the choice, the parents tend to respect their wishes and choose another possible spouse. However, considerable pressure may be brought to bear to make the potential bride or bridegroom see the reasoning. The main motivating factor in such marriages is the happiness of the son or daughter, but viewed from a paternalistic/maternalistic angle ("Parents know best").
  • In a modern arranged marriage, the involvement of the prospective bride or bridegroom is considerably more. Parents choose several possible candidates. The parents will then arrange a meeting with the family of the prospective mate, and the couple will often have a short, unsupervised "date". They will then eventually choose whom they wish to marry, although parents may exert some degree of pressure on the child to make a certain choice. The happiness of the child is the main concern, and the parents see their role as responsible facilitators and well-wishers.
  • A modern arranged marriage with courtship is the same as the above, except that the children have a chance to get to know each other over a longer period of time via e-mail, phone, or multiple "dates", before making a decision. It takes considerably more courage on the part of the parents as well as the to be spouses to go through this process. Some girls actually prefer a short courtship as they fear the stigma and emotional trauma of being rejected after a courtship.
  • Finally, in an introduction only arranged marriage, the parents will introduce their son or daughter to a potential spouse. The parents may briefly talk to the parents of the prospective spouse. From that point on, it is up to the children to manage the relationship and make a choice.

In almost all of the above cases, except the forced marriage and the traditional arranged marriage, the son or daughter is free to ignore the process and find a mate on their own. The parents then tend to take over and handle the logistical and financial aspects of the union.

In many cultures that are modernising, many young adults increasingly tend to view arranged marriage as an option they can fall back on if they are unable or unwilling to spend the time and effort necessary to find a spouse on their own or even a superior alternative to seeking a spouse than social dating. The parents then become welcome partners in a hunt for marital bliss. In cultures where dating, singles' bars, etc., are not prevalent, arranged marriages perform a similar function--bringing together people who might otherwise not have met. Further, in several cultures, the 'last duty' of a parent to his or her son or daughter is to see that they pass through the marital rites.

Sometimes, the term "arranged marriage" is used even if the parents have no direct involvement in selecting the spouse. This could mean a meeting through a matchmaking site or third party. In many communities, priests or religious leaders as well as trusted relatives or family friends play a major role in matchmaking.

In India, "Love marriages" are sometimes called "Self-arranged marriages", perhaps to avoid some of the negative opinions that are still held against young people choosing their own partners.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

"Marriage of convenience" is a term sometimes applied if a couple decides to marry primarily for reasons other than love. This term might be applied to an arranged marriage, but does not necessarily imply an arranged marriage. The term carries negative connotations and would not usually be used to describe one's own marriage.

Proponents' views

Reduction or elimination of incompatibilities
Since marital incompatibility has been found to be the major reason for divorce [How to reference and link to summary or text], arranged marriages might ensure a higher probability of success because they tend to match persons of the same religion, caste, dietary preference (e.g., vegetarian), linguistic group, age group, socioeconomic background, education, professional status, physical stature, etc [How to reference and link to summary or text]. (One can argue about the negative effects of this strategy, such as inbreeding, but to the couple concerned, it can represent a net positive. There is still scope for significant differences in personality to make the marriage interesting, so arranged marriages do not have to be bland [How to reference and link to summary or text].)
Following one's head is often wiser than following one's heart
Important decisions such as a corporate merger must make business sense to practical analysts and not just appeal to the whimsies of the respective CEOs. What is idealistically called "love" and "individual choice" can sometimes be the infatuation of the moment [How to reference and link to summary or text], which often passes when it is too late and the marriage has already taken place[How to reference and link to summary or text]. Having elders vet the prospective spouse and their family is a kind of "due diligence" that needs to take place[How to reference and link to summary or text].
Lower divorce rates
Though this factor has been under-researched, many proponents of arranged marriages attribute near zero percent divorce rates (to somewhere around 4% suspected) to couple that have had arranged marriages (in contrast to a 50% divorce rate for the US).[1] In India, the divorce rate is very low, even in love-marriages (although for love marriages the divorce rate is higher than for arranged marriages[How to reference and link to summary or text]). This is often attributed to the fact that couples who enter into arranged marriages (in contrast to forced marriages where there is a higher risk of domestic violence/dispute) are usually more "traditional" and less likely to forfeit a marriage.
This reinforces the contention that for Eastern societies (India, Pakistan and Middle East in particular), marriage is a vehicle for societal and economic aggrandisement.
Low expectations
Neither the man nor the woman knows quite what to expect, and there is a lot of understandable trepidation on both sides. This often works out well, because things turn out to be "not so bad after all"[How to reference and link to summary or text]. This is largely thanks to reasons one and two above. Most incompatibilities have been eliminated, and due diligence has confirmed the suitability of the prospective spouse.
Other arguments
Parents and other relatives who have been involved in the marriage arrangements have an emotional investment in the success of the marriage and form a valuable support group to the couple[How to reference and link to summary or text]. If there are problems in the marriage, well-meaning elders may intervene to sort things out. (Of course, this is a two-edged sword — outside interference can often make things worse between a couple.)
The debate surrounds one main question: can an individual be trusted to make his or her own decision about choosing a mate, and if not, can the parents do a better job of it?
Compounding that, the debate depends on variables such as the closeness of the family, whether divorce is acceptable, and societal expectations which can vary greatly among and within cultures.
Proponents of arranged marriage often feel that individuals can be too easily influenced by the effects of love to make a logical choice.[1] In these societies, including China, the intragenerational relationship of the family is much more valued than the marital relationship. The whole purpose of the marriage is to have a family.[2] But, even if they do not love each other at first, a greater understanding between the two would develop, aided by their often similar socioeconomic, religious, political, and cultural backgrounds.[3] Proponents may also feel that marriages simply based on romance are doomed to failure due to the partners having unreasonable expectations of each other and with the relationship having little room for improvement.[3]
Furthermore, proponents believe that parents can be trusted to make a match that is in the best interests of their children. They hold that parents have much practical experience to draw from and not be misguided by emotions and hormones.[3] Opponents will note that there are times when the choosers select a match that serves their interests or the family's interests and not necessarily the couple’s pleasure and find this unacceptable.[3] However, the community and even the children may see this as an acceptable risk with potential benefits.
If potential partners in a marriage enjoy full freedom to veto persons they do not want to marry, and merely rely on their parents and elder relatives to act as trusted,level-headed introducers and advisers who have their best interests at heart, then arranged marriages become little more than a family dating service with some pre-marriage counselling.

Opponents' views

Much of the stated opposition to the concept of arranged marriages is actually an opposition to forced marriages. In the West very few would defend forced marriages where the individuals being married have no veto over the decision. Coercion violates fundamental principles of human rights and civilized society. A concern is that people can "find themselves stuck in marriages with persons decidedly not of their own choosing...whom they may find personally repulsive.[3]

There is also frequent criticism of arranged marriages being "loveless". This has, however, been disputed by many people in happy (arranged) marriages who claim that love grows in a marriage, even if the marriage does not start with love. This is ultimately a matter of personal opinion. Many people simply cannot accept the prospect of being married to a stranger or to someone they do not already love. Others who have seen happy instances of arranged marriages (e.g., their own parents') are often more sanguine about the concept. Proponents of arranged marriages counteract this argument by highlighting that in love-marriages, "love" is not constant throughout the entire marriage, and often will waver and falter, and even die out.

A third argument is in favor of letting people make their own mistakes, because individuals are the best arbiters of their own lives. By this argument, even if arranged marriages prove to be significantly more stable than "love" marriages, the latter are still preferable. This is considered to be a higher respect for individual autonomy.

Although cultures have built several safeguards against fraud (such as the family's reputation being at stake), there are instances where a key fact is left out during the process of the marriage, only to be learned afterwards. An example might be if one of the spouses has a medical condition that is not disclosed before marriage. Although the marriage may not have occurred had that condition been disclosed prior to marriage, it is very difficult to leave afterwards and there is usually no legal recourse.

Factors in Arranged Marriage

These are major factors taken into account (not necessarily in this order):

  • Reputation- Of the family
  • Vocation-eg. Doctors, Dentists, Lawyers, Engineers etc. preferred
  • Wealth- Especially if the family is abroad (eg. America, England, Australia)
  • Appearance- One that suits the spouse (including height, weight, age, colour, etc.)
  • Values- Traditional/Liberal depending on one's choice
  • Caste/Religion
  • Horoscope- Must match
  • Medical- various unmatches in blood, leading to problems in offspring are coming up as a factor in arranged marriage with increasing importance of almost all the other factors discussed.

Arranged marriage custom

In many cultures, arranged marriage is a handed down tradition. Parents who take their son or daughter's marriage into their own hands have almost always had this happen to them. For some parents there is pressure from the community to conform and in certain cultures, a "love marriage" or even a relationship is considered a failure on the part of the parents to keep control over their child. Children are brought up to have a stronger emphasis on family and their future instead of love.

For some, it is fear of what the community--social and/or religious--will think if their child is not married, often by a certain age. In some cultures, the son or daughter are deemed less likely to find a suitable partner if they are past a certain age, and it is considered folly to try to marry them off at that stage.

The religious and spiritual aspect of arranged marriage can play a large role in finding a "suitable" spouse. Numerology (Horoscopes) are often used in Indian culture to predict the fruitfulness of a particular match. This can sometimes be expressed in a percentage, ie a 70% match.

Caste can play a large role in Indian marriages, as well as salary, education level and social standing (often related to caste). Not only do high castes only marry high castes, but also, almost exclusively, the marriage occurs between the two persons of the same caste and religion (for non-Hindus, the religious sect may take the place of the caste). One reason for Indian parents opting for an Indian arranged marriage, rather than a marriage of mixed races is that the caste cannot be found out or simply does not exist in that culture/country. This ambiguity can create a "fear of the unknown" and so an arranged marriage may be insisted upon.

In Indian culture, Doctors, Accountants, Lawyers and Engineers/Scientists are traditionally valued highly as excellent spouse material, although increasingly salary is becoming more important (from the perspective of finding a groom). From the perspective of finding a bride, the parents traditionally looked at how much dowry the bride's parents could give, though now the practice of dowry has strictly been criminalized by modern Indian law and is relatively uncommon in the west. Dowry is sometimes awarded symbolically as part of a tradition in modern marriages.

Economic principle of arranged marriages

Arranged marriages are sometimes thought to operate on the notion that marriages are primarily an economic union or as a means to bear children. It sees relationships as defined on the basis of economic dimensions on which social-sexual relationships would be based and defined. It has also been said that in some religions where divorce is forbidden (e.g., Catholicism), arranged marriages would work because both husband and wife would exert their best effort to make the marriage a success rather than break up at the slightest conflict. Others object, however, that in an "ordinary" sentimental marriage there would be no reason not to make the same, or even greater effort.

Arranged marriage has been traditionally associated in the past with dowry and bride price. Economists have argued that arranged marriage is less apt to promote the accumulation of wealth and societal growth than love marriage.[4]

Sociopolitics of arranged marriage

In a large number of arranged marriages, the male is older than the female. This age disparity is usually intentional; some societies consider it proper for an older man to be united with a younger woman. In an arranged marriage the woman always seeks a man who is at least equal to if not higher than her in socio-economic status. Rarely does an arranged marriage happen where the man is lower in socio-economic status than the woman, either in socio-economic status, caste, class or by height.

Unification Church Matchings

Rev. Sun Myung Moon has conducted thousands of arranged marriages, called "blessings", mostly for early members of the Unification Movement. Nowadays, Moon rarely performs these matchings himself, although he does still arrange couples from the second generation of Unificationist Blessed Couples.

International arranged marriage

In many arranged marriages, one potential spouse may reside in a wealthy country and the other in a poorer country. For example, the man may be an American of Indian ancestry and the woman may be an Indian living in India who will move to America after the marriage[How to reference and link to summary or text], or the man/woman may be a citizen of the United States of America and the other person is in Russia or another country and is willing to move to the USA after the marriage, and the arrangement is done via an agency or corporation created for such a purpose[How to reference and link to summary or text].

Positive points:

  • The parents of the man may be happier/feel secure knowing that their son is to marry a person of their own country and culture rather than one "corrupted" by Western influences
  • The parents of the girl hope that their daughter enjoys a higher standard of living
  • Couples may be interested to hear about how they grew up differently.

Negative points:

  • Couples may be incompatible due to cultural differences. This can be extremely significant, and sometimes in surprising ways — many Indian families settled abroad tend to have "frozen" Indian values and mindsets while the home country has moved on and adopted more progressive values. It is not rare to find traditional Indian families in the West that look down upon Western values as "immoral", while Indians in India have become more Westernised and permissive.
  • The time window available for the entire process is extremely narrow because prospective girls must be lined up for a series of meetings when the man is able to take leave to travel to India, and the decision must be finalised (and the marriage officially registered) before he leaves, so that visa formalities for the wife can be commenced immediately on his return. Sometimes, two or even three visits (over as many years) are required before a man can finally find a wife and "settle down".
  • The two parties cannot directly see/contact the other person, without travelling to the other country, which would imply a commitment, and increased pressure on making a decision, on a complete stranger.
  • Limited choice — The man is constrained in not being able to choose a person of his liking outside his home country

See also Mail-order bride


  1. Fox, Greer Litton. Love Match and Arranged Marriage in a Modernizing Nation: Mate Selection in Ankara Turkey. Journal of Marriage and the Family, Vol. 37, No. 1 1975-02 pp. 180-193
  2. Reaves, Jo. NEWS: Marriage in China Not So Different than in the West. Asian Pages. St. Paul: May 31, 1994.Vol.4, Iss. 18; pg. 4
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Xu Xiaohe; Martin King Whyte. Love Matches and Arranged Marriages: A Chinese Replication. Journal of Marriage and the Family, Vol. 52, No. 3. (Aug., 1990), pp. 709-722.
  4. Lena Edlund and Nils-Petter Lagerlöf (Implications of Marriage Institutions for Redistribution and Growth), Online Article, first version 2002, revised version 2004:November 27

Further reading

  • Best of Both Worlds: Yes to divorce, but also to arranged marriages. Yes to living in, but also to joint families. Young Indians, across big cities and small towns, want managed modernity and tradition with a twist. In India most families agree with this system.
- Dilip Bobb (Survey by India Today-AC Nielsen-ORG-MARG). India Today. New Delhi: Feb 20, 2006. pg. 36

See also

  • Shim-pua marriage
  • Child marriage
  • Shidduch
  • Bride kidnapping
  • Marriage in South Korea
  • Marriage in Pakistan
  • Arranged marriages in India
  • Arranged marriages in Japan
  • Parental Control

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