What is an arranged marriage?

In 2021 we’re very much in the age of online dating. So an arranged marriage may sound confusing to many youths in more developed countries. While it is true that arranged marriage today isn’t what it used to be, it’s still listed in the dictionary as: “An arranged marriage is a marital union planned by the families, typically parents, of the couple.”

What’s interesting is that this concept of marriage today has been a part of our culture for centuries. And actually accounts for just over half of all marriages on the planet.

Although we may think an arranged marriage is being wed at the altar the first time you meet your partner, the modern version is slightly different. While it is often the family choosing the potential partner—some are given the power to decline and reject the proposed union.

Modern Arranged Marriage

Free choice is much more important than before in modern arranged marriages. People say that they are willing to let their parents  find someone. However that if they don’t like the partner, they have the right to say no. All parties are expected to have an opinion, as well as the option to decline. This isn’t just relevant in the West, where immigrant parents’ children may be more sensitive to such arrangements. In areas of the world where arranged marriage is prevalent, there are movements toward offering children more and more rights to choose their partner.

It’s estimated that worldwide over half of the marriages are arranged (approx. 55%). Over 20 million arranged marriage unions exist in the world today. A surprising fact we never hear about arranged marriages is that they have significantly low divorce rates. While the divorce rate is over 40 or 50 percent in the United States, where choosing a union is entirely up to the couple. For arranged marriage today the divorce rate is 4 percent. Some estimate that in India, 90 percent of marriages are arranged. However, there, the divorce rate is only 1 percent.

Are these low divorce rates a sign that  arranged marriage is more effective at keeping people happily married? Or are there other cultural reasons why people in arranged marriage today would be much less likely to file for divorce?It is not unheard of to learn of happily married couples that are arranged marriages. However there are many factors that decide the low divorce rate. Shame of damaging the family name, for one, is a very powerful mechanism to keep divorce from happening, regardless of one’s happiness.

The closer we look at arranged marriage today, the clearer it is that things have changed since a hundred years ago or more.

Some explanations for very low divorce rates of arranged marriage

Couples may feel more inclined to work through issues and are therefore more committed to the success of the union. Mutual admiration can then develop and blossom into a marriage with deeper meaning.

People in arranged marriage do not marry based on emotions such as passion or lust, which are fleeting. Those that have free will may fall victim to feelings that were inappropriate for longer-term partnerships.

As they say: you don’t just marry your partner, you marry his or her entire family. Your parents are concerned about your prospective spouse’s cultural history, educational credentials, social standing and ability to adapt to a new family. All of these factors may contribute to a smoother married life.

In a love marriage, on the other hand, you have no choice but to embrace everything about the other person whether you know about it or not.

The reason behind these low rates of divorce in arranged marriage may also be a sign that for so many young women and girls, there is no other option but to stay. They are effectively trapped for life. When you look things from this perspective, you’ll see that there are inherent moral and ethical obstacles when it comes to arranged marriage today.

Arranged marriage today is mostly forced marriages; in many cases, the brides are under the age of 15, with unacceptably high rates of child brides in countries like Niger and India. These young women are often taken out of school, alone, with no other options or opportunities.

What to think about arranged marriage today?

On the one hand, modern marriages have been trending toward more autonomy for those involved. However it’s important to remember that in over half the marriages today, it is still arranged marriage. Also in many of those cases, a veneer, cloaking abuse in the name of tradition.

Check out “The Secret Diary of an Arranged Marriage” for more information about the insights of arranged marriage: