Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Social Change, Premarital Nonfamily Experiences, and Marital Dynamics

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Social Change, Premarital Nonfamily Experiences, and Marital Dynamics

Article excerpt

We investigate the effects of nonfamily experiences on marital relationships in a setting characterized by high levels of arranged marriage until recently. Drawing on theoretical frameworks for the study of families and social change, we argue that the expansion of opportunities for nonfamily experiences will increase the likelihood of marital relationships based on an emotional bond between husbands and wives. Using data from 3,724 individuals in rural Nepal, we find consistent effects of educational experiences across multiple dimensions of marriage. These effects point toward the spread of education as a stimulus to marriages characterized by higher levels of love and discussions between spouses, and lower levels of conflict and spouse abuse. Results suggest that studies of marital dynamics in non-Western settings provide a fruitful avenue for new research on marriage.

Key Words: education, marital dynamics, marriage in Nepal, modes of organization.

The study of change and variation in the quality of marital relationships has become an important subfield of family studies, generating a substantial volume of new research every year. Most of this research examines the quality of marital relationships in rich, industrialized Western countries, and there is relatively little research on change and variation in dimensions of marital relationships in the poor countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. A key reason is that the day-to-day meaning of marital relationships varies dramatically across these different social, economic, cultural, and institutional contexts. Nonetheless, careful examination of variations in marital dynamics in dramatically different contexts is likely to yield both important evidence of the extent to which processes determining marital quality are context specific, and key insights into social changes most likely to reshape the quality of marital relationships in the long term. The aim of this article is to document factors associated with marital dynamics in a non-Western context in the midst of dramatic social, economic, and institutional change.

We examine marital relationships in rural Nepal because marriages in this setting were virtually all arranged by parents until very recently, and dramatic changes in the social, economic, and institutional context have stimulated a steep increase in the participation of individuals in the selection of their own spouses (Ghimire, Axinn, Yabiku, & Thornton, 2003). Rural Nepal is a setting in which love, attraction, and an emotional bond between prospective husbands and wives were not important expectations of the marital relationship until quite recently (Bennett, 1983; Fricke, 1986). The setting, then, provides a unique opportunity to examine the relationships between various dimensions of social change and the emergence of marital relationships based on an emotional bond. Theories about family change suggest that the shift in husbands' and wives' emotional bonds can bring fundamental change in families and family formation behaviors (Malhotra, 1991; Rindfuss & Morgan, 1983; Thornton, Chang, & Sun, 1984). These changes may also influence factors such as feelings of love, communication, and violence that affect perceptions of the relationship. The Nepalese setting is also unique in that the caste system was legal until 1961, perpetuating substantial ethnic variations in marital behavior (Ahearn, 2004; Bista, 1972; Dastider, 1995; Hofer, 1979). Finally, Nepalese society is characterized by substantial genderbased stratification (Acharya & Bennett, 1981; Bennett; Stone, 1978), but recent social changes have significantly narrowed the gender gap in important nonfamily experiences such as education (Ahearn; Beutel & Axinn, 2002). As a result, empirical investigation into the various dynamics of marriage in this setting allows us to both document differences based on ethnicity and gender and examine the extent to which the effect of social change on variations in marital relationships depends on ethnicity or gender. …

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