Arranged marriages were very common throughout the world until the 18th century. Typically, marriages were arranged by parents, grandparents or other relatives. Some historical exceptions are known, such as courtship and betrothal rituals during the Renaissance period of Italy and Gandharva marriages in the Vedic period of India.
In China, arranged marriages (baoban hunyin, ?) - sometimes called blind marriages (manghun, ) - were the norm before the mid-20th century. A marriage was a negotiation and decision between parents and other older members of two families. The boy and girl were typically told to get married, without a right to consent, even if they had never met each other until the wedding day.
Until the first half of the 20th century, arranged marriages were common in migrant families in the United States. They were sometimes called picture-bride marriages among Japanese American immigrants because the bride and groom knew each other only through the exchange of photographs before the day of their marriage. These marriages among immigrants were typically arranged by parents, or relatives from the country of their origin. As immigrants settled in and melded into a new culture, arranged marriages shifted first to quasi-arranged marriages where parents or friends made introductions and the couple met before the marriage; over time, the marriages among the descendants of these immigrants shifted to autonomous marriages driven by individual's choice, dating and courtship preferences, along with an increase in interracial marriages. Similar historical dynamics are claimed in other parts of the world.
Arranged marriages have declined in prosperous countries with social mobility and increasing individualism; nevertheless, arranged marriages are still seen in countries of Europe and North America, among royal families, aristocrats and minority religious groups such as in placement marriage among Fundamentalist Mormon groups of the United States. In most other parts of the world, arranged marriages continue to varying degrees and increasingly in quasi-arranged form, along with autonomous marriages.
Gary Lee and Lorene Stone suggest that most adult marriages in recent modern history, are some gradation between extreme example of either ideal arranged or ideal autonomous marriage, in part because marriage is a social institution. Similarly, Broude and Greene, after studying 142 cultures worldwide, have reported that 130 cultures have elements of arranged marriage.
Extreme examples of forced arranged marriage have been observed in some societies, particularly in child marriages of girls below age 12. Illustrations include vani which is currently seen in some tribal / rural parts of Pakistan, and Shim-pua marriage in Taiwan before the 1970s (Tongyangxi in China).
The bride and groom in all of the above types of arranged marriages, usually do have the right to consent; if the bride or the groom or both do not have a right to consent, it is called a forced marriage.
Non-consanguineous arranged marriage is one where the bride and groom do not share a grandparent or near ancestor. This type of arranged marriages is common in Hindu and Buddhist South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia and Christian Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa.
Consanguineous marriages are against the law in many parts of United States and Europe. In the United Kingdom, uncle-niece marriages are considered incestuous and are illegal, but cousin marriages are not considered incestuous by the law and are legal, although there have been calls to ban first-cousin marriages due to health concerns. While consanguineous arranged marriages are common and culturally preferred in Islamic countries and migrants from Muslim countries to other parts of the world, they are culturally forbidden or considered undesirable in most Christian, Hindu and Buddhist societies. Consanguineous arranged marriages were common in Jewish communities before the 20th century, but have declined to less than 10% in modern times.
Over human history through modern times, the practice of arranged marriages have been encouraged by a combination of factors such as the practice of child marriage, late marriage, tradition, culture, religion, poverty and limited choice, disabilities, wealth and inheritance issues, politics, social and ethnic conflicts.
Child marriage, particularly those below the age of 12, does not prepare or provide the individual much opportunity to make an informed, free choice about matrimony. These child marriages are implicitly arranged marriages. In rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America, poverty and lack of options such as being able to attend school leave little choice to children other than be in early arranged marriages. Child marriages is primarily seen in areas of poverty. Parents arrange child marriages to ensure their child's financial security, reinforce social ties, believe it offers protection, and reduce the daughters economic burden on the family due to how costly it is to feed, clothe and (optionally) educate a girl. By marrying their daughter to a good family the parents improve their social status by establishing a social bond between each other.
According to Warner, in nations with the highest rates of child marriages, the marriage of the girl is almost always arranged by her parents or guardians. The nations with the highest rates of arranged child marriages are: Niger, Chad, Mali, Bangladesh, Guinea, Central African Republic, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Pakistan. Arranged child marriages are also observed in parts of the Americas.
In impoverished communities, every adult mouth to feed becomes a continuing burden. Arranging a marriage of a daughter, scholars say, is a means to reduce this burden. Poverty, thus, is a driver of arranged marriage.
This theory is supported by the observed rapid drop in arranged marriages in fast growing economies of Asia. The financial benefit parents receive from their working single daughters has been cited as a reason for their growing reluctance to see their daughters marry at too early an age.
Late marriage, particularly past the age of 30, reduces the pool of available bachelorettes for autonomous marriages. Introductions and arranged marriages become a productive option.
For example, in part due to economic prosperity, about 40% of modern Japanese women reach the age of 29 and have never been married. To assist late marriages, the traditional custom of arranged marriages called miai-kekkon is re-emerging. It involves the prospective bride and groom, family, friends and a matchmaker (nak?do, ); the pair is selected by a process with the individuals and family involved (iegara, ); and typically the couple meet three times, in public or private, before deciding if they want to get engaged.
Migrant minority ethnic populations have limited choice of partners, particularly when they are stereotyped, segregated or avoided by the majority population. This encourages homogamy and arranged marriages within the ethnic group. Examples of this dynamic include Sikh marriages between 1910 and 1980 in Canada, homogamous quasi-arranged marriages between European descent South Africans, arranged marriages among Hasidic Jews, and arranged marriages among Japanese American immigrants before the 1960s, who would travel back to Japan, to marry the spouse arranged by the family, and then return married. In other cases, a girl from Japan would arrive in the United States as a picture bride, pre-arranged to marry the Japanese American man on arrival, whom she had never met.
Certain physical disabilities increase the likelihood of arranged, even forced marriages in some parts of the world. Okonjo says that a physical disability in a bride, and even more so, a groom is one of the reasons for early arranged marriages in Nigeria.
Many cultures traditionally seek endogamous marriages. A prominent example of this practice is the Hindu culture where the bride and groom belong to the same caste, but are non-consanguineous, that is the bride and groom are not blood relatives nor extended family members. Other examples of cultures following the endogamous arranged marriage tradition include Amish people in United States,Orthodox Jews in Canada, the United States, Israel, and Western Europe,Arab Christians such as Coptic Christians in Egypt. Marriage was a central feature of traditional Aboriginal societies. Freedom of marriage was restricted to ensure children were produced according to the correct family groups and affiliations and avoid marriages with certain close relatives or marriages with any one outside the group. Marriages were mostly arranged by infant betrothal; it was even possible for a girl to be engaged before she was born. The promised relationship between the young man and woman, creates a series of lifelong responsibilities and obligations. Arranged marriage is also the tradition of many Islamic nations of West Asia and North Africa, but with the difference that between 17% to majority of all marriages in these countries are also consanguineous marriages.
Endogamous non-consanguineous marriages limit the number of potential partners available, particularly when population size for the religion or caste or group is small; a limited marriagable pool makes locating potential partners challenging, and encourages arranged or quasi-arranged marriages.
The practice of endogamous consanguineous marriage dramatically limits the marriagable pool; it inherently encourages marriages arranged according to tradition and birth. Over 1.3 billion people, predominantly of Islamic faith, practice endogamous consanguineous arranged marriages. Consanguineous arranged marriages are presently also observed, though to a much lesser extent, in some ethnic groups of Africa, India, Indonesia, Polynesia and South America. In Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, majority (65%+) of all marriages are endogamous and consanguineous arranged marriages. More than 40% of all marriages are endogamous and consanguineous in Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Syria, Yemen, Kuwait, UAE, Oman, Sudan, Libya and Mauritania; and over 1 in 5 marriages in Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, regions of Nigeria, India and Malaysia with high Muslim populations are endogamous and consanguineous arranged marriages. Among these Islamic populations, arranged marriages include endogamous and non-consanguineous marriages, and therefore exceed the above observed rates of endogamous and consanguineous marriages.
The consequence of some customs is arranged marriage. For example, in rural and tribal parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, disputes, unpaid debts in default and crimes such as murder are settled by a council of village elders, called jirga. A typical punishment for a crime committed by males involves requiring the guilty family to marry their virgin girl between 5 and 12 year old to the other family. This custom requires no consent from the girl, or even her parents. Such arranged child marriages are called vani (custom), swara and sak in different regional languages of Pakistan.
Another custom in certain Islamic nations, such as Pakistan, is watta satta, where a brother-sister pair of one family are swapped as spouses for a brother-sister pair of another family. In other words, the wife is also the sister-in-law for the males in two families. This custom inherently leads to arranged form of marriage. About 30% of all marriages in western rural regions of Pakistan are by custom watta-satta marriages, and 75% of these Muslim marriages are between cousins and other blood relatives. Some immigrant families prefer customary practice of arranged marriage.
Arranged marriages across feudal lords, city states and kingdoms, as a means of establishing political alliances, trade and peace were common in human history. When a king married his son to a neighboring state's daughter, it indicated an alliance among equals, and signaled the former's state superiority. For example, the fourth daughter of Maria Theresa, Queen of Austria-Hungary, Marie Antoinette, married the dauphin (crown prince) of France, who would become King Louis XVI.
Throughout most of human history, marriage has been a social institution that produced children and organized inheritance of property from one generation to next. Various cultures, particularly some wealthy royals and aristocratic families, arranged marriages in part to conserve or streamline the inheritance of their wealth.
Tongyangxi, also known as Shim-pua marriage in Taiwanese - literally child or little daughter-in-law - was a tradition of arranged marriage, in which a poor family would arrange and marry a pre-adolescent daughter into a richer family as a servant. The little girl provided slave-like free labour, and also the daughter-in-law to the adoptive family's son. This sort of arranged marriage, in theory, enabled the girl to escape poverty and wealthy family to get free labour and a daughter-in-law. Zhaozhui was a related custom by which a wealthy family that lacked an heir would arrange marriage of a boy child from another family. The boy would move in with the wealthy family, take on the surname of the new family, and marry the family's daughter. Such arranged marriages helped maintain inheritance bloodlines. Similar uxorilocal arranged marriages to preserve wealth inheritance were common in Korea, Japan and other parts of the world.
In many cultures, particularly in parts of Africa and the Middle East, daughters are valuable on the marriage market, because the groom and his family must pay cash and property for the right to marry the daughter. This is termed as bride-wealth and locally, by various names such as Lobola and Wine Carrying. The bride-wealth is typically kept by the bride's family, after the marriage, and is a source of income to poor families. The brothers, father and male relatives of the bride typically take keen interest in arranging her marriage to a man who is willing to pay the most wealth in exchange for the right to marry her.
Some religious denominations recognize marriages only within the faith. Of the major religions of the world, Islam forbids marriage of girls born to a devout parent to a man who does not belong to that religion. In other words, Islam forbids marriage of Muslim girls to non-Muslim men, and the religious punishment for those who marry outside might be severe. This is one of the motivations of arranged marriages in Islamic minority populations in Europe.
Some Christian denominations allow marriage between Christians and non-Christians. 1 Corinthians 7:14 states that "the unbelieving husband has been sanctified by his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified by her believing husband."
Arranged marriages are actively debated between scholars. The questions debated include whether arranged marriages are being used to abuse international immigration system; whether arranged marriages inherently violate human rights, particularly women's rights; whether they yield more stable marriages for raising children, the next generation; and whether there is more or less loving, respectful relationship for the married couple.
In the United Kingdom, public discussion has questioned whether international arranged marriages are a sham, a convenient means to get residency and European citizenship to some male or female immigrants, who would otherwise be denied a visa to enter the country. These fears have been stoked by observed divorces once the minimum married residence period requirement is met. MP Ann Cryer has alleged examples of such abuse by West Asian Muslim families in her motion to the UK's House of Commons. The United States has seen a similar controversy with sham arranged marriages.
Various international organizations, including UNICEF, have campaigned for laws to ban arranged marriages of children, as well as forced arranged marriages. Article 15 and 16 of The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) specifically cover marriage and family law, which support such as ban.
Arranged marriages are a matter of debate and disagreements. Activists such as Charlotte Bunch suggest that marriages arranged by parents and other family members, typically assume heterosexual preference and involve emotional pressure; this drives some individuals into marriages that they consent under duress. Bunch suggests that marriages should be autonomous.
In contrast, preventing arranged marriages may harm many individuals who want to get married and can benefit from parental participation in finding and selecting a mate. For example, Willoughby suggests that arranged marriages work because they remove anxiety in process of finding the spouses. Parents, families and friends provide an independent perspective when they participate in learning and evaluating the other person, past history, behavior, as well as the couple's mutual compatibility. Willoughby further suggests that parents and family provide more than input in the screening and selection process; often, they provide financial support for the wedding, housing, emotional support and other valuable resources for the couple as they navigate past the wedding into married life, and help raise their children.
Michael Rosenfeld says that the differences between autonomous marriages and arranged marriages are empirically small; many people meet, date and choose to marry or cohabit with those who are similar in background, age, interests and social class they feel most similar to, screening factors most parents would have used for them anyway, according to Rosenfeld. Assuming the pool from which mates are screened and selected is large, Rosenfeld suggests that the differences between the two approaches to marriages are not as great as some imagine them to be. Others have expressed sentiments similar to Rosenfeld.
Divorce rates have climbed in the European Union and the United States with increase in autonomous marriage rates. The lowest divorce rates in the world are in cultures with high rates of arranged marriages such as Amish culture of United States (1%), Hindus of India (3%), and Ultra-Orthodox Jews of Israel (7%). According to a 2012 study by Statistic Brain, 53.25 percent of marriages are arranged worldwide. The global divorce rate for arranged marriages was 6.3 percent, which shows the success rate of arranged marriages. This has led scholars to ask if arranged marriages are more stable than autonomous marriages, and whether this stability matters. Others suggest that the low divorce rate may not reflect stability, rather it may reflect the difficulty in the divorce process and social ostracism to the individuals, who choose to live in a dysfunctional marriage rather than face the consequences of a divorce. Also, the perception of high divorce rates attributed to self-arranged marriages in the United States is being called into question and no authoritative data are available to support the theory that Hindus of India continue to enjoy low divorce rates.
There is a difference in observed divorce rates between various types of arranged marriages. The divorce rate in Islamic countries with consanguineous arranged marriages such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Qatar, Jordan is between 20% and 35%, in contrast to less than 10% divorce rates in non-consanguineous arranged marriages among Amish people, Hindus and Orthodox Jews.
Various small sample surveys have been done to ascertain if arranged marriages or autonomous marriages have a more satisfying married life. The results are mixed - some state marriage satisfaction is higher in autonomous marriages, others find no significant differences. Johnson and Bachan have questioned the small sample size and conclusions derived from them.
Scholars ask whether love and respect in marital life is greater in arranged marriages than autonomous marriages. Epstein suggests that in many arranged marriages, love emerges over time. Neither autonomous nor arranged marriages offer any guarantees. Many arranged marriages also end up being cold and dysfunctional as well, with reports of abuse.