Courtship and Marriage

The vast majority of adult mestizo Mexicans are living in some kind of conjugal union (Mier y Teran, 1996). Age at the first birth is, on average, around 20 (Mier y Teran, 1996, p. 327). Ideally, the potential groom is expected to visit the woman's parents with his father and godfather and make a formal request for her hand. If the parents consent, the couple should be married by civil and canon law. The bride should be a virgin. The groom's family or the groom himself will pay the costs. The legal age for women to marry is 14; for men it is 16. However, the reality is that a significant number of couples live in what is called a unión libre, a consensual union (Del Castillo, 1993). Couples may also elope without notifying their parents in order to force a marriage of which their parents may disapprove.

Sometimes, men maintain more than one family, an institution called casa chica (small house) in contrast to the casa grande (big house), which belongs to the legal wife and children (Finkler, 1994, p. 59). Although monogamy is the norm, this type of de facto polygyny is common, especially for the middle and upper classes who also have the necessary resources to finance it (Finkler, 1994, p. 59; Gutmann, 1996, p. 140). Often the man does not take the responsibility for his out-of-wedlock offspring and refuses either to divorce his wife or to set up a casa chica. Accordingly, the number of single mothers, madres solteras, has risen (LeVine, 1993, p. 92).

Expectations and realities of marriage often diverge. Girls dream of a harmonious marriage on the basis of love and trust (LeVine, 1993, p. 81). However, the early years of marriage can be especially depressing due to severe misunderstandings, infidelity, domestic violence, and alcoholism (Finkler, 1994; LeVine, 1993, pp. 79-89). Opportunities to meet a potential novio (fiancé) are more numerous for girls today, although significant variations between rural and urban areas still exist (LeVine, 1993). Today, girls have more opportunities to meet boys because they are in school longer.

Given the high numbers of conjugal unions, an unmarried childless adult living on his or her own is a rare thing. Often, widows and abandoned wives do not remarry; rather, they stay with their children (Melhuus, 1996).

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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