Selecting a Spouse

Courtship can be thought of as shopping for a spouse. In some cultures, potential spouses do the shopping, while in others parents and other kin make the selection. We usually refer to these patterns as free-choice and arranged marriage, but these terms are oversimplifications as efforts at cross-cultural coding show (Broude & Greene, 1983). Some extreme cases, such as the United States today and some traditional Asian societies, fit this pair of concepts. The United States exemplifies free-choice for bride and groom with the absence of parental veto power, despite the call in the traditional Christian marriage ceremony for objections to the couple's marrying, and despite the fact that youth want their parents to approve. Basically, Americans believe that they have a right to marry anyone they want, without "interference" from other people. Traditional Japan exemplifies parental shopping with no voice for potential spouses. Before modern times, marriages were commonly arranged by parents with the help of go-betweens. Offspring typically had no voice in the decision of whom they were to marry, and often met their spouses only at the wedding or shortly before (Freeman, 1968).

Some other cultures have elements of both free choice and marriage arrangement. Here is one place where the free-choice versus arranged marriage distinction runs into trouble for these courtship systems crosscut the two categories. Some cultures with so-called arranged marriage let offspring veto the parents' decisions, while in others, where youth do the shopping, parents have a veto right over the selections of courting youth. Rhetorically, we may ask: "In which case is there the greater freedom for marrying?" While the answer is not clear, obviously these are intermediate categories standing between free choice and arranged marriage. Freeman's (1968, p. 457) definition of marriage arrangement as a matter of degree—the extent of external intervention in mate choice—is preferable.

We must think yet more complexly about courtship and marriage, for the degree of arrangement of marriage— or, conversely, the extent of freedom to choose—may be somewhat different for men than for women. Some cultures have more intervention in women's choices of spouse than in men's. A table constructed from Broude and Greene's (1983) codes on 142 cultures around the world shows that only 12 have fully free choice for both sexes and 16 have fully arranged marriage for both. The remainder are intermediate in level of intervention. Most have similar levels of intervention in the marriages of both sexes. While 20 of these cultures clearly have greater freedom for men, only two clearly have more freedom for women. However, this statement also needs qualification: if the groom's parents do not intervene in his choice, but the bride's parents have veto power over hers, her parents nonetheless do intervene in his choice of spouse. Thus degree of sex difference in intervention cannot be so great as it initially appears. The question of whether parental intervention is really patriarchal intervention or involves the mother, and the conditions under which these occur, is an issue that needs investigation.

Most comparative research on courtship has used the awkward distinction between arranged and free-choice marriage, or has examined the place of romantic love as a criterion. Given the conceptual problems in this distinction, our knowledge of the structural sources of the degree of arrangement is provisional at best. Some research has been stimulated by the theories of family life linking free choice to the decline of extended families and kinship structuring of social life (Parsons, 1951; Goode, 1967). Some cultures with extended families, such as India today, do have explicit ideologies against romantic love and free choice which bolster the authority of family elders in arranging marriages (Derne, 1994). Earlier research asked whether arranged marriage is more likely in societies in which the couple lives among kin (non-neolocal residence). This research found that, while romantic criteria are unrelated to residence rule, they are associated with lower subsistence dependence of spouses in non-neolocal societies (Coppinger, 1968). Romantic criteria do occur with more freedom of choice (Lee & Stone, 1980; Rosenblatt & Cozby, 1972). Dances and community endogamy appear to facilitate freedom of choice, since these allow youth to become better acquainted. A side-effect of this freedom of choice, perhaps due to more extensive and unsupervised interaction, is greater courtship antagonism between the sexes (Rosenblatt & Cozby, 1972). Unsupervised interaction may also reflect less concern over the control of sexual activity. Thus research also shows that romantic mate selection criteria are related to greater tolerance for premarital sex and for extramarital sex on the wife's part (de Munck & Korotayev, 1999). This suggests that equality of women and men in sexual matters could be another factor in love-based marriage.

Further research using a larger sample of cultures found some associations of romantic criteria and freedom of choice to extended family structure and to non-neolocal residence but concluded that these are "not particularly strong" (Lee & Stone, 1980, p. 326). Another study showed that greater intervention, while unrelated to extended family, is related to other structural traits such as transactions of substantial amounts of goods accompanying marriage, the number of social strata in the society, and patrilineal descent (Hendrix, 2002). Moreover, this study found no association of arranged marriage with strong male dominance, as posited by some theories (e.g., Collins, 1975). However, it found that male dominance and extended family structure statistically work together to enhance or reduce marriage arrangement: In societies with more male dominance, arranged marriage tends to occur in the absence of large extended family structures. However, in societies with more sexual equality, elders are more likely to arrange marriages if there are extended families. Clearly, there is a lot to be learned about the conditions under which arranged marriage is practiced, not to mention how it might relate to the quality of marriage itself.

Research in evolutionary psychology has examined personal mate-selection criteria in samples of modern nations. While this research needs to take into account that parental intervention in mate selection is common and ask about preferences for offspring's mates, its findings are nonetheless interesting. In a study of individual preferences across 37 countries, males were found to prefer features associated with reproductive value or fertility, such as youth and beauty, while females tended to prefer ambitious mates with good financial prospects. Few countries showed exceptions to this pattern, suggesting that humans may have an evolved sex difference in mate choice (Buss, 1989). However, other scholars have reanalyzed these data to show that the degree of sex difference varies with social structure. Specifically, the degree of sex difference in mate selection criteria is stronger in less developed countries (Glenn, 1989) and in countries with greater sexual inequality (Eagly & Wood, 1999; Kasser & Sharma, 1999).

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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