Marriage in Current Collectivist and Individualist Cultures
Scientists who study cultures have identified two opposing characteristics that differentiate cultures from each other: collectivism and individualism. Whether a culture is collectivist or individualist influences its views regarding the purpose of marriage. Collectivist cultures—such as those of contemporary India, Pakistan, Thailand, the Philippines, the Middle East, and other parts of Asia and Africa—emphasize group, or collective, goals over individual aspirations. In such cultures the primary purpose of marriage is to unite families rather than just two people. Parents in collectivist cultures often arrange the marriages of their children. For example, in contemporary India 90% of marriages are arranged (Cullen & Masters,
2008) . Individuals are expected not to put their own feelings for someone above the more important commitments to the needs of family, community, or religion.
As more families from collectivist cultures have immigrated to Western countries, tradition-bound parents may coerce young women into unwanted arranged marriages. One study found 3,000 known or suspected cases of forced marriage in the United States over a two-year period (Goldberg, 2011a). In some parts of the world, consequences for those, especially women, who deviate from the expected norms can be fatal. A senior official in the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said that in the first nine months of 2010, there were 129 known killings of women by male family members for marrying without permission (Agence France-Presse, 2011).
In contrast to collectivist cultures, individualist cultures, such as those of Canada, Europe, Australia, "European" Brazil, and the United States, stress individual desires and goals over family interests. People in individualist cultures place considerably more emphasis on feelings of love as a basis for marriage than do people in collectivist cultures (Levine et al., 1995). The importance of love in deciding to marry is a recent innovation in the long history of human existence. It was not until the end of the 1700s that personal choice based on love replaced family interests as the ideal basis of marriage in the Western world (Coontz, 2006). When collectivist cultures become more individualist, people are less likely to remain in marriages, as we see in China. The easing of government control over individual choices and an increase in Western influence contributed to a 21% increase in divorces in one year’s time in 2004 (Beech, 2005).
Many societies today are concerned about how marriage affects the social order and attempt to modify its impact, as discussed in the Sex and Politics box, "Marriage in Crisis" on page 378.