All societies have customs governing how and under what circumstances sex and reproduction can occur–generally marriage plays a central role in these customs.
Marriage is a socially approved union that united two or more individuals as spouses. Implicit in this union is that there will be sexual relations, procreation, and permanence in the relationship.
Functions of Marriage
1. Marriage regulates sexual behavior.
Marriage helps cultural groups to have a measure of control over population growth by providing proscribed rules about when it is appropriate to have children. Regulating sexual behavior helps to reduce sexual competition and negative effects associate with sexual competition. This does not mean that there are no socially approved sexual unions that take place outside of marriage. Early anthropological studies documented that the Toda living in the Nilgiri Mountains of Southern India allowed married women to have intercourse with male priests with the husband’s approval. In the Philippines, the Kalinda institutionalized mistresses. If a man’s wife was unable to have children, he could take a mistress in order to have children. Usally his wife would help him choose a mistress.
2. Marriage fulfills the economic needs of marriage partners.
Marriage provides the framework within which people’s needs are met: shelter, food, clothing, safety, etc. Through the institution of marriage, people know for whom they are economically and socially responsible.
3. Marriage perpetuates kinship groups.
This is related to the previous function, but instead of simply knowing who is with whom economically and socially, marriage in a legitimate sense lets people know about inheritance.
4. Marriage provides institution for the care and enculturation of children.
Within the umbrella of the marriage, children begin to learn their gender roles and other cultural norms. Marriage lets everyone know who is responsible for children. It legitimizes children by socially establishing their birthrights.
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