Would Arranged Marriages be Better?

Stuart Schneiderman thinks that there is much to be said for that approach.

But was arranged marriage really ever much of a thing in the US, at least within the last couple of centuries?  Here’s Michael Chevalier, a French engineer who visited America circa 1833. After observing that the American are the most money-obsessed people he has ever met, he goes on to say:

I ought to do the Americans justice on another point. I have said that with them everything was an affair of money; yet there is one thing which among us, a people of lively affections, prone to love and generous by nature, takes the mercantile character very decidedly and which among them has nothing of this character; I mean marriage. We buy a woman with our fortune or we sell ourselves to her for her dowry. The American chooses her, or rather offers himself to her, for her beauty, her intelligence, or her amiable qualities and asks no other portion. Thus, while we make a traffic of what is most sacred, these shopkeepers exhibit a delicacy and loftiness of feeling which would have done honor to the most perfect models of chivalry.

Reactions to Stuart’s post?

22 thoughts on “Would Arranged Marriages be Better?”

  1. What does “better” mean? Fewer divorces? “Happier” people?

    If we’re trying to fix some societal ill, real or perceived, looking to how we pick spouses isn’t going to be effective. If we’re trying to fix the fact that so many marriages end in divorce, then, duh, sorry to be circular, but make it harder to get a divorce. The reason why India has a very low divorce rate (I believe that is still true) isn’t because they have arranged marriages, but because in their society they know that marriage is forever, period, no escape hatch. It’s pointless to stress about how we enter into marriages, if we’re going to keep our current system where there is no barrier to exit.

    Of course, there is no legal fix here. Our society (as a whole, there are of course wide exceptions) just doesn’t want to impose barriers to divorce. One should, finally, point out that the left has explicitly attacked the family for centuries, in their attempts to destroy every institution that stands between the individual and the state (their stand-in for God). The destruction of the twinned notions that sex is only socially sanctioned within marriage, and marriage is one man, one woman, for life, have been more damaging to women than anything else in the history of the world.

  2. Schneiderman perhaps overweights the influence on marriage of therapy culture, which may be effect rather than cause. He underweights the disincentives to marriage created by modern contraception, the welfare state, the increased economic productivity of women, and our legal system.

    Arranged marriage might be a good idea for some people. However, if the question is how to reduce the divorce rate, legal reform might be a better bet. The current system is stacked against men as evidenced by abundant anecdotes about young men who are scared of marriage. Typically, as with partisanship in news media, bias is proven when one group disproportionately believes it exists while the other group is mostly complacent.

    In addition to the obvious legal reforms it would be nice if someone would teach young women timeless truths that more people used to understand: Young women have more potential mates from whom to chose than do older women, so woman who want marriage and family should start looking for husbands early. And women who leave their husbands stand a fair chance of doing worse in second marriages, and therefore should probably be more hesitant to divorce than many women seem to be. (The fact that many modern parents are unwilling or unable to teach their daughters these things makes me skeptical about arranged marriage as a remedy.)

  3. Part of it, also, wasn’t so much arranged as it was “guided”, usually by older women, the matriarchs of the social mileau. Men and women were put together and encouraged to find likes and dislikes.

    I may be prejudiced, but this seems a lot more likely to work than today’s “hook up” culture.

  4. Of course, if people are going off to college…taking a job in another town…going into the military….then they are going to be meeting people their parents don’t even know and hence can’t recommend or de-recommend. Unless people start getting married right out of high school, which seems unlikely.

  5. It should also be pointed out that trends in marriage, out-of-wedlock births, etc., are not at all distributed evenly through society. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the country isn’t at least as, if not more, segregated by these factors than by race or income.

    What sort of thinking about marriage resonates a Manhattan NYT reader of the original column that inspired this discussion has nothing to do with what motivates the average person in, say, Utica.

  6. Just saw this article about a robot to assemble Ikea furniture…titled “The Marriage-Saving Robot That Can Assemble Ikea Furniture”….actually, perhaps an Ikea-assembly project would be a good dry run to predict the likelihood of marriage success….

  7. Well Ikea projects reinforce my daughter’s marriage and are great tension points in ours. Oh, well. It only needs one competent person (who reads directions).

    I wonder if arranged marriages are more likely to achieve a union of equals – or not. I’d always assumed it would be less so – it seems to be a practice which has different emphases than partnering. But I’ve only seen such relationships from quite outside. If romance and a woman’s love were terribly important to a man in my courting days, I was less likely to be seen as an equal, the man was likely to be older, and to come from different religious and ethnic groups than a man who first saw me as a partner and classmate and then as a romantic object. Then and now, I prefer the latter – but I’m not sure it is happier (or less happy). There are always tradeoffs.

  8. these shopkeepers exhibit a delicacy and loftiness of feeling which would have done honor to the most perfect models of chivalry.

    The “nation of shopkeepers” kicked their a$$.

  9. In the Olden Days, mating (whether arranged or not) tended to be within a community of people who had known one another for some time. In the modern era of geographical mobility and urbanization, an important form of community has been the workplace, and this has also been important for mating, especially so as more women have worked outside of the home.

    But the meeting, dating, & mating potential of the workplace has recently been greatly inhibited by the fear of sexual harassment accusations, and in some cases by explicit policies as well.

    Especially people of an introverted nature are more likely to find a good marriage partner, or even a fun & interesting dating partner, in a work environment of long-term associations than in a bar or club where immediate impressions are the key thing.

  10. David, good points.

    Offices have some of the social qualities, both good and bad, of small towns. On the one hand everyone knows everyone else. On the other hand there is limited choice of potential partners and it is difficult to avoid your ex if things don’t work out. The possibility of career damage from failed relationships is probably a big reason why people may be reluctant to look for marriage partners at work. Could changes in our legal system or work culture reduce this risk? Regardless of laws or the broader culture, could private companies benefit by encouraging employees to marry?

  11. I’d suggest that there’s something lacking in modern social structures, in terms of connecting the right people at the right time, in terms of reproductive success.

    Today’s society requires a certain insincerity and falseness in sexual relations; many men and women who would be successfully mated in an arranged marriage society simply do not do well in the environment we’ve created for ourselves. You don’t want to “play the game”, you’re not going to wind up with a mate–And, the “game” has been made sufficiently distasteful that an awful lot of people opt out of it, and refuse to participate in the BS.

    I think there is a huge swathe of unanswered social needs, in today’s Western society–Where do you go to, if you’re not into the bar scene, or the singles scene? How do you find and connect with someone, when you’re not socially connected through what have become the “conventional means”?

    These questions are not insignificant, either: Who succeeds at reproduction molds the future. Imagine what the long-term consequences for the one-child policy in China will be, and who it is that will be passing on their genes in the environment the Chinese government has created?

    Likewise, do we really consider the long-term ramifications of who we’re actually rewarding with reproductive success in our own society? Idiocracy was just a movie… We hope.

  12. “I’d suggest that there’s something lacking in modern social structures, in terms of connecting the right people at the right time”
    We warehouse (literally) kids with people of the same age, segregated from adults, from the age of 5 until about 22 or so. This is a radically new concept that has led to disastrous consequences. Why on earth should we think that 13 year olds should spend all their free time around other 13 year olds, instead of a healthy mix of their peers and adults?

  13. @Brian,

    I was thinking more in terms of mating, but you’re absolutely correct in that the problem goes way past just that aspect of things.

    There are better ways to do things; we just need to find them. The current situation we’re in is that the old extended structures that we used to rely on are essentially now a mass of broken links going nowhere, and there are no compensatory mechanisms in place to shore things up.

    You don’t want to play the “game”, or are unsuited to it? Good luck finding someone compatible and trustworthy; you’re likely doomed to a life of solitude and loneliness. There are no societal mechanisms in place to serve those who don’t conform to the triviality in modern life. If you don’t follow the Kardashians, or think that the crap on TV is great entertainment, well… You’d better be a church-going sort, because the other options out there are just not that great for connecting with someone.

    Your point about the larger scheme of things is well-taken; how can you find a mentor to teach you the proper path in life, when all you know is your immature and craven peer group? When the larger message of society is that your elders have nothing to teach you, and when all the entertainment you see tells you that anyone outside your peer group is inept and an enemy?

    We’re self-barbarizing, I think. And, most of the problem stems from the nature of our cultural institutions, along with the messaging they send us in everything we see, day-to-day. Think about all the ads denigrating either men or women as inept idiots–It’s like they can’t even frame their products in any other way, when they try to sell to us.

  14. Kirk: I do think it’s related, in that we segregate kids and young adults way past the point where just two generations ago people were expected to be full members of society, working, married, etc. There’s really no reason we should think two 18 year olds can’t get married and get started with life. Similarly, there’s no real reason why an 18 year old shouldn’t marry a 25 year old, it just seems bizarre now because we’ve put up this wall separating “kids” in school from everyone else. And somehow almost all social organizations have evaporated in the past several decades, so most young adults don’t even interact with anyone who they don’t work with, and church for those who attend.

    What I find so odd is that there are still plenty of people who know that the way society works now is nothing like it was when they were young, so it’s not like we’re talking about well established, time-tested systems that should be preserved.

  15. @Brian,

    And, a huge part of things is the sheer misery inflicted upon the majority, for whom all these changes are just a part of the environment.

    Were you to tell people forty years ago what the social norms would be, today? They’d call you crazy–But, they are the ones who implemented and brought about the changes!

    At one and the same time, people are more connected in trivial, impersonal ways, and less and less connected in the meaningful and profound sense of that term. Where are the fraternal organizations of yore? Dead letters; the VFW is dying, for lack of participation. I get mail pleading my engagement and involvement in that organization on a monthly basis, and yet they offer me nothing that is of interest to me. I sympathize with their plight, but the raw and unpleasant fact is that they’ve rendered themselves meaningless to those of us who might be interested in joining them.

    Anomie and dissociation from the social mass seems to be the order of the day; and the reason for it is that many of our institutions have fundamentally failed to address the needs and interests of people who might join and participate in these social institutions. Look around; where are there any VFW halls that have spaces for veterans to get together and do things that might attract the interest of the younger generations, like gaming? Where are the shooting ranges, the skill-maintenance facilities for those of us still interested in maintaining our former professional proficiencies?

    If the VFW were to actually represent something I was interested in, like doing disaster response and civil defense functions? I’d be involved on a daily basis. So long as it is mainly a drinking and politicking organization, I have zero interest.

  16. 6 of one and a half dozen on the other. Either way if one doesn’t use their (big) head the odds of it surviving aren’t good.

  17. One of my wife’s friends went back to India for her sister’s wedding.

    When she arrived she discovered that the astrologer had warned the family that it would be terribly unlucky for the younger sister to marry before the older one.

    She returned to the US married. I don’t know how long the short list was.

  18. 1) Arranged marriage only works when people want and expect to marry as a matter of course. A large portion of Americans today regard marriage as something that happens only for those fortunate enough to find the absolutely right partner – or those who marry unwisely (the large proportion who end up divorced). Since Americans are under essentially no effective social or familial pressure to marry, many choose not to marry, or to wait for the perfect match, and don’t go looking.

    2) There is a fairly common “escape clause” for marriage in India. it’s called “bride-burning”.

  19. BTW, as a side note to this, that ass in Toronto was an offshoot problem of today’s social culture — “incels” — Involuntary Celibates — mostly guys who don’t have any choice but to be celibate. An extreme response to it, no question, but an understandable point source of anger. We all want to get laid.

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