Reading: Marriage and Courtship Patterns

Marriage Patterns

With single parenting and cohabitation (when a couple shares a residence but not a marriage) becoming more acceptable in recent years, people may be less motivated to get married. In a recent survey, 39 percent of respondents answered “yes” when asked whether marriage is becoming obsolete (Pew Research Center 2010). The institution of marriage is likely to continue, but some previous patterns of marriage will become outdated as new patterns emerge. In this context, cohabitation contributes to the phenomenon of people getting married for the first time at a later age than was typical in earlier generations (Glezer 1991). Furthermore, marriage will continue to be delayed as more people place education and career ahead of “settling down.”

One Partner or Many?

People in the United States typically equate marriage with monogamy, when someone is married to only one person at a time. In many countries and cultures around the world, however, having one spouse is not the only form of marriage. In a majority of cultures (78 percent), polygamy, or being married to more than one person at a time, is accepted (Murdock 1967), with most polygamous societies existing in northern Africa and east Asia (Altman and Ginat 1996). Instances of polygamy are almost exclusively in the form of polygyny. Polygyny refers to a man being married to more than one woman at the same time. The reverse, when a woman is married to more than one man at the same time, is called polyandry. It is far less common and only occurs in about 1 percent of the world’s cultures (Altman and Ginat 1996). The reasons for the overwhelming prevalence of polygamous societies are varied but they often include issues of population growth, religious ideologies, and social status.

While the majority of societies accept polygyny, the majority of people do not practice it. Often fewer than 10 percent (and no more than 25–35 percent) of men in polygamous cultures have more than one wife; these husbands are often older, wealthy, high-status men (Altman and Ginat 1996). The average plural marriage involves no more than three wives. Negev Bedouin men in Israel, for example, typically have two wives, although it is acceptable to have up to four (Griver 2008). As urbanization increases in these cultures, polygamy is likely to decrease as a result of greater access to mass media, technology, and education (Altman and Ginat 1996).

In the United States, polygamy is considered by most to be socially unacceptable and it is illegal. The act of entering into marriage while still married to another person is referred to as bigamy and is considered a felony in most states. Polygamy in the United States is often associated with those of the Mormon faith, although in 1890 the Mormon Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) officially renounced polygamy. The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), on the other hand, still hold tightly to the historic religious beliefs and practices and allow polygamy in their sect.

The prevalence of polygamy is often overestimated due to sensational media stories such as the Yearning for Zion ranch raid in Texas in 2008 and popular television shows such as HBO’s Big Love and TLC’s Sister Wives. It is estimated that there are about 37,500 FLDS involved in polygamy in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, but that number has shown a steady decrease in the last 100 years (Useem 2007).

U.S. Muslims, however, are an emerging group with an estimated 20,000 practicing polygamy. Again, polygamy among U.S. Muslims is uncommon and occurs only in approximately 1 percent of the population (Useem 2007). For now polygamy among U.S. Muslims has gone fairly unnoticed by mainstream society, but like the FLDS whose practices were off the public’s radar for decades, they may someday find themselves at the center of social debate.

Courtship

Courtship is the traditional dating period before engagement and marriage (or long term commitment if marriage is not allowed). It is an alternative to arranged marriages in which the couple or group doesn’t meet before the wedding. During a courtship, a couple or group gets to know each other and decides if there will be an engagement. Courting includes activities such as dating where couples or groups go together for some activity (e.g., a meal or movie). Courting can also take place without personal contact, especially with modern technology. Virtual dating, chatting on-line, sending text messages, conversing over the telephone, instant messaging, writing letters, and sending gifts are all modern forms of courting.

Courtship varies both by time period and by region of the world. One way courtship varies is in the duration; courting can take days or years. In the United Kingdom, a poll of 3,000 engaged or married couples suggested an average duration between first meeting and engagement of 2 years and 11 months.

While the date is fairly casual in most European-influenced cultures, in some traditional societies, courtship is a highly structured activity, with very specific formal rules. In some societies, the parents or community propose potential partners, and then allow limited dating to determine whether the parties are suited (in fact, this was common in the U.S. throughout the 1800’s). In Japan, some parents hire a matchmaker to provide pictures and résumés of potential mates, and if the couple or group agrees, there will be a formal meeting with the matchmaker and often parents in attendance; this is called Omiai. In more closed societies, courtship is virtually eliminated altogether by the practice of arranged marriages, where partners are chosen for young people, typically by their parents or (in the absence of parents) local authorities. Forbidding experimental and serial courtship and sanctioning only arranged matches is partly a means of guarding the chastity of young people and partly a matter of furthering family interests, which in such cultures may be considered more important than individual romantic preferences. Another variation of courtship is the bundling tradition, which likely originated in Scandinavia and was carried to the U.S. by immigrants. Bundling involved potential mates spending the night together in the same bed, though the couple was not supposed to engage in sexual relations. This practice ceased in the late 19th Century.

In earlier centuries, young adults were expected to court with the intention of finding marriage partners, rather than for social reasons. However, by the 1920s, dating for fun was becoming an expectation, and by the 1930s, it was assumed that any popular young person would have lots of dates. This form of dating, though, was usually more chaste than is seen today, since pre-marital sex was not considered the norm even though it was widespread. As a result of social changes spurred by the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, the taboo of sex during dating began to wane. Couples today are more likely to “hook up” or “hang out” with large groups rather than go on old-fashioned, paired dates. In recent years, a number of college newspapers have featured editorials where students decry the lack of “dating” on their campuses. This may be a result of a highly-publicized 2001 study and campaign sponsored by the conservative American women’s group Independent Women’s Forum, which promotes “traditional” dating. Also, in recent years dating has evolved and taken on the metamorphic properties necessary to sustain itself in today’s world. This can be seen in the rise in internet dating, speed dating or gradual exclusivity dating (a.k.a. slow dating). Some theorize that courtship as it was known to prior generations has seen its last days and the next closest thing is gradual exclusivity, where the partners respect and value each other’s individual lives but still maintain the ultimate goal of being together even if time or space does not permit it now.

Courtship is used by a number of theorists to explain gendering processes and sexual identity. Despite occasional studies as early as the 1910’s, systematic scientific research into courtship began in the 1980s after which time academic researchers started to generate theories about modern dating practices and norms. Both Moore and Perper argued that, contrary to popular beliefs, courtship is normally triggered and controlled by women, driven mainly by non-verbal behaviors to which men respond. This is generally supported by other theorists who specialize in the study of body language, but ignores the ways females are socialized to “gain status” by learning to appear attractive to and demonstrate desire for males. Feminist scholars, however, continue to regard courtship as a socially constructed (and male-focused) process organized to subjugate women. While some criticize Feminist interpretations of courtship by pointing to women’s support of courtship and attraction to magazines about marital and romantic experience, such criticisms generally ignore the emphasis on marital and romantic relationships (in many cases as the sole element of women’s value in male-dominated societies) embedded within feminine socialization norms, and the widespread empirical demonstration that (especially heterosexual) courtship patterns almost universally privilege masculine interests and privilege.

Systematic research into courtship processes inside the workplace as well two 10-year studies examining norms in different international settings  continue to support a view that courtship is a social process that socializes all sexes into accepting forms of relationship that maximize the chances of successfully raising children. This may negatively impact women, particularly those seeking independence and equality at work.

 

A Hook-up Culture?

Since the sexual revolution in the 1960s, non-marital sexual relationships have become increasingly acceptable in the United States. The prevalence of one-night stands and non-committal relationships contribute to what sociologists call a hookup culture. A hookup culture is one that accepts and encourages casual sexual encounters, including one-night stands and other related activity, which focus on physical pleasure without necessarily including emotional bonding or long-term commitment. It is generally associated with Western late adolescent behavior and, in particular, American college culture. The term hookup has an ambiguous definition because it can indicate kissing or any form of physical sexual activity between sexual partners.

According to one study the vast majority, more than 90%, of American college students say their campus is characterized by a hookup culture, and students believe that about 85% of their classmates have hooked up. Studies show that most students (most recent data suggest between 60% and 80%) do have some sort of casual sex experience. Of those students who have hooked up, between 30% and 50% report that their hookups included sexual intercourse. Nationally, women now outnumber men in college enrollment by 4 to 3, leading some researchers to argue that the gender imbalance fosters a culture of hooking up because men, as the minority and limiting factor, hold more power in the sexual marketplace and use it to pursue their preference of casual sex over long-term relationships.

However, most students overestimate the amount of hookups in which their peers engage. Only 20% of students regularly hookup. Roughly one half will occasionally hookup, and one-third of students do not hook up at all. The median number of hookups for a graduating senior on a college campus is seven, and the typical college student acquires two new sexual partners during their college career. Half of all hookups are repeats, and 25% of students will graduate from college a virgin.

Practice

1. A woman being married to two men would be an example of:

  1. monogamy
  2. polygyny
  3. polyandry
  4. cohabitation