To Western sensibilities, the idea of an arranged marriage is pure anathema. The idea of such an important decision, perhaps the most important decision of one’s life , being made by others is unthinkable. But , is it really ? The results of an Indian study would seem to show otherwise.
Usha Gupta and Pushpa Singh of the University of Rajasthan interviewed 50 couples, half of whom had arranged marriages while the other half had married for love. The couples had been married for varying lengths of time ; some had been married for a year or less, others had been together for as long as twenty years.The couples were interviewed separately and asked to respond to questions on the Rubin Love Scale , developed by psychologist Zick Rubin forty years ago.
According to Rubin , romantic love is made up of three elements:
- Attachment: The need to be cared for and be with the other person.
- Caring: Valuing the other persons happiness and needs as much as your own.
- Intimacy: Sharing private thoughts, feelings, and desires with the other person.
Rubin’s research was not confined only to married people and it differentiated between “liking ” and ” loving”. One of his techniques was to pose to subjects 13 questions that he felt were a reliable measure of love.
In the University of Rajasthan study, subjects were asked to respond to statements such as “ I like it when ( My husband / wife) confides in me.” or ” I would do almost anything for my ” husband/wife”. The results of the study were very interesting.
The couples who had married for love, and who had been married for less than one year, had an average score of 70 points out of a possible 91. However, love couples who had been married for 10 years or longer only had an average score of 40, a steep decline indeed. The corresponding numbers for those who were in an arranged marriage were 58 points ( for those married less than a year) and 68 points ( for those who had been married for a decade or more). In short , the results would seem to confirm the popular saying that ” A love marriage is like a pot of hot water on a cold stove ; an arranged marriage is like a pot of cold water on a hot stove.”
To my mind, the results of the study are hardly conclusive. The study’s chief shortcoming, in my opinion, is that the sample size ( 50 couples) was miniscule . It failed to take into account any number of variables such as type of arranged marriage ,ages, economic level and education of participants , whether they lived in an urban or rural environment, their country of domicile etc. I won’t try to enumerate the ways in which each of these factors could affect the study results ( there is not enough space) but I will touch briefly the first of them i.e. the different types of arranged marriages.
The old-fashioned type of arranged marriage was one in which the parents fixed the marriage by themselves without the boy and the girl having any say in the matter. Particularly in the rural areas of India, the marriage was arranged when the bride and groom were both children and often the two never even saw each others faces until their wedding night.It was more a contract between the families rather than a joining of individuals. As societies modernize, this type of arranged marriage is becoming less common though it is still prevalent in villages and among members of certain religions ; even in such cases though , the boy and girl have a bit more say in the match. In most arranged marriages today, the parents or relatives are merely facilitators who introduce the boy and girl to each other after having satisfied themselves that their backgrounds are similar and that the two might be a good fit. The two meet and talk, sometimes go out together and then decide whether they want to go ahead with the match. Unlike the old days , both parties have a say in the matter and can turn down the prospective alliance. Not only that but the marriage usually takes place after an engagement period during which the two get to know each other better. As is clear, the second type of arranged marriage has a greater chance of success than the first.
While I don’t know the details of the Rajasthan study, it seems that the couples studied were from urban areas like Jaipur and that their marriages were of the second type described above. Since they were presumably were educated individuals, middle class or better, it is no surprise that the results of the study appeared to validate arranged marriages over love matches.I am not so sanguine. I think the issue is much more complex.
Advocates of arranged marriages are fond of pointing to the lower divorce rate for arranged marriages as compared to those for love matches. However, this is at least partly because in such societies girls are more dependent financially on their husbands. As these societies modernize, and women have careers of their own , the incidence of divorce is rising as women are no longer locked in an unhappy marriage. The Rajasthan University study was carried out thirty years ago; if it were re-done today, I’m sure that the results would be significantly different.
Based purely on empirical data , having observed the marriages of friends and acquaintances over a forty-year period, I think that ,in general, arranged marriages in which both parties have met each other and had a say in their getting hitched have a better chance of “success” than love matches. However, even in such cases there is no guarantee of success. I heard of one Indian American couple who celebrated the weddings of their children ( a son and a daughter) to spouses from within their own community. The marriages should have been a success since the parties were of similar backgrounds, had known each other before marriage and had good careers. Shockingly, both marriages ended in divorce within two years. And get this: the girl then met and married a Filipino doctor and the son wed a Korean girl and half a dozen years later they are all happy as can be.
What this tells me is that we can have any number of studies and generate all kinds of statistics but , after all is said and done , the outcome of an individual marriage is impossible to predict.