Approximately 40 percent of marriages end in divorce; the risk is lower for those marrying for the first time, but higher for those marrying at a very young age or whose parents were divorced. To divorce-proof a marriage, research suggests, partners should not rush into it; make sure they share the same values and level of commitment; and avoid idealizing each other in ways that lead to eventual disappointment.
Cohabitation before marriage has long been shown to be a risk factor for divorce, with one key exception: Couples that do not move in together until engagement appear not to take on the risk. One theory is that partners who live together tend to come to value the commitment of marriage less. Another is that partners in less-than-ideal relationships may find it more difficult to break up when they live together and that inertia may carry them into unhappy marriages.
Most marriages are monogamous, based on a romantic commitment to only one mate. Polygamy is the practice of being married to more than one person at a time; men with multiple wives engage in polygyny, and women with multiple husbands engage in polyandry. In polygamous relationships, the primary, or first, wife or husband tends to have more power than other, younger spouses. In some polygamous unions, the spouses live in the same household, while in others, separate homes are maintained.
Polygamy remains an accepted or tolerated practice in some parts of the world, primarily in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. It is illegal in the United States and Europe, due in part to concerns over coercion and child marriage, even though it is often portrayed in pop culture, in shows like Sister Wives and Big Love. But polyamory, or consensual nonmonogamy, is much more common in those regions than elsewhere.
Marriage, also called matrimony or wedlock, is a culturally and often legally recognized union between people called spouses. It establishes rights and obligations between them, as well as between them and their children, and between them and their in-laws. It is nearly a cultural universal, but the definition of marriage varies between cultures and religions, and over time. Typically, it is an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually sexual, are acknowledged or sanctioned. In some cultures, marriage is recommended or considered to be compulsory before pursuing any sexual activity. A marriage ceremony is called a wedding.
Individuals may marry for several reasons, including legal, social, libidinal, emotional, financial, spiritual, and religious purposes. Whom they marry may be influenced by gender, socially determined rules of incest, prescriptive marriage rules, parental choice, and individual desire. In some areas of the world, arranged marriage, child marriage, polygamy, and forced marriage are practiced. In other areas, such practices are outlawed to preserve women's rights or children's rights (both female and male) or as a result of international law. In some parts of the world, marriage has historically restricted the rights of women, who are (or were) considered the property of the husband. Around the world, primarily in developed democracies, there has been a general trend towards ensuring equal rights for women within marriage (including abolishing coverture, liberalizing divorce laws, and reforming reproductive and sexual rights) and legally recognizing the marriages of interfaith, interracial/interethnic/inter-caste, and same-sex couples. Controversies continue regarding the legal status of married women, leniency towards violence within marriage, customs such as dowry and bride price, forced marriage, marriageable age, and criminalization of premarital and extramarital sex. Female age at marriage has proven to be a strong indicator for female autonomy and is continuously used by economic history research.
Marriage can be recognized by a state, an organization, a religious authority, a tribal group, a local community, or peers. It is often viewed as a contract. A religious marriage is performed by a religious institution to recognize and create the rights and obligations intrinsic to matrimony in that religion. Religious marriage is known variously as sacramental marriage in Catholicism, nikah in Islam, nissuin in Judaism, and various other names in other faith traditions, each with their own constraints as to what constitutes, and who can enter into, a valid religious marriage.
Anthropologists have proposed several competing definitions of marriage in an attempt to encompass the wide variety of marital practices observed across cultures. Even within Western culture, "definitions of marriage have careened from one extreme to another and everywhere in between" (as Evan Gerstmann has put it).
In The History of Human Marriage (1891), Edvard Westermarck defined marriage as "a more or less durable connection between male and female lasting beyond the mere act of propagation till after the birth of the offspring." In The Future of Marriage in Western Civilization (1936), he rejected his earlier definition, instead provisionally defining marriage as "a relation of one or more men to one or more women that is recognized by custom or law".
The anthropological handbook Notes and Queries (1951) defined marriage as "a union between a man and a woman such that children born to the woman are the recognized legitimate offspring of both partners." In recognition of a practice by the Nuer people of Sudan allowing women to act as a husband in certain circumstances (the ghost marriage), Kathleen Gough suggested modifying this to "a woman and one or more other persons."
In an analysis of marriage among the Nayar, a polyandrous society in India, Gough found that the group lacked a husband role in the conventional sense. The husband role, unitary in the west, was instead divided between a non-resident "social father" of the woman's children, and her lovers, who were the actual procreators. None of these men had legal rights to the woman's child. This forced Gough to disregard sexual access as a key element of marriage and to define it in terms of legitimacy of offspring alone: marriage is "a relationship established between a woman and one or more other persons, which provides a child born to the woman under circumstances not prohibited by the rules of relationship, is accorded full birth-status rights common to normal members of his society or social stratum."
Economic anthropologist Duran Bell has criticized the legitimacy-based definition on the basis that some societies do not require marriage for legitimacy. He argued that a legitimacy-based definition of marriage is circular in societies where illegitimacy has no other legal or social implications for a child other than the mother being unmarried.
Edmund Leach criticized Gough's definition for being too restrictive in terms of recognized legitimate offspring and suggested that marriage be viewed in terms of the different types of rights it serves to establish. In a 1955 article in Man, Leach argued that no one definition of marriage applied to all cultures. He offered a list of ten rights associated with marriage, including sexual monopoly and rights with respect to children, with specific rights differing across cultures. Those rights, according to Leach, included:
In a 1997 article in Current Anthropology, Duran Bell describes marriage as "a relationship between one or more men (male or female) in severalty to one or more women that provides those men with a demand-right of sexual access within a domestic group and identifies women who bear the obligation of yielding to the demands of those specific men." In referring to "men in severalty", Bell is referring to corporate kin groups such as lineages which, in having paid bride price, retain a right in a woman's offspring even if her husband (a lineage member) deceases (Levirate marriage). In referring to "men (male or female)", Bell is referring to women within the lineage who may stand in as the "social fathers" of the wife's children born of other lovers. (See Nuer "ghost marriage".)
Anthropologist Jack Goody's comparative study of marriage around the world utilizing the Ethnographic Atlas found a strong correlation between intensive plough agriculture, dowry and monogamy. This pattern was found in a broad swath of Eurasian societies from Japan to Ireland. The majority of Sub-Saharan African societies that practice extensive hoe agriculture, in contrast, show a correlation between "bride price" and polygamy. A further study drawing on the Ethnographic Atlas showed a statistical correlation between increasing size of the society, the belief in "high gods" to support human morality, and monogamy.
In the countries which do not permit polygamy, a person who marries in one of those countries a person while still being lawfully married to another commits the crime of bigamy. In all cases, the second marriage is considered legally null and void. Besides the second and subsequent marriages being void, the bigamist is also liable to other penalties, which also vary between jurisdictions.
Governments that support monogamy may allow easy divorce. In a number of Western countries, divorce rates approach 50%. Those who remarry do so usually no more than three times. Divorce and remarriage can thus result in "serial monogamy", i.e. having multiple marriages but only one legal spouse at a time. This can be interpreted as a form of plural mating, as are those societies dominated by female-headed families in the Caribbean, Mauritius and Brazil where there is frequent rotation of unmarried partners. In all, these account for 16 to 24% of the "monogamous" category.
Polygamy is a marriage which includes more than two spouses. When a man is married to more than one wife at a time, the relationship is called polygyny, and there is no marriage bond between the wives; and when a woman is married to more than one husband at a time, it is called polyandry, and there is no marriage bond between the husbands. If a marriage includes multiple husbands or wives, it can be called group marriage. 041b061a72