The tradition of Arranged Marriages was practiced by kinship groups in the South Asian sub-continent centuries before migration to Britain took place during the 1950’s. Initially, migrants came to Britain to earn wages (Shaw; 2000;13), However, the tradition of arranged marriages has remained popular amongst South Asian settlers. Anthropologists have argued arranged marriages in Britain are an economic arrangement between two families whilst others have stressed it is a custom that preserves family honor. Ballard (1972) has gone as far as advocating that the ritual demonstrates a families resistance to assimilating Anglican values and thus reinforces cultural identity. Alison Shaw’s (2000;3) ethnography on Pakistani Kinship in Oxford tries to illustrate that at present, South Asian families adjust to the structural and cultural resources of the host country at their disposal towards building and re-shaping their lives in Britain on their own terms. In reference to this, the text will examine the underlying factors that determine South Asian families’ preferences for arranged marriages. We shall now turn to analyzing the socio-economic structure of South Asian families in the migrant country and Britain in order to understand its’ relation to the ritual.
Whilst observing Sikh families in Punjab, Ballard (1972) saw the traditional family system as ‘joint’ whereby a group of three or more generations live together and share a complex set of mutual obligations. These obligations are predominantly based on economic factors where the joint family work on land together and pool an overall household income. It is mainly concerned with rights and property, which is patrilineal in status (Ballard,1972;13). Women’s rights to property are secondary and authority after marriage is transferred from natal groups to household groups. The household can include affinal relations created through marriage, as well as those of descent. Marriages are therefore built upon an arrangement between two families rather than two individuals. Hence, in the South Asian sub-continent, marriages are arranged by families so that couples can remain with the in-laws in order to create substantial income. This illustrates that for Punjabi families, marriages are arranged in order to maintain the economic welfare of the joint family household.
The relationship between affinal links and household economics is also evident in Britain. Whilst studying Gujarati Prajapatis in London, Shrikala Warrier (1994;205) found that such families do not believe marriage is based on the western ideology of companionship whereby independent individuals establish a household together, but it is understood as an arrangement between two families and partners. Husbands and wives have clearly differential responsibilities, based on their culturally specific understandings of gender roles and involves the running of a sufficient household where:
“most young couples live for the first few years of marriage in the husband’s parental home. Cultural values notwithstanding, practical considerations also make joint living both necessary and desirable” (Warrier, 1994;202).
Warrier (1994;205) found that women who were living in joint families found it easier to go into employment compared to women who lived independently from their in-laws as nuclear family. Moreover, women living in nuclear families were torn between domestic and economical responsibilities as they found child rearing hectic compared to joint families where in-laws minded children and therefore couples found it economically advantageous for the overall household income. Therefore arranged marriages based on an understanding of traditional household regulations maybe preferred as couples can depend on kin members to child rear and obtain a comfortable income.
Consequently, the arrangement of marriage is not only beneficial for couples, but also for in-laws when it comes to their economic welfare. Since property is passed down to sons, they are regarded as prestigious, and thus the continued existence of a family line depends on the male (Shaw, 2000;185). Hence, his status is seen as an investment for the parents’ future as traditionally, sons are obligated to look after their well being once they are elderly thus remaining in an extended family household makes this more efficient. On this basis, Shaw (2000;108) found mother in-laws feared love marriages, and the independent values attached to it, as they felt it would cause sons to live separately from their parents and forget their obligations towards them. Therefore families may prefer arranged marriages in order for sons to remember their obligations towards their parents and remain in joint households. Alternatively, sons may conform to arranged marriages and stay in the joint family household so that their right to inheritance remains. For example, Ballard (1972) found when sons moved away from joint families their rights to inheritance altered. Furthermore Shaw (2000) stressed that since it is regarded dishonorable for sons to live separately from parents, they may recognize maintaining the families’ honor is their responsibility and if jeopardized, their right to inheritance could be eliminated. Therefore an arranged marriage maybe preferred by heirs so their right to inheritance remains.