Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Marital Discord and Subsequent Dissolution: Perceptions of Nepalese Wives and Husbands

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Marital Discord and Subsequent Dissolution: Perceptions of Nepalese Wives and Husbands

Article excerpt

Over the past several decades, populations outside of industrialized, Western settings have begun to adopt a new model of marriage that emphasizes personal fulfillment and happiness (Dion & Dion, 1993; Goode, 1970; Thornton, 2001). Accompanying this marital shift is a rising prevalence of divorce in many of these non-Western countries (Goode, 1993). Researchers still, however, have a limited understanding of the process among these more collectivist-oriented populations. In this study, I investigated the process of marital dissolution in rural South Asia, a setting where individuals, in particular, women, have relatively low personal freedom (Bennett, 1983; Jayakody, Thornton, & Axinn, 2008; Sastry & Ross, 1998). Although research has demonstrated that marital quality is associated with marital dissolution among Western populations (Amato & Rogers, 1997; DeMaris, 2000; Gottman, 1994), whether marital quality will have a similar impact in this South Asian setting is unclear. Even less clear is whether a wife's perception of marital quality will be as influential as her husband's perception of marital quality.

Specifically, this study focused on the role of marital discord in predicting marital outcomes among an agrarian population in southern Nepal. Divorce remains uncommon throughout South Asia (Dommaraju & Jones, 2011), but it is likely to be on the rise as families and their social surroundings are changing (Axinn & Yabiku, 2001; Jayakody et al., 2008). In fact, the number of divorces registered in the Chitwan District Court of southern Nepal has been increasing rapidly since the mid-1980s, from fewer than 10 per year to more than 200 in the year 2010. Furthermore, nearly every young Nepali person marries, which automatically exposes them to the possibility of experiencing marital dissolution. Hence, this setting, where divorce is becoming increasingly common, is ideal for studying the association between marital discord and marital dissolution.


In rural Nepal, the high value placed on marriage is indicated in its universality and early occurrence (Yabiku, 2005). In Chitwan, the average age at marriage for individuals who married between 2000 and 2005 was 19.9 for women and 23.9 for men. Most marriages have historically been arranged by family members (Ghimire, Axinn, Yabiku, & Thornton, 2006). The marital union is especially important for the gendered division of labor within households, as women are responsible for certain tasks both in the field and in the home (Allendorf, 2007). Women typically do not hold jobs outside of the home, although it is not uncommon for women to perform temporary work for wages. This temporary work often involves labor on the land of wealthier households and is somewhat deprecated (Cameron, 1998; Stash & Hannum, 2001). Because the women who work for wages tend to occupy a lower social status, they also tend to be under less strict expectations-compared to higher status women-to show obedience to their husbands and in-laws (Bennett, 1983).

It is not surprising, in a setting where marriage is nearly universal and encompasses well-defined norms and customs, that marital dissolution is uncommon (Parry, 2001). Hindu customs guide many aspects of social life in Nepal, and Hindu code historically has not formally recognized marital dissolution (Goode, 1970; Holden, 2008; Parry, 2001). Nevertheless, marital dissolutions often occur informally, and many do not involve legal recognition (Parry, 2001). Lower status, marginalized groups have a history of greater instances of marital dissolution than higher status groups (Holden, 2008).

Data from in-depth interviews (conducted in fall 2010 with 30 men and women of various Nepalese ethnicities who were living in Chitwan) reveal that local people tend to be aware that divorce occurs around them but also view it as adverse or perceive that others view it as adverse. A 25-year-old woman said, "When one gets married with a person he or she should . …

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