Arranged Marriages - Past and Present

"The Arranged Marriage", 1862 painting by Vasili Pukirev
"The Arranged Marriage", 1862 painting by Vasili Pukirev

First Comes Marriage, Then Love?

An arranged marriage is the union of a man and a woman which is brought about by someone other than the bride and groom. Historically, it was the primary way in which future spouses were introduced, and arranged marriages still are a fairly common practice in certain parts of the world today. Learn all about the history of arranged marriage, how they have evolved over time, and the advantages and disadvantages to marrying someone you hardly know.

In modern America, it is a given that “First comes love, then comes marriage”, but this has not always been the case throughout history. The idea that marriage is based entirely on love is a fairly new concept, and even in the contemporary United States, there are men and women who meet their spouses through either a matchmaker or an interested family member. An important fact to note is that an arranged marriage is not the same as a forced marriage, nor is it necessarily an involuntary union foisted upon unwilling participants by their families.

Most royal marriages were a matter of empire building rather than love
Most royal marriages were a matter of empire building rather than love
Marie Antoinette was married by proxy to the Dauphin of France, whom she had never met
Marie Antoinette was married by proxy to the Dauphin of France, whom she had never met

Royal Brides Were Used As Currency

The basic mechanics of arranged marriage have not changed too much over the years, however the practice has become less rigid over time. Arranged marriages were common as far back as Biblical times and beyond. The traditional purposes of these types of unions were political, military, and social. They were commonplace among the royalty and nobility around the world. In ancient Egypt, for example, one of the chief goals of arranged marriage was to keep royal bloodlines pure. Of course, breeding within a limited gene pool can result in some nasty hereditary illnesses; one only need look to the royal families of Europe as a cautionary example. So widespread was hemophilia (a blood clotting disorder) that it was called “the Royal Disease”. Queen Victoria's son Prince Leopold was only one of the young royals who died an untimely death due to hemophilia.

The Romans also practiced arranged marriages. Daughters were a useful form of currency which could be used to help form strategic alliances and strengthen the military position of the family. The royal princesses of Europe were used in much the same way well into the 19th Century. Young girls were often promised to the sons of neighboring countries as a way of forming international partnerships. In many cases, the marriages were arranged when the girls were babies, and in some instances, the marriage actually took place when the princesses were very young girls. They remained home with their families until they reached a suitable age and then were shipped off to their husbands. One of the most famous arranged royal marriages is that of Marie Antoinette, the daughter of Queen Maria Theresa of Austria-Hungary. She was promised to the crown prince of France, who eventually became King Louis XVI.

Arranged marriages were hard on young noblewomen in times when travel was difficult. They were frequently married off to older men who lived far from their home countries. At a time which was deemed appropriate, the young bride was sent away to live in a foreign land with a man whom she had never met. The important political advantages to royal arranged marriages made refusing to marry the appointed person an impossibility. And if the first husband died, the royal widow was often re-married to another useful man by her family. The involuntary nature of historical arranged marriages is what gave the practice a bad name.

An arranged marriage wedding ceremony
An arranged marriage wedding ceremony

Modern Arranged Marriage In India

Although arranged marriages are no longer common in Europe, they are still a frequently used method of matchmaking in other areas today. There are, however, some critical differences between historical arranged marriages and the contemporary variety. The most key change is that in many cases, the potential bride or groom has the option of rejecting the mate chosen by the family, at least in theory. In reality, though, there can be enormous familial pressure to agree to a spouse, once both families have determined the match to be a good one.

There is another difference between traditional and modern arranged marriages, which is that in contemporary arranged marriages, efforts are made to ensure that the bride and groom are compatible. A key similarity between the traditional and modern versions is that there is no expectation that the couple will be in love at the time of their marriage. This highlights a critical difference between love marriages and arranged marriages, which is that an arranged marriage is more of a practical partnership than a romantic fantasy. If love grows over time, that is wonderful; if it does not, the hope is that the couple will at least form a strong partnership and build a life together. It should perhaps come as no surprise that modern arranged marriages are most prevalent in countries where family and society are more important than individual wishes.

One of the countries where arranged marriages are most common today is India. In most families, the procedure is for the parents or a mediator to vet potential spouses for their marriage aged child. Once a promising candidate is found, the parents will talk, often before the prospective bride and groom are introduced. Traditionally, if the parents found the situation to be pleasing or advantageous, the match would be formalized at that stage, and presented to the bride and groom as a fait accompli. The young man and woman had little chance to object, and sometimes did not meet until their wedding day.

In its contemporary form, however, young Indian couples do have a say in their fate. After locating a suitable future spouse, the two sets of parents will introduce the young people. They generally have the freedom to get to know one another for a while before deciding on whether or not to be married. There is no set time by which a decision must be reached, and there is the possibility that one side or another might decide not to marry the person selected by his or her parents. One must remember that when the possible bride and groom meet, they are not trying to fall in love, but to decide if they could marry the other person and become a family. This is a very important distinction, as it is what separates a dating or matchmaking service from an arranged marriage. Although either party is supposed to be free to approve or disapprove of their future mate, family pressure undoubtedly plays a role.

In India, a very specific set of criteria is used to determine the compatibility of a man and woman. Some of the factors in making a suitable match include: the reputation of the families, equal wealth, a shared religion, being members of the same caste, and whether each person follows a vegetarian diet or not. The profession of the groom is also a very important thing which a family will consider. Certain professions are especially sought after when making a match, including doctor, lawyer, engineer, and scientist. The career path of the bride carries slightly less weight, although it is a bonus if she is a doctor, lawyer, or a teacher. When possible, efforts are made to pair brides and grooms who work in the same field. That actually makes a great deal of sense, as they are likely to have similar interests. Often the horoscope of the man and woman will also be examined to help determine the likelihood that the match will be successful, and certainly attractive candidates are also favored.

Traditional Japanese wedding ceremony
Traditional Japanese wedding ceremony

The Samurai Introduced Arranged Marriages To Japan

Japan is another society with a strong history of arranged marriages. Most young Japanese people today favor the love marriages which are common in the Western world, but it is estimated that somewhere between 10-30% of all marriages in Japan are arranged. Arranged marriage in Japan was initially practiced by the Samurai class in the 16th Century. Much like their counterparts in the European royal families, the Samurai used marriage as a means to secure military alliances. The practice eventually spread to the urban classes, and over time, a highly developed ritual formed around the process of arranging marriages.

Much like in India, potential future mates are first vetted for suitability and compatibility. The set of guidelines used is called iegara. Some of the key areas of investigation include: education, income, status, religion, career, hobbies or interests, and appearance. Preference is given to candidates with Samurai heritage, as family lineage is one of the most important considerations. In a society like Japan's which values ancestry and family tremendously, it is not only the social status of the bride or groom which is relevant, but that of their entire family. There are cynics who claim that all the modern bride cares about are the three Hs: high salary, high education, and height in a groom. The word investigation is appropriate, by the way; in some cities, private investigators are hired to ensure that the potential spouse has answered all questions honestly.

In Japan, it is usually not the parents of the bride and groom who search for good marriage material, but rather a third party called the nakōdo. The nakōdo might be a family friend or family elder with strong connections in the community, or it could be a professional hired expressly for the purpose of finding a spouse for one's child. Remaining unmarried past the mid-20s for women or 30 for men carries with it a social stigma for both the individual and their family, so it is not unusual for concerned parents to turn to a nakōdo if their child is nearing that age range with no strong marital prospects. They may or may not inform their marriageable aged son or daughter of their plans before contacting the nakōdo.

The role of the nakōdo is clearly defined in the process of arranging a marriage. They will first work up a list of potential candidates and investigate them to make sure they would be compatible with both the future bride or groom and their family. The parents will be given comprehensive reviews of multiple candidates from which to select. Once a good match has been found, the nakōdo will bring together the young man and woman and both sets of parents for an introduction. If all goes well, a series of dates is set up so that the prospective bride and groom can decide if they would like to be married. The third date is the critical one; it is customary that on the third date, the decision will be made about whether or not to wed. Dignity being very important in Japan, there is a standard format which is used to avoid embarrassing someone with rejection if the courtship is discontinued at that time.

If the couples and their families decide to move forward with the marriage, the nakōdo will assist in working out the details of the marriage (not unlike a lawyer negotiating a prenuptial agreement). Should trouble arise down the road, it is also expected that the nakōdo will step in to counsel the newlyweds and keep the marriage on track. After all the work they put into making the match, the nakōdo certainly has a strong interest in ensuring that it is a success.

Does it ever make sense to marry a virtual stranger?
Does it ever make sense to marry a virtual stranger?

Is Matchmaking The Key To A Successful Marriage?

Perhaps the most interesting thing about arranged marriage is that there is still a place for it in our modern world. There has been an increased interest in arranged marriage in the United States, and not only among people who come from a cultural tradition in which it is common. These days, there are some young men and women who are the ones requesting that someone help them arrange a marriage; they are not having one thrust upon them by traditional parents. One reason behind this can be the desire to meet a spouse who shares the same culture or religion. Matchmaking is still alive and well in some Jewish communities, and it is also seen among immigrants from countries with a strong tradition in arranged marriage like India.

An example of this is the case of a young man from India who had moved to the United States. When he had completed his education and become established in his career, he decided that he was ready to settle down and start a family. The only problem was that there was a shortage of young Indian women in his community and he wanted to marry someone who shared his heritage. The solution was to turn to his parents back home in India and ask them to locate a suitable wife for him. They did, and she moved to the United States and the young couple was married. It may not sound romantic to those of us raised on fairy tales of princes, princesses, and undying love, but for this couple, it was a reasonable solution to a problem. As the groom said, "Once you are married, it doesn't matter how you got together. You have to work to make it work."

This leads us to another reason that some modern couples are turning to arranged marriages to find a mate. There is the belief among some that the high divorce rate in countries such as the United States is due to overly high expectations that a marriage based on love will always be happy and fulfilling. People entering into arranged marriages tend to look first at the practical aspects of forming a solid partnership, with the hope that affection and possibly love will grow over time. It is theorized that a more realistic foundation of what a marriage means results in a commitment to the marriage, through good times and challenging ones. In addition, with the emotionally charged nature of love removed from the equation, a more levelheaded evaluation can be made of the factors which the couple may share in common.

Can a commitment to marriage grow into love?
Can a commitment to marriage grow into love?

Commitment To Commitment: Arranged Marriage In The United States Today

A fascinating case of modern arranged marriage in America is that of a man who decided to set a wedding date...but who had no bride. Almost in jest, some of his friends sent out a press release seeking a wife for their friend, and to their surprise, they received hundreds of serious responses. He ended up finding a suitable candidate, and in short order the couple was married. The happy couple believes that their arranged marriage has succeeded because they are both “committed to commitment”. While most Americans are too deeply invested in the concept of free will and personal choice to opt for an arranged marriage, there are certainly for whom the idea of being matched with a spouse certainly beats playing the field and hoping for the best.

Where will the practice of arranged marriages go and how will it evolve in the future? The chances are that formal arranged marriages will continue to dwindle in numbers as women in patriarchal societies gain increasing economic and social freedom. Their growing independence will inevitably result in reduced pressure to be married by a certain age, just as it has in the United States, where the average age for marriage marches steadily higher for every generation. That said, the modern version of arranged marriages, which can look more akin to matchmaking than anything else, will always have a role to play. As people become deluged by an abundance of information and choice, and the social and familial structures that used to help bring singles together continue to break down, there will always be those who are “committed to commitment” who will be glad to have some help finding a spouse with whom they can build a life. Maybe marriage can indeed come before love.

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Comments 27 comments

James Mark profile image

James Mark 6 years ago from York, England

Thank you for raising this issue. As a teacher of religious studies and ethics I used to introduce British teenagers to the idea. Most of them cofused arranged and forced marriages, and most found the thought repugnant even when that misconception was cleared up. I like your expression, "commitment to commitment" which is very difficult to get across to western teens who seem to accept that "it" might not work, an expression which avoids personal responsibility for "its" success.

Many of my present adult students had arranged marriages and look on with horror at the dating system here in the UK and elsewhere. Rather than feeling that they have been denied freedom of choice, they are relieved to have been spared the series of painful failures involved in the dating system. They have no doubt that marriage can come before love, but their definition of love is deeper and richer than ours.

I noticed a few months ago that some young American reformed evangelical pastors were starting to challenge the assumptions and excesses of serial dating. I think that this is probably a good thing, especially if it leads to a deeper appreciation of the many facets of love, one of which is respect. The dating system often lacks respect because it is basically self-centred.

Whatever our views on arranged marriages, we have no reason to think that the "romantic method" is better. Breakdown and divorce statistics would seem to indicate that we are not doing very well, and the figures are apparently worse for non-marital relationships.

Amy 6 years ago

I come from an Indian background but have been born and brought up in England.

In my parent's generation nearly everyone had an arranged marriage, meeting very briefly before making the decision. Now, especially for those living in the west, it works more like a matchmaking service. Couples can "date" for several months (sometimes up to a year) before making the decision to marry so I think in a way it's a perfect compromise between the two systems.

I happen to have met someone from my community by myself, have been dating him for 2 years and both our parents are happy with this.

If I hadn't met my boyfriend, I definitely would have asked my parents to help me look for a partner when ready to settle down. It beats serial dating, not knowing whether the person you're meeting is ready for a commitment. It also decreases the chance of finding major incompatibilities after getting married because you go into the "dating" period with the intention of assessing your compatibility rather than rationalising things due to feelings of love.

I loved knowing that the option to have an "arranged marriage" was there for me if I needed it, although as James mentions I've often found this hard to explain to my english peers and have frequently had to explain the distinction between a forced and arranged marriage.

Prakash T profile image

Prakash T 6 years ago from Pune

In India, love marriage is still considered to be a sin. Youngsters are convinced to marry an unknown person and the couple manage to live life happily, as they dont have any other option.

check out my new hub on how to cope up with arranged marriages

bheem profile image

bheem 5 years ago

wow ! a clear and splendid presentation on present arranged marriages in India though being from a different country. Great job..

nidhi.singh profile image

nidhi.singh 5 years ago from Pittsburgh

i really appreciate the amount of research u have done on arrange marriage and fortunately unlike others you have got the right picture. love marriage is not a sin in india but indians still believe that arrange marriage is a better idea. i have had an arrange marriage and i have no regrets and i was never forced for it. my take on arrange marriage ---

Erin LeFey profile image

Erin LeFey 5 years ago from Maryland

Great article, I was looking for exactly this kind of researched information. Voted up and awesome.

clintonb profile image

clintonb 5 years ago from Adelaide, Australia

Im well aware of the arranged marriage system in Indian and trust me its very much successful than love ones and its still openly happens.

Joe Miles 5 years ago

Great information. Not surprisingly, the foundation of arranged marriage has roots in wealth and power - NOT the happiness of the couple getting married.

For those of you who think arranged marriages are "better", you do not understand the psychology behind it all. Let me explain. In short, they - the typical Indians getting married by this method - repress and change themselves unknowingly until they perceive their marriage to be a happy one. Their priority is to their parents and peers happy, and to be accepted by society, NOT to have a fulfilling relationship with their partner. To them, a successful marriage is one that is accepted by their parents, their peers, and their society. They will go to great extent to present a happy marriage to the outside world. Acceptance over substance - that's the core of Indian arranged marriages. How would you test for this? Simple. If either of the partners are unhappy with their marriage with no resolution in sight, how likely are they to get a divorce? You see, relationships are fluid, and marriages are a contract. The fluidity of relationships can take a couple to a "separated" status, even though they are married on paper. In other words, some marriages ought to be nullified for the happiness of both partners regardless of the opinions of outsiders, but a tiny percentage of these kinds of marriages actually see a divorce in India.

These are from my observations as an Indian who grew up there and currently living in US and doing some serious comparative analysis on marriages :-). Hope you have been elightened.

family2010 profile image

family2010 4 years ago

Informative Post,

I am from the Arabic culture and did not have the privilege of arrange marriage, my sister did have that privilege and for some reason I feel that she is more in ease at her marriage than mine. In addition to that, I feel they are more happy that my family and respect is obvious within their institution, unlike my case and other cases where the couples fall in love and then they would step on one another foot and the feeling or pride is fading over the years. I might be wrong, but this is how I felt at some points of my life.

lo 4 years ago


Deborah 4 years ago

I have grown up in a non-traditional Romany Gypsy family, and in my heritage, arranged marriages were the preferred form of union. Though my parents and grandparents did not have a matchmaker or an arrangement, I feel that I would like to have an arranged marriage. I am a generally shy person, and the idea of serial dating is terrifying, though it has worked for my brother and sister. If someone could possibly help me get a list of the pros and cons of choosing this, I would be forever grateful. Please email responses to

christian 4 years ago

Thanks so much you just helped me understand the subeject so much better i really thanky you for taking the time to do that!

Hopee 3 years ago

Thiss Iss Gness

junkie 3 years ago

norma robs cars

MR. Big Daddy 3 years ago

Man i just need to win the lottery nd skool is for fools!:D

Michael P 3 years ago

Michael + Mario= Forever love ;)

@me 3 years ago

im just here cuz of skol -.-

Totally Helpless :( 3 years ago

doing a paper on it 3-5 pages. About Arranged Marriages. HELP anyone???

Ash_Kardash (; 3 years ago

Good !

LOL . 3 years ago


Hopie Cx 3 years ago

I Hate School ! :'(

gdvfqdgyb 2 years ago

ewe school

hey 2 years ago

me too xc

jaylen stocklin 2 years ago

I want an arranged marriage

shadimatrimonial 2 years ago

Excellent hub I have ever read before. I enjoyed reading your hub as well as comments followed by it. Apart from traditional ways of matchmaking and matchmakers I would like to suggest all of you to try one awesome online portal This one is very user friendly and You can register for free.

chaitanyasaivb profile image

chaitanyasaivb 23 months ago from INDIA

There are lot many changes, that has occurred, when we compare the past and present. But, One more interesting fact is there is a quite increase in the divorces. In the past, there were only a few, to break their relationship. But, Now a days, It has become a common act.

KMSplumeau profile image

KMSplumeau 21 months ago

Great article, very informative. Definitely will be sharing.

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