Husband Wife Eating Arrangements

The nature of the husband-wife relationship is influenced in part by how eating arrangements are patterned in a society. Spouses may eat meals together or apart, or a wife may keep her husband company and serve him while he has his meal but not eat with him.

In 65% of a sample of 117 societies around the world, husbands and wives eat their meals together (Broude & Greene, 1983). This was the pattern among the North American Papago, where husbands and wives not only shared meals but also ate out of same dish as a symbol of the intimacy of their bond (Underhill, 1939). Husbands and wives may eat together even when marriages are polygynous. For example, among the Tanala of Madagascar, a man and all his wives eat together. On any given day, one wife cooks for the entire household (Linton, 1933).

In 35% of the 117 societies, spouses eat their meals separately. In roughly a fourth of these societies, a wife will serve her husband his meal, and perhaps chat with him, but women do not eat their own meals in the presence of their husbands. In New Guinea, a Manus husband and wife do not eat together until they have had a few children together or else they have been married for some years. Instead of eating with his spouse, a Manus husband may have meals at his sister's house.

Meanwhile, the sister's own husband will eat elsewhere (Mead, 1930). Among the polygynous Katab of Nigeria, all wives eat together, the junior wives joining the senior wife on her porch, while the husband eats elsewhere (Gunn, 1956).

Eating arrangements tend to reflect overall patterns of husband-wife interaction. Where spouses eat together, they are also likely to sleep and spend their leisure time together. Men's houses tend to be absent in such cultures. Conversely, where spouses eat separately, they also sleep and spend their leisure time apart and men's houses are likely to be present (Broude, 1983).

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