How Love Emerges in Arranged Marriages: Two Cross-Cultural Studies

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Americans, and perhaps Westerners in general, are demanding when it comes to love, and they are becoming increasingly so. In the past, many Americans were willing to marry without love; now most Americans see romantic love as a precondition for marriage (Kephart, 1967; Sprecher et al., 1994). In many cultures in the non-Western world, however, love is still not a requirement for marriage. In fact, most of the world's marriages are arranged by parents or matchmakers (Holmes-Eber, 1997; Mackay, 2000; Meekers, 1995; Mitchell, 2004; Penn, 2011). In such marriages, if love emerges at all, it does so overtime. As people say in India, "First comes marriage, then comes love." Understanding how love grows in such marriages might be beneficial for people living in Western countries, first by presenting us with a different model of marriage, and second by revealing techniques and strategies for deliberately building love over time.

At least 11 studies have compared love or satisfaction in love marriages--also sometimes called "autonomous" marriages, in which people choose their own mates and generally marry for love--to love or satisfaction in arranged marriages. A study involving 50 couples from India suggests that love in love marriages decreases somewhat over time, that love in arranged marriages grows over time, and that love in arranged marriages may ultimately surpass the love that occurs in love marriages (Gupta & Singh, 1982). A study by Yelsma & Athappilly (1988) found the satisfaction level in arranged marriages in India to be higher than in love marriages in the U.S.; a similar, more recent study found no difference in marital satisfaction between these groups, noting, however, that in India, "love is expected to grow as the spouses learn more about each other as the years go by" (Myers, Madathil, & Tingle, 2005, p. 187). A fourth study involving couples from India found recently that the satisfaction level of Indians living in arranged marriages in the U.S. is substantially higher than the satisfaction levels of both Indians living in arranged marriages in India and Americans living in love marriages in the U.S. (Madathil & Benshoff, 2008).

Two studies involving native Japanese showed varying results. One study found no difference between marital "understanding" in love marriages and arranged marriages in Japan (Walsh & Taylor, 1982). Another study compared native Japanese love and arranged marriages with marriages in America, specifically in Detroit, Michigan (Blood, 1967). Within Japanese marriages, the aggregate marital satisfaction score of both genders in arranged marriages was higher than in love marriages, and Japanese couples overall had higher martial satisfaction than Americans. In arranged marriages women had lower satisfaction scores than men, perhaps because of the strict division of labor that was common in Japan when the study was conducted. As the author notes, "Miai [arranged marriage] wives are servants, waiting on their husband like valets, raising children for him like governesses" (Blood, 1967, p. 93).

A study conducted in the U.S. with Orthodox Jews found no difference between the love experienced in love marriages and arranged marriages (Schwartz, 2007). In contrast, studies in China (with women only; Xiaohe & Whyte, 1990), Israel (with Arabs; Lev-Wiesel & Al-Krenawi, 1999), South Africa (with people of Indian descent., Dinna, 2005), and Turkey (Hortacsu & Oral, 1994) suggest that satisfaction may be stronger in love marriages than in arranged marriages in those cultures, possibly because people who enter into love marriages in those cultures tend to be more affluent (cf. Cooke, & Baxter, 2010).

At least 80 studies involving American couples also shed light on factors that strengthen love, among them self-disclosure, accommodation, and physical arousal (e.g., Aron, Melinat, Aron, Vallone, & Bator, 1997; Dutton & Aron, 1974; Foster, Witcher, Campbell, & Green, 1998; White, Fishbein, & Rustin, 1981; cf. …


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