Arranged marriages are marriages in which family members take a significant role in bringing a couple together. Relatives, particularly parents, often take the initiative to find, evaluate, and approve potential spouses for their children. In some cases, the couple may marry while still relative strangers under the expectation that they will develop a loving relationship over time. These marriages are in contrast to so-called "love marriages," in which a couple is drawn together by mutual attraction and makes the decision to marry on their own. While often associated with cultures in the Middle East, Africa, and India, these arrangements are not unknown in Western countries, particularly among immigrant populations.
Reasons for Arranged Marriages
Religious or cultural issues, preservation of wealth, or the formation of political alliances are common reasons for arranged marriages. Those who practice family-led courtship and marriage may also argue that such relationships tend to be happier and more stable than those that result from modern, western dating practices.
Religious and Cultural Issues
Many religions and cultures have taboos against the interaction of unmarried people of different sexes. In Islam and some branches of Orthodox Judaism, for example, social segregation of the sexes is the norm, making it difficult for individuals to meet potential spouses on their own. Many cultures also view marriage as an alliance between families, rather than just between two individuals. Families want to make sure that new spouses will make suitable family members, and the best way to ensure compatibility is to be involved in the process of choosing the spouse.
Dynastic and Financial
Historically, families often negotiated marriages to reinforce political alliances or to consolidate wealth. Royalty and nobility typically arranged marriages between their children and the children of other royal and noble houses for political reasons, such as to ensure peace or solidify agreements between nations. A family with significant wealth and property might also encourage its children to marry others with similar or greater amounts of money to maintain the same level of wealth. Those families with high social standing but little money, on the other hand, might arrange a marriage to a wealthy person of lower social status; such a marriage could stabilize the noble family's finances while raising the social status of the lower-ranking family.
Supporters of arranged marriage often claim that parents usually have a good understanding of what will give their children long-term happiness, making them ideal candidates for choosing the child's spouse. Sociological studies have shown that individuals from similar backgrounds have a better chance of having a happy marriage. When parents arrange a marriage for their children, they are likely to focus on areas of mutual compatibility other than sexual attraction, which can fade over time. Without other factors holding relationships together, such as mutual respect, similar values, and family support, couples are at higher risk of divorce.
The Matchmaking Process
The process for bringing two people together as potential spouses varies by cultural and personal preferences. In many communities, a professional matchmaker introduces men and women to each other in hopes of making a match. Friends or family members may also take it upon themselves to make introductions. In the late 20th century, Internet-based matchmaking services also became available, allowing parents of marriage-age children to consider candidates from around the world.
A significant part of the matchmaking process is the sharing of information about potential spouses. Families and candidates for marriage may receive photographs and detailed reports on a person's family, education, and finances. In some cultures, the family may also consult a fortuneteller or astrologer to determine whether the marriage will be successful. If both families are comfortable with the information provided, they may choose to investigate the possibility of arranging a union.
While some families may arrange a marriage in which the spouses don’t meet until their wedding day, many communities discourage this practice. Instead, a man and a woman are encouraged to get to know each other before an engagement or wedding. Some families may permit the couple to meet several times in the presence of a chaperone or even to spend time alone in a public place.
As is true for other aspects of an arranged marriage, family, cultural, and religious customs dictate the engagement process. In some cases, the bride's family must approach the groom’s family, while in other cases the groom's family takes the initiative. The matchmaker may be entrusted with bringing a proposal to either side. The engagement may require the families to draw up a marriage contract that may include some type of financial settlement, such as a dowry.
An arranged marriage is not the same as a forced marriage. Typically, parents grant their children veto power over who they will (or will not) marry. In addition, both civil and religious law often forbids using coercion to get someone to marry against his or her will. For example, Islam explicitly prohibits marriages without consent and requires a woman to agree to the marriage three times in front of witnesses. Unfortunately, forced marriages do take place in some places, and laws against the practice are not always enforced.
Arguments Against Arranged Marriages
Despite strong support for arranged marriages in some cultures and communities, many people oppose them. Opponents note that some families are insensitive to or unaware of their children’s needs and desires, and therefore may arrange unions that lead to unhappiness on either or both sides. In addition, some families may be primarily concerned with social status or financial gain in making a match between their children; this can lead to marriages between people who are otherwise incompatible.
Exploitation and abuse sometimes occur under the guise of arranged marriage. These problems include forced marriages, those involving underage children, and immigration fraud. Some countries, such as the United Kingdom, have enacted strict immigration laws that require couples to meet in person at least once before the government will issue a marriage visa to the non-citizen partner.
Sociologists note that divorce rates in countries where arranged marriages are common are often significantly lower than in countries where people choose their own spouses. While some experts credit the parent-led courtship process for producing better relationships, not everyone agrees with this analysis. Some critics point out that cultures that practice arranged marriage typically also frown on divorce. This may mean while divorce is less common, the marriages themselves may not be happy or healthy relationships.