How Does a Modern Indian Arranged Marriage Work?
A typical modern arranged marriage works as follows. For both men and women, the individual’s parents or older family members screen for and find prospective mates for further consideration through their social circle, community, or by advertising on matrimonial websites or newspapers. There is an initial meeting in a family gathering, after which the couple has a few opportunities for chaperoned courtship. At this point if neither party has vetoed the match and if they are so inclined, they may spend some time together alone. And then it is time to make the decision. It is not unusual for the process from initial introduction to the final yes/no decision to unfold within a few days. A 2013 IPSOS survey found that 74 percent of young Indians (18-35 years old) prefer an arranged marriage over a free-choice one. Other sources report that as many as 90 percent of all Indian marriages are arranged.
In this post, I want to explore two rather interesting and reliable statistics related to Indian arranged marriages. The first is that Indians have an astonishingly low divorce rate. Despite doubling in urban areas since 2007, only about 1 in 100 Indian marriages end in divorce. This is one of the lowest divorce rates in the world. Even more impressive is the second statistic, about the high levels of satisfaction reported by those in arranged marriages over the longer-term.
A recent study of relationship outcomes among Indian-American couples married either through free-choice or arranged marriages for about a decade found absolutely no differences. Those in arranged marriages were just as satisfied with their marriage and loved their partner as intensely as those who wed through free-choice. Other studies have found similar results. Despite criticisms of self-selection and small sample sizes leveled against some of these studies, this is the best available evidence and it suggests that Indian arranged marriages are at least as successful as free-choice ones.
How can this be? How can two people who barely know each other make such an important decision that will affect their joint futures so quickly? And even more surprising, how can a decision made this way lead to positive outcomes for so many couples?
I want to propose three factors that might help explain this puzzle. These have to do with relinquishing difficult aspects of the choice, choosing with relatively little deliberation, and starting the relationship with lower expectations. Let’s look at each of these factors in detail.