Arranged Marriages in Western Europe: Media Representations and Social Reality

Article excerpt


There are broadly two main types of marriage systems globally. The first are the "love" marriages that dominate Western nations such as the United States and those in Europe. The second involves "arranged" marriages. These are dominant in many parts of Asia and Africa. As a result of international migration to Western Europe, both systems now coexist in countries such as Britain, France and Germany.

This article examines how arranged marriages are covered in the media in these three European countries. It also provides systematic empirical data on the prevalence of arranged marriages in these same countries.


Many Western sociologists argue that modernization has involved an expansion of individualism and autonomy. Giddens (1992 and 1999), Bauman (2003) and Evans (2003) have argued that relationships premised on notions of romantic love and mutual emotional support have come to typify the "late modern world." Such ideas represent an extension of earlier convergence theory with its emphasis on the spread of "modem" values such as love, romance and independence (see Kerr, 1960; Inkeles, 1969 and Rudelson, 1997). However, this teleology is contradicted by the fact that arranged marriages remain the norm in many parts of the world, particularly in Asia, North Africa and the Middle East (see Myers et al. 2005; Zang, 2008 and Sam, 2009). An arranged marriage is one where parents (rather than prospective spouses themselves) choose marital partners for their children (see Penn and Lambert, 2009). Arranged marriages so defined remain typical for around half the world's population. They are pervasive in China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the trans-Ural parts of Russia and Nigeria. Many of these countries are predominantly Moslem or contain sizeable Moslem minorities. Not only are arranged marriages typical amongst around half the world's population, they will become more pervasive in the future since the) predominate in countries with high rates of population growth (see United Nations, 2001a). The modern world therefore is characterised by the coexistence of two broad types of marriage systems. As a result of international migration (see Castles and Miller, 2003) both systems now coexist within Western Europe and North America. Despite this, the overwhelming majority of family researchers in Europe and the USA ignore this aspect of contemporary marriages (see Drago, 2007 and Cherlin, 2009). Both arranged marriages and love marriages share similar structural properties as value systems. Both strongly advocate the superiority of their own system of marriage and, as a corollary, derogate the other. This is illustrated in Diagram A.

Diagram A.

Arranged Marriage Value System

Positive and Negative Element within
Value Systems Associated with Arranged
and Love Marriages

Arranged (+)                            Love (-)

Promotes Strong Families                Individualism
Maintains Familial links                Love produces bad choice
                                        of spouse
Customary                               High Divorce Rates
Conserves Property                      High Proportion of Single
Maintains Strong Discipline Over        Lack of Fathers
Segregated Gender Roles (women not      Ill-disciplined
                                        ChildrenDrugs and Crime
required to undertake paid work
the home)                               amongst Young
                                        Women required to
                                        undertake paid work:

The template for this model was originally derived from a series of open-ended interviews with young Asians and non-Asians in the North West of England undertaken in 2000 and 2001 (see Penn and Lambert, 2009). …


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