Would You Agree To An Arranged Marriage?

Once upon a time, most (if not all) marriages were arranged. In the times of the ancient Greeks and Romans, parents decided who their children should marry, very often with a view to forming political alliances or to keeping property “in the family” (so that cousins might be married to cousins). My father’s parents were put together via a matchmaker in rural southern China over a hundred years ago.

But arranged marriages aren’t only a phenomenon of the past. A few years ago, I was teaching a course on Roman law and society. The topic of Roman marriage and inheritance laws prompted a very interesting discussion: Many of my students had parents who’d been divorced or who’d never married; some had grown up with grandparents and other relatives. All of these students said they did not want to get married.

Towards the end of the class, one student smiled nervously and said she didn’t know what to make of the whole discussion. She was in her final semester of college and her family (she was Egyptian and a Coptic Christian) had set up her marriage, to someone who lived in Michigan where (she told us) she would be moving after graduating.

I recalled a conversation I had with a student who was Muslim and Pakistani. She didn’t wear a hijab, was applying to law school and was in favor of her parents setting up her marriage, emphasizing that this was a way for her to show respect as their daughter.

Arranged Marriages in the U.S.

A recent New York Times article describes the arranged marriages of a number of couples on the East Coast and Midwest. With the divorce rate among American marriages at 40 to 50 percent, some marriage experts have asked if arranged marriages might make a difference. Psychologist Robert Epstein, the author of a new study, “How Love Emerges in Arranged Marriages,” notes that “one key to a strong arranged marriage is the amount of parental involvement at its start.” Even after initially objecting to their parents getting involved in their marriage plans, some couples interviewed say that their parents’ efforts were key.

These couples are professionals (a doctor, a professor, management consultants), often born in the U.S. and from Asian (Korean, Indian) backgrounds as well as Orthodox Jewish. Might one reason for the success of arranged marriages be that the practice remains the norm in their families, despite “free-range” marriage being the norm in the U.S.?

Indeed, Michael J. Rosenfeld, a sociology professor at Stanford University, even says that ”love marriage” and arranged marriage are not actually as different as tend to think they are. As he points out: “The people we end up married to or partnered up with end up being similar to us in race, religion and class background and age, which means that they might not be all that different from the person that your mother would have picked for you.”

The Darker Side of Arranged Marriage

While the recent New York Times article (and another in 2009, by a Londoner whose family is from South India) presents an upbeat picture of arranged marriage, such is not always the case. The weight of tradition can be deadly: Another New York Times article on the topic last July described a rise in suicides in Sinjar in northern Iraq, where arranged marriages are customary. Many put the blame on a Turkish soap opera, “Forbidden Love,” about the “romantic lives of the upper class” that gives young women in Sinjar an “unrealistic example of the lives that could be available outside” the community. Other point to the Internet for opening a window on a different worlds.

One 16-year-old, Jenan Merza, had tried to kill herself after being married to her first cousin. Her reason was that she wanted to live “with [her] mom and not go back to [her] husband” — at 16, she wasn’t ready to give up childhood.

For months, I listened to a young Pakistani woman (another of my former students) talk about the marriage her parents had set up for her; about her fiancé’s job as a telecommunications consultant in Atlanta and the extensive plans for the wedding, involving tents and food and dresses and fans to keep the guests cool. My student graduated and I heard she had gotten married. Then, after a year or so had passed, I noticed she no longer listed herself as “married” on Facebook and others told me that she had indeed gotten a divorce.

Conditions and opportunities are, of course, worlds apart for young women in the U.S. and in Iraq. It is important not to romanticize a traditional custom such as arranged marriage. The New York Times article about Jenan Merza refers to these as “forced marriages”: To protect the rights of girls and young women, we need to keep in mind that the line between an “arranged” and a “forced” marriage is not necessarily that great.


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Photo from Thinkstock


Karen B.
Karen B.4 years ago

Well, I know of a few who have done this and with good results. LOL, after 8 years of being single, a.k.a. unmarried in my book, I would so love for my 4 grown kids to arrange a marriage for me, Strong leading Christian man desired, somewhere between @ 47-57, in relatively, good shaped, non-smoker, employed man, light social drinker oKay. I don't care about race/ethnic origin, height or amount of hair/no hair, doesn't matter.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

if I want to marry I can do it for myself, I will not have others (especially my parents) telling me who I must spend the rest of my life with, or who will be the father of my children. Arranged marriages are a way to control women, women are still seen as property. Traditional marriage in general is not something that puts a woman in a position of equality.

Jane L.
Jane L5 years ago

i think a distinction between arranged and forced marriages should definitely be made. the common understanding is that arranged marriages are forced marriages, as history/culture typically projects, but I have heard of individuals choosing arranged marriages in north america. That being said, I think it's fine if it's up to an individual to choose if they want an arranged marriage or not. After further consideration to the title of this article, I personally wouldn't because I am happy being my individual self. whatever floats your boat!

Tahni W5 years ago

Oh, Jim N. The husband was completely aware of our reason for getting our ownership papers. No trickery involved...
Besides, with me came the house and the cars and all the other good stuff. All he provided was a way for me to pay for having his babies.

Lynn Squance
Lynn S5 years ago

Even the traces of the historical arranged marriage are present in the modern NA wedding ceremony when the officiant asks "Who gives this woman to this man?" The idea of women being property, sold for a goat, or money, whatever. Just look at the whole idea of a dowry --- paying someone to marry your daughter.

And how do people explain the promise of marriage of a 5 year old girl with a 20 or 30 year old man? The girl remains with her parents until she is of a suitable age, or perhaps goes to live with the grooms parents.

I have known happy arranged marriages but in those, the parents worked with their daughters, not inspite of them. But I am afraid, in my view, there is too little of that. I have heard of far too many unhappy marriages and the death of the women at the hands of the husband, his family, or in some cases her parents.

Totally insane. No wonder that I said no to marriage and instead am "married" to my 3 cats.

Winn Adams
Winn A5 years ago


Jim N.
James N5 years ago

TJ, you're why I'll never get married. I lead them on as long as I can, but I won't marry 'em!

Tahni W5 years ago

I married the man I'm married to now for health insurance. Does that count?

I mean, I love him and everything but I could have gone forever without getting married again. If only I had access to health insurance....

Robby Reyes
Past Member 5 years ago


Nicole Bergeron
Nicole Bergeron5 years ago

It depends, arranged marriages have their pros and their cons just like marriages that people choose for themselves. Personally though, unless I had no other way to marry, and I really wanted to marry, yes, but I don't have to marry nor do I feel a great need to.
In Japan where arranged marriages still take place, the couples are allowed to call it off now if they don't want each other before the marriage happens, there is a traditional meeting that takes place when first arranged. I think that should happen everywhere, so that they don't have to go through with it, or feel like they are being pressured to.