Arranged marriages

Arranged marriage is a type of marital union where the bride and groom are selected by a third party rather than by each other.[2] It was the norm worldwide until the 18th century. In modern times, arranged marriage has continued in royal, aristocratic families and ethnic minority groups in developed countries; elsewhere, arranged marriage is common in South Asia, Africa,[3][4] the Middle East,[5][6] Latin America,[4][7] Southeast Asia[8] and parts of East Asia.[9][10] Other groups that practice this custom include the Unification Church.

Arranged marriage should not be confused with the practice of forced marriage such as vani. Arranged marriage differs from autonomous marriage - called love marriage in some parts of the world - where the individuals find and select their own spouses; arranged marriages, in contrast, are usually set up by the parents or an older family member. In some cases, arranged marriage involves a matchmaker such as priest or religious leader, matrimonial site, mutual friends or a trusted third party.

Arranged marriages vary in nature and in how much time elapses between first introduction and engagement. In an "introduction only" arranged marriage, also known as quasi-arranged[11] marriages or assisted[12] marriages, the parents or guardians introduce a potential spouse. From that point on, it is up to the two individuals to develop the relationship and make a final choice. There is no set time period. This is increasingly common in Japan, parts of Latin America and Africa, South Asia and East Asia.


Arranged marriages were very common, until the 18th century.[2] Typically, marriages everywhere were arranged by parents, grandparents or other relatives. Some historical exceptions are known, such as courtship and betrothal rituals during Renaissance period of Italy[13] and Gandharva marriages in Vedic period of India.[14]

In China, arranged marriages (baoban hunyin, 包辦婚姻) - sometimes called blind marriages (manghun, 盲婚) - were the norm before mid 20th century. A marriage was a negotiation and decision between parents and other older members of two families. The boy and girl, were typically told to get married, without a right to consent, even if they had never met with each other until the wedding day.[15][16][17]

Similarly, until first half of 20th century, arranged marriages were common in migrant families in the United States.[18] They were sometimes called picture-bride marriages among Japanese American immigrants because the bride and groom knew each other only through the exchange of photographs before the day of their marriage. These marriages among immigrants were typically arranged by parents, or relatives from the country of their origin. As immigrants settled in and melted into a new culture, arranged marriages shifted first to quasi-arranged marriages where parents or friends made introductions and the couple met before the marriage; over time, the marriages among the descendants of these immigrants shifted to autonomous marriages driven by individual's choice, dating and courtship preferences, along with an increase in interracial marriages.[18][19] Similar historical dynamics are claimed in other parts of the world.[20][21]

Arranged marriages have declined in prosperous countries with social mobility, ascendancy of individualism and nuclear family; nevertheless, arranged marriages remain visible in countries of Europe and North America, among royal families, aristocrats and minority religious groups such as in placement marriage among Fundamentalist Mormon groups of the United States. In most other parts of the world, arranged marriages continue to varying degrees and increasingly in quasi-arranged form, along with autonomous marriages.[2]


Marriages have been categorized into four groups in scholarly studies:[2][22]

  • parents or guardians select, the individuals are neither consulted nor have any say before the marriage (forced arranged marriage)
  • parents or guardians select, then the individuals are consulted, who consider and consent, and each individual has the power to refuse; sometimes, the individuals meet - in family setting or privately - before engagement and marriage as in shidduch custom among Orthodox Jews
  • individuals select, then parents or guardians are consulted, who consider and consent, and parents have the power to refuse
  • individuals select, the parents or guardians are neither consulted nor have any say before the marriage (autonomous marriage)

Gary Lee and Lorene Stone suggest that most adult marriages in recent modern history, are some gradation between extreme example of either ideal arranged or ideal autonomous marriage, in part because marriage is a social institution.[23] Similarly, Broude and Greene, after studying 142 cultures worldwide, have reported that 130 cultures have elements of arranged marriage.[24]

Extreme examples of forced arranged marriage have been observed in some societies, particularly in child marriages of girls below age 12. Illustrations include vani which is currently seen in some tribal / rural parts of Pakistan, and Shim-pua marriage in Taiwan before 1970s (Tongyangxi in China).


Arranged marriages are practiced in many flavors. Some of these are:[25][26][27][28]

  • Arranged exogamous marriage: is one where a third party finds and selects the bride and groom irrespective of their social, economic and cultural group.
  • Arranged endogamous marriage: is one where a third party finds and selects the bride and groom from a particular social, economic and cultural group.
  • Consanguineous marriage: is a type of arranged endogamous marriage.[29] It is one where the bride and groom share a grandparent or near ancestor. Examples of these include first cousin marriages, uncle-niece marriages, second cousin marriages, and so on. The most common consanguineous marriages are first cousin marriages, followed by second cousin and uncle-niece marriages. This type of arranged marriages are most common in Muslim communities of the world. Between 25 to 40% of all marriages in parts of Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan are first cousin marriages; while overall consanguineous arranged marriages exceed 65 to 80% in various regions of the Middle East, North Africa and Islamic Central Asia.[30][31]

The bride and groom in all of above types of arranged marriages, may and usually do have the right to consent; if the bride or the groom or both do not have a right to consent, it is called a forced marriage.

Non-consanguineous arranged marriage is one where the bride and groom do not share a grandparent or near ancestor. This type of arranged marriages are common in Hindu and Buddhist South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia and Christian Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa.[32]

Consanguineous marriages are against the law in many parts of United States and Europe.[33] While consanguineous arranged marriages are common and culturally preferred in Islamic countries and migrants from Muslim countries to other parts of the world, they are culturally forbidden or considered undesirable in most Christian, Hindu and Buddhist societies.[34] Consanguineous arranged marriages were common in Jewish communities before 20th century, but have declined to less than 10% in modern times.[35][36]

Causes and prevalence of arranged marriage

Over human history through modern times, the practice of arranged marriages have been encouraged by a combination of factors such as the practice of child marriage,[37] late marriage, tradition,[38][39] culture, religion, poverty and limited choice, disabilities,[40] wealth and inheritance issues, politics, social and ethnic conflicts.[41][42][43]

Child marriage

Child marriage, particularly those below the age of 12, does not prepare or provide the individual much opportunity to make an informed, free choice about matrimony. These child marriages are implicitly arranged marriages.[44] In rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America, poverty and lack of options such as schools leave little choice other than early arranged marriages.[37]

According to Warner, in nations with highest rates of child marriages, the marriage of girl is almost always arranged by her parents or guardians.[45] The nations with highest rates of arranged child marriages are: Niger, Chad, Mali, Bangladesh, Guinea, Central African Republic, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Pakistan. Arranged child marriages are also observed in parts of Americas.[46][47]


In impoverished communities, every adult mouth to feed becomes a continuing burden. Arranging a marriage of a daughter, claim scholars,[48] is a means to reduce this burden. Poverty, thus, is a driver of arranged marriage.

This theory,[49][50] is supported by the observed rapid drop in arranged marriages in fast growing economies of Asia. The benefit parents received from the contributions from their earning daughters has been cited[51] as a reason for their growing reluctance to see their daughters marry at too early an age.

Late marriage

Late marriage, particularly past the age of 30, reduces the pool of available bachelors for autonomous marriages. Introductions and arranged marriages become a productive option.[52]

For example, in part due to economic prosperity, about 40% of modern Japanese women reach the age of 29 and have never been married. To assist late marriages, the traditional custom of arranged marriages called Miai-gekkon is re-emerging. It involves the prospective bride and groom, family, friends and a matchmaker (nakōdo, 仲人); the pair is selected by a process with the individuals and family involved (iegara, 家柄); and typically the couple meet three times, in public or private, before deciding if they want to get engaged.[53][54][55]

Limited choices

Migrant minority ethnic populations have limited choice of partners, particularly when they are stereotyped, segregated or avoided by the majority population. This encourages homogamy and arranged marriages within the ethnic group. Examples of this dynamic include Sikh marriages between 1910 to 1980 in Canada,[56] homogamous quasi-arranged marriages between European descent South Africans,[57] arranged marriages among Hasidic Jews,[58][59] and arranged marriages among Japanese American immigrants before 1960s, who would travel back to Japan, to marry the spouse arranged by family, and then return married. In other cases, girls from Japan would arrive in the United States as picture brides, pre-arranged to marry the Japanese American man on arrival, whom she had never met before.[60]

Physical disabilities

Certain physical disabilities increase the likelihood of arranged, even forced marriages in some parts of the world.[40][61] Okonjo claims physical disabilities in bride and particularly groom as one of the reasons for early arranged marriages in Nigeria.[62]


Many cultures traditionally seek endogamous marriages. A prominent example of this practice is the Hindu culture where the bride and groom belong to the same caste, but are non-consanguineous, that is the bride and groom cannot be blood relatives nor an extended family member. Other examples of cultures following endogamous arranged marriage tradition include Amish people in United States,[63][64] Hasidic Jews in Canada and Western Europe,[65][66] Arab Christians[67] such as Coptic Christians in Egypt.[6] Arranged marriage is also the tradition of many Islamic nations of West Asia and North Africa, but with the difference that between 17% to majority of all marriages in these countries are also consanguineous marriages.[68][69][70][71]

Endogamous non-consanguineous marriages limit the number of potential partners available, particularly when population size for the religion or caste or group is small; limited mating pool makes locating potential partners challenging, and encourages arranged or quasi-arranged marriages.[72][73]

Endogamous consanguineous marriage practice dramatically limits the mating pool; they inherently cause arranged marriages by tradition and birth. Over 1.3 billion people, predominantly of Islamic faith practice endogamous consanguineous arranged marriages.[74][75] Consanguineous arranged marriages are presently also observed, to a much lesser extent, in some ethnic groups of Africa, India, Indonesia, Polynesia and South America.[76] In Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, majority (65%+) of all marriages are endogamous and consanguineous arranged marriages. More than 40% of all marriages are endogamous and consanguineous in Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Syria, Yemen, Kuwait, UAE, Oman, Sudan, Libya and Mauritania; and over 1 in 5 marriages in Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, regions of Nigeria, India and Malaysia with high Muslim populations are endogamous and consanguineous arranged marriages.[74][77] Among these Islamic populations, arranged marriages include endogamous and non-consanguineous marriages, and therefore exceed the above observed rates of endogamous and consanguineous marriages.


The consequence of some customs is arranged marriage. For example, in rural and tribal parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, disputes, unpaid debts in default and crimes such as murder are settled by a council of village elders, called jirga.[78] A typical punishment for a crime committed by males involves requiring the guilty family to marry their virgin girl between 5 to 12 year old to the other family. This custom requires no consent from the girl, or even her parents. Such arranged child marriages are called vani (custom), swara and sak in different regional languages of Pakistan.[79][80][81]

Another custom in certain Islamic nations,[82][83] such as Pakistan, is watta satta, where brother-sister pair of one family are swapped as spouses of brother-sister pair of another family. In other words, the wife is also the sister-in-law for the males in two families. This custom inherently leads to arranged form of marriage. About 30% of all marriages in western rural regions of Pakistan are by custom watta-satta marriages, and 75% of these Muslim marriages are between cousins and other blood relatives.[84][85][86] Some immigrant families prefer customary practice of arranged marriage.[87]


Arranged marriages across feudal lords, city states and kingdoms, as a means of establishing political alliances, trade and peace were common in human history.[55][88][89]

Wealth and inheritance issues

Throughout most of human history, marriage has been a social institution that produced children and organized inheritance of property from one generation to next. Various cultures, particularly some wealthy royals and aristocratic families, arranged marriages in part to conserve or streamline the inheritance of their wealth.[90]

Tongyangxi, also known as Shim-pua marriage in Taiwanese - literally child or little daughter-in-law - was a tradition of arranged marriage, in which a poor family would arrange and marry a pre-adolescent daughter into a richer family as a servant.[91] The little girl provided slave-like free labour, and also the daughter-in-law to the adoptive family's son. This sort of arranged marriage, in theory, enabled the girl to escape poverty and wealthy family to get free labour and a daughter-in-law. Zhaozhui was a related custom by which a wealthy family that lacked an heir would arrange marriage of a boy child from another family. The boy would move in with the wealthy family, take on the surname of the new family, and marry the family's daughter. Such arranged marriages helped maintain inheritance bloodlines.[92] Similar uxorilocal arranged marriages to preserve wealth inheritance were common in Korea, Japan and other parts of the world.[93][94][95]


In many cultures, particularly in parts of Africa and the Middle East, daughters are valuable on the marriage market, because the groom and his family must pay cash and property for the right to marry the daughter. This is termed as bride-wealth and locally, by various names such as Lobola and Wine Carrying.[96][97] The bride-wealth is typically kept by the bride's family, after the marriage, and is a source of income to poor families. The brothers, father and male relatives of the bride typically take keen interest in arranging her marriage to a man who is willing to pay most wealth in exchange for the right to marry her.


Some religious dominations recognize marriages only within the faith. Of the major religions of the world, only Islam forbids marriage of girls born to a devout parent to a man who does not belong to that religion. In other words, Islam forbids marriage of Muslim girls to non-Muslim men,[98] and the religious punishment for those who marry outside is death.[99][100][101] This is one of the causes of arranged marriages in Islamic minority populations in Europe.[102][103]


Arranged marriages are actively debated between scholars. The questions debated include whether arranged marriages are being used to abuse international immigration system; whether arranged marriages inherently violate human rights, particularly women's rights;[104] whether they yield more stable marriages for raising children, the next generation;[105] and whether there is more or less loving, respectful relationship for the married couple.[106]

Sham marriages

In the United Kingdom, public discussion[107] has questioned whether international arranged marriages are a sham, a convenient means to get residency and European citizenship to some male or female immigrants, who would otherwise be denied a visa to enter the country. These fears have been stoked by observed divorces once the minimum married residence period requirement is met. Ann Cryer has alleged examples of such abuse by West Asian Muslim families in her motion to the UK's House of Commons.[108] The United States has seen a similar controversy with scam arranged marriages.[109][110]

Arranged marriages and human rights

Various international organizations, including UNICEF, have campaigned for laws to ban arranged marriages of children, as well as forced arranged marriages.[111] Article 15 and 16 of The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) specifically cover marriage and family law, which support such as ban.[112][113]

Quasi-arranged marriages, also called assisted marriages where the two individuals independently consent and have a right to refuse, are a matter of debate and disagreements. Activists such as Charlotte Bunch suggest that marriages arranged by parents and other family members, typically assume heterosexual preference and involve emotional pressure; this drives some individuals into marriages that they consent under duress.[104] Bunch suggests that marriages should be autonomous.

In contrast, preventing arranged marriages may harm many individuals who want to get married and can benefit from parental participation in finding and selecting a mate. For example, Willoughby suggests[106] that arranged marriages work because they remove anxiety in process of finding Mr. and Ms. Right. Parents, families and friends provide an independent perspective when they participate in learning and evaluating the other person, past history, behavior, as well as the couple's mutual compatibility. Willoughby further suggests that parents and family provide more than input in the screening and selection process; often, they provide financial support for the wedding, housing, emotional support and other valuable resources for the couple as they navigate past the wedding into married life, and help raise their children.

Rosenfeld claims that the differences between autonomous marriages and quasi-arranged marriages are empirically small; many people meet, date and choose to marry or cohabit with those who are similar in background, age, interests and social class they feel most similar to, screening factors - claims Rosenfeld - most parents would have used for them anyway. Assuming the pool from which mates are screened and selected is large, Rosenfeld suggests that the differences between the two approaches to marriages are not as great as some imagine them to be.[106] Others[114] have expressed sentiments similar to Rosenfeld.


Divorce rates have climbed in Europe and United States, with increase in autonomous marriage rates. The lowest divorce rates in the world are in cultures with high rates of arranged marriages such as Amish culture of United States (1%),[115] Hindus of India (3%),[106] and Orthodox Jews of Israel (7%).[116] In contrast, over 50% of self-arranged marriages in many parts of Europe and United States end up in divorce.[117][118] This has led scholars to ask if arranged marriages are more stable than autonomous marriages, and whether this stability matters? Others suggest that the low divorce rates may not reflect stability, rather it may reflect the difficulty in divorce process and social ostracism to the individuals, who choose to live in a dysfunctional marriage rather than face the consequences of a divorce.[106]

There is a difference in observed divorce rates between various types of arranged marriages. The divorce rates in Islamic countries with consanguineous arranged marriages such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Qatar, Jordan is between 20% to 35%,[119] in contrast to less than 10% divorce rates in non-consanguineous arranged marriages among Amish people, Hindus and Orthodox Jews.

Love and respect in arranged versus autonomous marital life

Scholars[106][120] ask whether love and respect in marital life is greater in arranged marriages than autonomous marriages. Epstein suggests that in many arranged marriages, love emerges over time. Willoughby suggests arranged marriages in many cases start cold, warm up and then boil over time as the couple grows. Autonomous marriages, in contrast he claims, start out boiling hot but many eventually find that this heat dissipates and is left with a relationship that’s cold.[106] Neither autonomous nor arranged marriages offer any guarantees. Many arranged marriages also end up being cold and dysfunctional as well, with reports of abuse.[121][122][123]

See also


External links

  • USA Today article
  • The case for arranged marriages
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