Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Marital Quality from a Rural Indian Context in Comparative Perspective1

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Marital Quality from a Rural Indian Context in Comparative Perspective1

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

There is a large literature that examines marital quality, its determinants, and its consequences in Western settings. Underlying this research is the belief that marital quality is an important aspect of social life, which is worthy of study in its own right, as well as having consequences for well-being. The presence of children, marital duration, availability of alternative spouses, and a host of other factors influence marital quality (Bradbury et al., 2000; Glenn, 1990). Marital quality further affects self-rated health, physical health, and subjective well-being and happiness (Dush & Amato, 2005; Umberson et al., 2006; Wickramaetal., 1997).

By comparison, marital quality in non- Western contexts has received much less attention. Recently, however, a growing number of studies have begun to examine marital quality in non- Western countries. The determinants of marital quality have been explored in Ghana (Miller and Kannae, 1999), Cameroon (Gwanfogbe et al., 1997), Bolivia (Orgill and Heaton, 2005), Taiwan (Xu and Lai, 2004), China (Pimentel, 2000), Malaysia (Ng et al., 2008), Nepal (Hoelter et al., 2004), and India (Kumar and Trivedi, 1990; Sandhya, 2009; Shukla and Kapoor, 1990; Singh et al., 2006). The effect of marital quality on other outcomes has also been examined for postpartum depression in Turkey (Alkar and Gencoz, 2005) and children's behavior in Brazil (Stutzman et al., 2009).

Many of these studies on marital quality in non- Western contexts use measures of marital quality developed in research on Western countries. Moreover, these Western measures are often employed without an evaluation of their relevance to the particular context. This practice implicitly assumes that conceptions of what constitutes a good marriage in Western settings apply equally well to non- Western contexts. Such an assumption is unlikely to hold, however, since marital quality is an inherently subjective concept. At its base, marital quality is the degree to which a marriage is judged to be good or bad. The characteristics of a marriage that are considered good are subjective and can vary across time and place. Thus, it is likely that conceptions of marital quality derived from Western studies are not equally applicable in all non- Western settings. Some aspects of marital quality may apply to some contexts, but not to others. Thus, applying Western conceptions in other contexts may inappropriately include dimensions of marital quality that are not relevant to the setting or miss other dimensions that are. It is also important not to reify differences solely along Western versus non- Western lines. Given the large variations within non- Western societies there must be differences in the concept of marital quality within non- Western contexts. Similarly, it is also likely that there is variation within Western contexts. Certainly, the value of marriage itself varies within Western contexts, as seen in the greater premium placed on marriage in the United States compared to Britain and France (Cherlin, 2009).

The practice of applying Western concepts and measures of marital quality, without examining their relevance in a particular context, leads to two main problems. First, it bypasses an important and interesting area of inquiry. If marital quality is assumed to take a universal shape, then researchers miss the opportunity to examine how and why conceptions of marital quality vary by context. Second, this practice may lead to misleading or incorrect findings. For example, Miller and Kannae (1999) express surprise that they find that patriarchal attitudes are associated with poor marital quality among men in Ghana. This result may be due to their choice of measures however. They include items on how much time men spent shopping, cooking, and performing other household chores with their wives in their measure of marital quality. It seems logical that men with patriarchal attitudes do not engage in housework alongside their wives, but this may not necessarily mean that they have poor quality marriages according to either their own evaluations or the conception of marital quality held in Ghana. …

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