Definition of Marriage
Why People Get Married
In most societies, marriages are formed to produce children. From the perspective of evolutionary biology and sociobiology, all individual human beings, as with other species, are driven to reproduce and invest in their offspring to ensure that their genes are passed on to future generations. For at least two million years and perhaps longer, marriage or some arrangement like it has been the social relationship that has proven most effective for this purpose. It is also in the interest of all social groups to maintain and reproduce themselves so that the group will continue. Through the marital union, a stable living unit is established (a family). In this unit, children are socialized into the society's norms and values. In some societies, the connection between marriage and reproduction is so strong that if conception does not occur a divorce is permissible, and often is automatic. In others, a marriage does not take place until after pregnancy occurs and fertility is proven (Miller 1987). For a society, the institution of marriage ensures the regulation of sexual activity for adults and the socialization and protection of children born as a result of that sexual activity. However, individuals living within a society need not comply with behavior that serves the needs of society. Why do they?
In the United States, the most often stated reason for marrying is for love—that is, a man and a woman perceive a mutual emotional and/or physical attraction that is satisfying enough to both that they decide to contract a lifelong relationship. Marriage is a socially sanctioned relationship from which children are born; thus, many people marry to have children. Some persons are premaritally pregnant, and they choose marriage to provide two parents for their child or to escape the negative sanctions or stigma they feel they may experience as an unwed parent. Other persons report that their motivation for entering into a marriage is for economic security, to escape the living situation they are in, or because the relationship has lasted so long that marriage is viewed simply as the "next logical step" (Knox and Schacht 1991).
The feelings called romantic love are nearly universal culturally. In some 85 percent of cultures, at least some people report feeling "in love" with another at some time in their lives ( Jankowiak 1994). Love has not always been the basis for marriage in the United States, and it is not the basis for marriage in some societies around the world today. In the early Colonial period in the United States, marriages were arranged, based on the economic needs and the prospects of two families. Even when mutual attraction was the basis for a couple's desire to marry, social boundaries were rarely crossed among financially well-off families who sought to maintain their positions of status and power through appropriate marriages of their children. Marriages of individuals in other social classes varied according to the family's economic circumstances, whether it was a son or a daughter who wanted to marry, and the number of children in the family who needed a dowry or deed of land for marriage to occur. In the Colonial agrarian economy, fathers deeded land to sons to set up new households. Where sons were located in the sibling group (oldest, middle, youngest) and whether their labor was still needed at home to farm the family's land were strong considerations that determined whether a father would grant permission to marry. However, although marriages were based on economic rather than romantic considerations, this did not mean that romantic love was wholly absent from Colonial society. It was present but not linked directly or consistently to courtship or marriage. It did not become the basis for marriage until the late 1700s (Baca-Zinn and Eitzen 1990).