Chapter 14 (333-351): Sex, Marriage, and Family
CULTURE, FERTILITY AND CONTROL OF SEXUAL RELATIONS
Culture shapes human reproduction and fertility (the rate of population growth from the numbers of births and deaths). Cultural beliefs and practices can affect ideas of beauty, attraction, marriage, pregnancy and child rearing. The rules governing how, when, and with whom an individual can engage in sexual activity are highly patterned by culture. As the usual outcome of sexual activity is the production of children, all societies have certain rules that regulate sexual relations. And because sexual activity has the potential to be highly divisive in society, and, for much of the world, it also has economic functions, including access to the labor of offspring, it makes sense that there are well-established rules about it.
- One such regulation of sexual access is marriage, which establishes rights and obligations that often include access to sexual activity, labor, property, status, and child rearing.
- However, unlike some notions of marriage as only occurring between a man and a woman, the anthropological definition of marriage is a, “culturally sanctioned union between two or more people that establishes certain rights and obligations between the people, between them and their children, and between them and their in-laws” (227).
- Mating is not the same as marriage, the former is biological and the latter is cultural.
- Cultural anthropologists studying fertility and reproduction are interested in topics such as how often and in what manner different cultures have intercourse, who makes decisions about fertility, and what methods of fertility control are used cross-culturally and why.
- Wide variations exist cross-culturally about the frequency of sex. Culture shapes sexual desire by valuing or devaluing certain libidos and this can vary within a culture. Cultural and religious practices can also prohibit sex at certain times, affecting its frequency.
- Decisions about fertility matters occur at the family, state and global levels.
- All human cultures have ways of influencing fertility, including birth spacing. Some ways are direct (inducing abortions) while others are indirect (long breastfeeding periods).
- Indigenous Methods – They existed long before science and are prescribed by specialists (midwives). Plant and animal substances are said to affect fertility and some do work.
- Induced abortion – It is probably universal and social attitudes vary. There are various methods including direct blows, extraction and medicines.
- Infanticide – It is widely documented cross-culturally but it isn’t a common practice in any society. The most frequent reason is deformation but the baby’s sex, an unwed mother, the birth of twins, poverty and the family having too many kids are all reasons.
FORMS OF MARRIAGE
As marriage is culturally constructed, there are a variety of different forms of marriage practiced around the world, but it does exist in all cultures. There are two main categories of marriage.
- Monogamy is marriage in which both spouses have a single partner and it is the most common form of marriage.
- Serial monogamy is a type of monogamous marriage where a person marries a series of partners in succession.
- Polygamy is marriage to multiple spouses at the same time and is allowed by a majority of the world’s cultures. There are two types of polygamous marriages.
- Polygyny is marriage between one man and multiple wives and is the most common type of polygamous marriage.
- Polyandry is marriage between one woman and multiple husbands and is rare.
- We often see polygyny where women’s contributions to the economy are important and polyandry where women are scarce.
- A very rare form of marriage, group marriage, occurs when several men and women have sexual access to one another.
CHOICE OF SPOUSE
While Western notions of romance often paint marriage as a process where people are free to marry whomever they choose, there are a variety of marriage arrangements and rules about who may marry whom. In some cases, the marriage of the two individuals might be incidental to the formation of alliances between two families. Thus, arranging marriages is not as uncommon as some might like to consider. There are generally two categories of rules for selecting spouses, rules of exclusion and rules of inclusion.
- An incest taboo is an exclusionary rule prohibiting marriage or sex between certain kinship relations. All cultures have some form of incest taboo but which kin are excluded vary. The most basic and universal taboo is between a parent and child. In most cultures, brother-sister marriage is also forbidden. Cousin marriages are frequent and oftentimes the preferred form of marriage for many cultures and the rules vary greatly cross-culturally. Exogamy is the practice of marrying outside of certain groups.
- There are other rules, besides taboos, prohibiting marriage to people of certain religions, races or ethnic groups, but these rules are usually stated as preference for marriage within a particular group (rules of inclusion). Rules of endogamy call for marriage to a person from within a particular group (family, class, geographic location, profession, religion). In kin endogamy, cousins are often preferred and there are two major forms of cousin marriage.
- Parallel cousins are children of either the father’s brother or mother’s sister and cross cousins are the children of either the father’s sister or the mother’s brother. Within cousin marriage practices of both of these kinds there can also be a preference for the patrilateral or matrilateral sides (father or mother).
- Because status is often important in selecting a partner, some cultures have rules of hypergyny, where the husband should be of higher status than the bride or hypogyny, where the bride is of higher status than the husband. Isogamy is marriage between equals.
MARRIAGE AND ECONOMIC EXCHANGE
The formalization of many marriages cross-culturally is usually marked by some type of economic gift or exchange. These gifts and exchanges serve to underline that to much of the rest of the world, marriage is an economic and political transaction. By marrying, a family loses a member of their household and thus their labor and help with their economic activities, as well as the labor and help of all of their potential offspring. Most marriages involve gift giving between partners, families and friends. There are three major forms of marital exchanges.
- The first, dowry, is the transfer of goods and/or money (usually her inheritance) from the bride’s side to the new couple for their use. When the dowry is transferred to the groom’s family and not the couple it is more appropriately called groomprice.
- The second exchange is brideprice (or bride wealth) and is the transfer of goods and/or money from the groom’s side to the bride’s parents. This transfer is to compensate the bride’s family for their loss of a family member and laborer.
- A similar transfer is brideservice, where the groom works for the father-in-law for a certain time before or just after marrying, again, to compensate her family for their loss.
After marriage in extended family cultures, it is often expected that the wife or husband, possibly both, will move to a new household to establish their family unit. The three most common patterns of residence possible after marriage occurs are:
- Patrilocal residence - a married couple lives in the husband’s father’s community.
- Matrilocal residence - a married couple lives in the wife’s mother’s community.
- Neolocal residence - a couple establishes their household away from either community.
As marriage is a cultural practice, so too is divorce. Because marriage is often an economic matter, divorce arrangements can vary in degrees of complexity. Depending on the culture, grounds for divorce may range from sterility or impotence to infidelity or domestic violence. Divorce can range in difficulty from Western style court actions to the simple form of placing a cheating husband’s belongings on the stoop to indicate to the village that he is no longer welcome. A concern that some have expressed in Western societies is the increasing prevalence of divorce. However, others have noted that in many societies, both Western and non-Western, marriage is not central to family life. Many cultures have a prevalence of couples that cohabitate (live together) and raise children, but have never married.
FAMILY AND HOUSEHOLD
Just as there are a variety of ways to define marriage, there are numerous variations of families and households. Due to this variation, the anthropological definitions of family and household are unavoidably broad. Our book defines a family as two or more people related by blood, marriage or adoption. In contrast, a household is a domestic group where members may or may not be related by kinship, who live together and share economic responsibilities. However, most households consist of family members. When studying how human groups arrange their family and household life, anthropologists usually use the categories of nuclear and extended family.
- A nuclear family consists of one or two parents and dependent offspring. It is the most common type of family in industrial and foraging societies.
- An extended family consists of two or more closely related nuclear families living together and is the most common form of family in horticultural, pastoral and agricultural societies.
- We should also distinguish the basis of families. Some cultures recognize marriage as the basis of family, conjugal, whereas others (very few) recognize blood, consanguinal.
- Households can also be classified in very similar ways.
- Single-person households are one member living alone.
- Single-parent households involve one adult with offspring.
- Nuclear households contain one adult (married or unmarried) couple with or without children and are found in all cultures, but are most characteristic of foraging and industrialized societies.
- Extended households may contain more than one adult couple and may consist of multiple generations of a family or polygamous family units and may be related through any form of kinship. They are the majority of households in horticultural, pastoral and agricultural economies. Land or animals allow for the support of larger households.
CHANGING MARRIAGE, KINSHIP AND HOUSEHOLD DYNAMICS
Attempts at defining marriage, family, and household by one definition are problematic to say the least. As seen in this chapter, there are a variety of ways that people will organize, marry, and form households in cross-cultural perspective. Given the growth in immigration, the blending of cultures and families, and the emergence of new reproductive technologies, it is likely that further challenges to traditional notions of family and marriage are likely to occur.
- Many changes in marriage and household patterns have been the result of colonialism and globalization.
- Nearly everywhere, the age at first marriage is going up. This is related to the emphasis on completing education and attaining some economic stability before marriage.
- Everywhere we look, the more education women have, the fewer children they have.
- In some cultures, love matches are replacing arranged marriages.
- Interethnic, international and interracial marriages are increasing partly because of increasing migration and travel. Migrants bring with them many of their own practices that are changing kinship dynamics in their new homes.
- Changes in economic opportunities have led to changes in households. Many unmarried young women are employed in factories that make products for overseas companies, helping their families to survive. This is helping to free daughters from male parental control and change gender dynamics.
- International migration is also altering both home and host country household patterns. As the developing world suffers from poverty, many try their hand as immigrants or migrants in wealthier nations and send money home. This alters the composition of households at home and creates opportunities for new household forms in the host nation.
- Additionally, as women migrants are increasing and they send remittances home, they are now often experiencing greater economic power than they had before.