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Why Are So Many Indian Arranged Marriages Successful?

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.

One phenomenon that hasn’t changed, however, and continues to puzzle and intrigue many people (including me) is the institution of the Indian arranged marriage. Even today, a vast majority of Indians and Indian Americans that I know, including family members, friends, acquaintances, and my students, many of them among the highest educated and westernized strata, choose an arranged marriage over a free-choice one.

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.

 

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