The relationship between class and marriage, and the reasons for the marriage patterns Essay


         A marriage refers to a legal, social, or spiritual union between two individuals. A marriage as an institution involves an interpersonal relationship which is intimate. The institution is often acknowledged by certain religious authority, the state, or even both. Individuals who get married do so for many and different reasons. These reasons include acquiring economic stability, to legalize a relationship, or to meet social expectations. People also marry to legitimize sexual relations, to form a family unit, to procreate and nurture children, to obtain citizenship, to fulfill religious obligations, and to declare love publicly (Williams et al, 2005). A marriage results to legal or normative obligations for the couple and for their extended families. There is need for two individuals to give full consent on their intention to be married before they are formally joined in marriage. The various forms of marriage that exist in the societies include polygamy, monogamy, and polyandry. In addition, same sex marriages are now being recognized in certain regions of the world.

            The choice of a marriage partner is very important before a marriage takes place. In many societies, the selection of a marriage partners can be through courtship or through arrangement by a matchmaker. The patterns of partner choice before marriage have become an issue of concern to the sociologists.  Research studies have tried to explain why individuals marry the people within their group, well known as endogamy (Matthijs, 1998). Others marry individuals who are close in status, and this is referred to as homogamy. Various factors influence the choice of a marriage partner that individuals make. These factors include class, culture, religion, education, and tastes. In this paper, the relationship between class and marriage based on these factors will be discussed. In addition, the reasons behind the marriage patterns that we see will be presented.


Relationship between class and marriage

          The social class that an individual in the society belongs to is influenced by his or her religious, cultural, education, or family background. In almost all societies in the world, the choice of a marriage partner is affected by any of these factors or a combination of the factors. According to Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all men and women who are of full age have a right to be married without any limitation based on their religion, nationality, or race. The Article also advocates for the full consent of an individual to marry before they get married. In the societies, an individual’s class is determined by wealth, family background, education, and culture. For instance, individuals who belong to wealthy families or are wealthy in most cases tend to choose partners whose financial ability matches theirs. Social classifications are found all over the world. Individuals within the low economic class tend to choose partners who belong to the same class. Apart from the economic background of individuals, religion has great influence on the choice of marriage partners (Barrett and Kurian, 2001). Because different religions have varying views about marriage, religious background of individuals determines who they choose to marry and how they issues in their marriage.

             The level of education also determines the social class one belongs to. For instance, more educated individuals are highly regarded than those who have obtained just the basic education. Therefore the level of education affects an individuals’ choice of a marriage partner and their views about the marriage institution. The cultural background of a person depends on their ethnic and racial origin.  Because marriage still remains a societal institution, views about marriage change with time. Therefore, those who are involved in marriage tend to embrace views that are acceptable to the society about marriage. The opinion of the people about marriage determines the attitudes and values people have in respect to the definition of a marriage, the meaning, as well as the utility of the marriage.

The relationship between an individual’s financial background and marriage

          The financial background of individuals determines the class one belongs to in the society (Schofield, 2003). The class can be ascribed at birth, or by a person’s achievement or the achievement of other members of the family. A marriage brings together individuals who must work together to generate and utilize financial resources. Because being involved in a marriage demands that an individual should be able to provide to the family financially, individuals choose marriage partners that can be able to financially provide in the marriage. Those who have a high financial ability are considered to be better placed when it comes to providing in a marriage. A marriage between individuals who belong to the same class based on financial ability is very common as compared to those from different classes. Because a marriage is also a financial partnership, the financial patterns and practices that a couple view appropriate determine how the two individuals handle financial issues in the marriage (Witte, 1997). Those who belong to a similar class tend to hold similar views regarding their financial resources. This means that the individuals are likely to feel comfortable being married to each other. Although not all marital problems result from financial issues in a marriage, differences in financial background of married individuals can contribute to marital problems. One of the reasons that have been being attributed to divorce is financial constraints in the marriage (Goodwin, 2003). The ability of a married couple to provide for the family depends on their financial ability. Financial problems in a marriage have been considered to lead to low levels of marital satisfaction and troubled feelings of failure for spouses. The belief that eliminating financial problems in a marriage leads to a happy marriage in many societies makes people to choose marriage partners whose financial ability guarantees them a stable marriage.

Relationship between culture and marriage

           Culture refers to a set of practices, attitudes, goals and values that a given group of people view as important. Different people have different cultural backgrounds. Based on a persons’ cultural background, marriage has a powerful ideological significance to some people than others. The culture determines what is appropriate or inappropriate in the choice of a marriage partner and in the marriage as an institution (Appadurai, 1996). For instance, some cultures accept cohabitation, same-sex relationship, pre-marital sex, and child birth before marriage. Some cultures may not accept all these, but may not have severe consequences for such practices. These practices may be completely prohibited in some cultures, with severe consequences characterizing each if an individual got engaged in the practices. In the old European culture, marriage was viewed as a business agreement between the families where the spouses came from. However, the modern culture advocates for choice of a marriage partner based on romantic love or affection. Furthermore, marriages between individuals rarely occur without the consent of those to be married.

            Culture in many societies does not allow marriage between maternal relatives since this is viewed as incest. In some cultures, intermarriage is not encouraged and this reduces the number of intermarriages in the society. This is because; people avoid choosing marriage partners who do not belong to their race or ethnic grouping if it is discouraged by their culture. Almost all cultures dictate who is appropriate or inappropriate for one to choose as a marriage partner. Some practices such as cohabitation may be viewed as wrong in some cultures while in others they are not. This may make cohabitation more common individuals from a certain culture as compared to the individuals from other cultures who may consider cohabitation morally wrong. For example, research carried out on individuals from different races in America (Latinos, whites, and African-Americans) indicated that while the majority of the whites view cohabitation as a transitional stage to marriage, for the African-Americans, cohabitation is considered to be a substitute for marriage. This was similar to the views of individuals from Hispanic groups. Depending on the culture within each race, the likelihood of individuals to be involved in practices such as cohabitation differs.

            In certain cultures, the economic status of an individual is considered as vital before marriage. The economic ability of a person has great influence on who to marry or not to marry. For instance, arranged marriages are common in certain Asian cultures. These marriages are meant to bring together people who belong to the same class. A matchmaker or parents are involved in efforts that seek a spouse for an unmarried person based on their family background and wealth. However, some cultures encourage arranged marriages without necessary seeking an individual who is wealthy. Child marriage has been practiced in cultures such as the Indian. This is whereby parents agree to marry their children in future when they are still young. This has not been observed in the European and American cultures. The practice of child marriage has however been declared illegal following the enactment of the Child Marriage Restraint Act.

In some Asian cultures, bride kidnapping still occur. This also has been practiced in some African cultures where the kidnapping symbolizes one of the important practices in an African marriage.

             Individuals can be imposed to be married to a certain person by their culture. For instance, window inheritance has been encouraged in certain cultures. This practice is however unacceptable and inappropriate in other cultures. Window inheritance for many years was practiced by some African ethnic groups. However, this practice is diminishing due to the influence of modern culture about marriage in the African communities. Children in a marriage are very important for individuals from a given culture, while it may not be important in another culture. For example, the African culture advocates for the need to have children in a marriage. However, this may not be the case for individuals who belong to the European or American culture. This has even been attributed to the growing populations in Africa and Asia, while most of Europe witnesses a decrease in births. Having children outside a marriage institution is common in Europe and America as compared to Asia and Africa. The cultural practices determine whether it is acceptable or unacceptable to have children out of a marriage institution.

         The financial aspects of a marriage differ between cultures. Some Asian and African cultures support the payment of dowry or bride price before individuals marry. Though the payment of dowry has stopped in certain cultures, it still remains a highly valued practice in some cultures up to date. In the modernized cultures such as the American and European cultures, payment of dowry does not exist. While divorce and separation is common in these cultures, individuals from other cultures view divorce and separation as inappropriate. The Asian and African cultures discourage these practices; hence marriages are less likely to end in divorce or separation for individuals who belong to these cultures. In each culture, the role of a spouse depends on cultural beliefs or norms. A man may be expected to fully provide for the family while a woman undertakes home chores. This limits a woman’s involvement in providing financially in the marriage. Some cultures are now advocating for financial providence by both men and women in a marriage. However, certain cultures still expect men to be involved only in efforts that ensure a man remains the only breadwinner and a woman takes care of the homestead. This is rarely the case in modernized cultures in America and Europe.

Relationship between education and marriage

          The level of education of individuals who intend to be married or are married greatly influences their perception about marriage. Education has promoted intermarriages in many societies all over the world. This is because, education changes attitudes and views of the people about who is the most appropriate marriage partner. For example, many years ago, the tendency of people to only marry spouses from their own racial or ethnic group was so high that only a minimal number of marriages were multi-racial. The limitations that different cultures have put in relation to marriage are currently being removed the process of education. Educated people from different cultural backgrounds are likely to interact more easily. This has promoted inter-racial marriages (Goodwin, 2003). Because of their education level, the individuals have shown the tendency to choose marriage partners who are as educated as them. This is due to the conviction that getting married to an individual with a low level of education may result to great differences in opinion and views about major issues in a marriage, which is considered to be one of the causes of conflict between married partners.

         In almost all societies, individuals who have managed to reach high education levels are highly regarded. They are seen as people who are bright and who have a good future in terms of employment opportunities. Therefore, majority of the members in the society consider marriage to educated persons an advantage as compared to the uneducated or those with low educational background. For example, in the modern communities, educated individuals enjoy prestige and get a high number of employment opportunities. The highly educated people attract the attention of many people in the society, and this makes them to be regarded as good marriage partners, On the other hand, poorly educated people are likely to marry individuals who are poorly educated as them. This is because, highly educated people don’t consider people of a low education level as suitable marriage partners. However, marriage between spouses with different educational levels may take place due to the influence of other factors such as culture, wealth and family background. In the modern society, women with a higher education background are developing a preference for marriage partners based on every partner’s ability to support equality and discussions in the marriage. Research findings have shown that the education level of a person affects the age at which they get married. In many, the average age at which individuals are getting married has continued to rise. This has been attributed to education. Many people are now pursuing higher education courses and therefore are unable to get married when they are too young. In addition, the difference between the average age at which men and women marry has been reduced by education. This is because; individuals are not engaged in early marriages as it was the case for women decades ago. Marriage patterns because of education have shown dualism where women and men who are educated get married at an older age as compared to their less educated cohorts. The less educated seem to get married at an early age (Williams et al, 2005).

          More educated people have greater financial stability than the less educated in relation to employment opportunities. This makes highly educated individuals better placed in providing financially in the marriage. Though less educated individuals may also enjoy financial stability, their education level may limit their opportunities of earning a good income. Poorly educated spouses may experience financial problems in their marriages if their education limits their income earning opportunities.

Relationship between taste and marriage

         The person’s taste in relation to marriage refers to what they view as appropriate or inappropriate based on their personal opinion. In this case, an individuals’ preference is based on their conviction on what is best for them (Sanday, 2002). Although the taste of a person may be influenced by the religion, cultural or economic factors, their preferences emanate from what they want and not necessarily what they should have as dictated by outside forces other than them. It is this taste that affects a persons’ preference of a marriage partner. For instance, a person may prefer to marry a certain individual and not another irrespective of them having similar cultural and religious backgrounds. Although the individuals may share similarities when it comes to education, culture, religion, and socials class, there is a tendency for a person to choose one individual. This is based on their taste on who can easily match with them in matters that relate to their choices and opinion about issues in life. What is good or bad to a person affects their taste of a marriage partner, as well as the choices and decisions that one makes in a marriage.

         Because individual tastes are shared by some particular social positions and practices, people aspire to relate to people of higher cultural forms and those who will give them an identity that they want. People marry those they would like to be associated with because they consider them more developed intellectually than others. A persons’ taste will make him or her to avoid associating with people that fall below the normal social standards. The taste of a person in relation to marriage relates to the persons’ degree of competence in understanding what they should have to match their choices. Taste can result to discrimination in relation to the marriage partners. Because taste is based on material experiences, it sets the difference between a good or bad taste. This provides social division categories and it leads to cultural hierarchy.

Reasons for marriage patterns that are seen

        The marriage patterns that are witnessed in the society are influenced by various factors. One of the reasons why marriage patterns that we observe occur is the difference in opinion on the role of a marriage. Different people have different opinions on why they should get married. For instance, the various reasons why people get married include; to form a family unit, to fulfill religious duties, to obtain citizenship, and to procreate. Based on the reason why one should want to be married, a person can choose a particular marriage partner and not the other. Furthermore, lack of fulfillment in a marriage based on why one gets married may lead to problems in marriage. For example, marriages that occur in order for one to obtain citizenship are likely to fail if one does not manage to secure the citizenship. A marriage whereby an individual intends to gain economically in it can break if the married individual fails to gain. People marry through weddings (church or customary) in order to legitimize their relation. This discourages practices such as cohabitation and promotes legal marriages.

         Social changes have greatly influenced marriage trends. Because a society is dynamic, the culture and values that members of a society uphold change with time. This means that social practices in relation to marriage also change. A good example is the growing number of same-sex marriages in Europe and America. Although this form of marriage is not accepted in many societies, it is gradually being recognized in             European nations and in the US (Balsam and Mohr, 2007). Such nations have even accepted legalized same-sex marriages. Despite this, other societies based on their culture have condemned such marriages because they go against the values of a marriage institution.

   Several factors that affect marriage patterns in the modern society include religion, tradition, custom, and economic factors (Williams et al, 2005).Marriage patterns are related to the proportion of people who get married at a certain point in life, age at which people marry, and the likelihood of a marriage to last or end in a divorce. The European marriage pattern is characterized by an emphasis on a nuclear family instead of a clan or a kin   group, an increase in number of people who are single, and people marrying at a late age. The United States has shown higher rates of marriage as compared to other industrialized nations. In addition, the US has a high rate of divorce. This can be attributed to the American culture and opinion about the marriage institution. In Canada, marriage rates have been declining. In the mid 1940s, about 11 new marriages occurred in every 1000 people.Currently, only about 5 new marriages in every 1,000 people occur. The age at which people marry has been changing over the years. In the 1950s, individuals married at a younger age. In the 1990s, majority of women got married for the first time at age 25 and men at 27 years of age. In India, majority of people get married at an early age as compared to other regions like in Europe and America.

         Religion influences marriage trends. For Christians, a marriage is a holy union that should be preceded by a church wedding where a couple obtains blessings and acknowledgement from the church (Brodd, 2003). Cohabitation and same-sex marriages are not acceptable in many religions. This therefore encourages legal marriages and completely discourages cohabitation and same-sex marriages. Committed Christians in most cases have shown the tendency to hold church weddings before they marry. Those who do not uphold the Christian values do not necessarily hold church weddings to legalize their marriages. Different forms of marriage exist based on the culture of the people. For example, monogamy, polygamy, and polyandry are different forms of marriage which are witnessed in some societies and not in others. Monogamy is supported as the most appropriate form in some societies due to the religious beliefs. Furthermore, this arrangement makes the management of the family much easier. On the other hand, polygamy is seen as sign of wealth in some cultures. Having a large number of wives and children gives prestige to a person according to the African culture hence individuals are likely to practice this form of marriage. Religion such as Islam support polygamy and this has encouraged this form of marriage in Muslims.

           Intermarriages have continued to be witnessed in the modern society. For many, marriage is a long term and intimate relationship (Matthijs, 1998). Intermarriages can be attributed to the acceptance that members who come from different racial or ethnic groups are social equals. Individuals who are ready to go beyond their group boundaries have therefore been involved in interracial or inter-ethnic marriages. In the American society, ethnic and racial intermarriages have been witnessed due to the high level of interactions between people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds as a result of migrations. The salience of cultural identity in future is decreased by intermarriages. Children born of parents from different races (due to inter-racial marriages) are less likely in future to identify with one racial group. Therefore, this has continued to encourage intermarriages. The elimination of negative attitudes of one group of people towards another has promoted intermarriages.


          Marriage is a very important institution in the society because it ensures the continuity of a generation through procreation.However, not all marriages aim at procreating and nurturing children. The reasons why individuals marry vary. The reasons depend on what an individual hold as important in a marriage. Some of the factors that affect the choice of a marriage partner and the marriage itself include the economic ability of an individual, culture, religion, education, and taste. These factors results to the division of people into classes.Therefore, these classes affect the marriage institution in the society.


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