Friday, July 3, 2020

Purpose of marriage throughout human history

Marriage is a virtually universal culture. It can be found in all societies all over the world. What is the purpose of marriage? Why had human begun to marriage in history? Why the marriage culture is originated? I am going to explore the purposes behind the marriage culture.

What is marriage?

Marriage may be defined as the socially approved relationship between male and female as a husband and wife. The norms for approving marriage varies from society to society. So, we can see different society performs ceremony differently. Whatever the ceremony, ultimately relationship turn into husband and wife. Since it is prevalent in all society, there must be a certain purpose of marriage on which we are being benefited whether we are conscious or unconscious about it. 
Marriage custom
Purpose of marriage

Adaptation is the prime determinate in the evolution of culture. All human society is different in any pattern in their culture. Whatever differences, almost all society practise marriage, which creates a strong foundation to conclude that marriage is adaptive. The purpose of marriage or its origin, therefore, should be traced by its adaptive roles in primitive human society. How marriage is adaptive in the evolution process? How it is beneficial to our social process? How it enhances our survival? These questions shift us to focus on primitive human problems. I have outlined three bases of explanations from the book titled "Anthropology". These explanations provide some insight into the purpose of marriage.

i. Prolonged infant dependency

As compared with other primates, human has a high infant dependency period. We can see, animal around us can stand, walk, eat within a few days after they are born. But it is impossible for a human child. No human child can stand, walk, eat after a few days of his birth. It takes years(long time) to be independent. Human born with weaker than an animal. This high infant dependency becomes the greatest burden for a mother who gives birth to a child. A mother should continuously take care of a child. So a mother cannot engage in other important works and needs help from the man. 

A man(father) should be responsible for this problem. He should help her (mother of the child). The solution demands the identification of the father. If there is not the custom of marriage, is it easy to identify the father?  The answer is probably 'No'. The problem lies here. The marriage helps to identify the father and makes him responsible for child care. This reduces the problem of female to be burdened due to prolonged infant dependency.

ii. Gender division of labour

Human society has a division of labour based on gender. Division of labour is very necessary for society. It helps to create harmony and solidarity in society. In primitive society, the male generally used to involve in hunting and female in the collection of fruits. In the present society, we have also a division of work based on gender. Generally, female engage in indoor work(housewife) and male in outdoor work. The division of work also differs from society to society. Whatever it is, there is prevailing work based on gender in every society. Marriage helps to share the work outcome of male and female. The division of work becomes complement by marriage.

iii. Sexual competition

Research has shown that female can engage in sexual intercourse throughout the year at any time. This continuous sexuality of female may create conflict in society. Some author suggests this strives males for female in sexual competition. It may create a terrible problem in society. Marriage can solve this problem by minimising the rivalry among males for females.


The custom of marriage is universal. The norms and ceremony are different from society to society but marriage is prevalent in all society. The purpose of marriage or its origin can be traced from the adaptive perspective. The above mentioned prolonged infant dependency, gender division of labour and sexual competition are described based on adaptative but these are also not enough to explain. There is no exact and universally accepted theory for explaining the purpose of marriage.

Reference: Anthropology book(Author: Carol R. Ember, Melvin Ember, Peter N. Peregrine)


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