What is marriage?- Cultural Anthropology
For our cultural anthropology piece, I decided to take a look at a subject that has been very popular for most of history. Marriage. Upon starting this assignment I had no idea what a well of information I'd fallen into. I've tried to keep this as concise and informative as possible, without completely branching off into other subjects. With that, I wanted to take a look at how the discussion of marriage shifted over human history.
We're all fairly familiar with the discussion of marriage in recent years, with headlines like:
Nowadays marriage is something viewed in complete skepticism. The entire idea of two people being together for a lifetime is something that we don't trust. Upon doing some further research, it became clear that the perception of marriage has changed drastically over the thousands of years we've seen it in recorded history.
From the first accounts that we can see of marriage, it was never a decision solely for love, it was a pragmatic business move. In Mesopotamia, it was vital to ensure that family lines would continue. While there was lust involved, marriage itself was a legal agreement where a father sold off his daughter in exchange for preserving power, creating alliances, or acquiring land. It was considered far too important to be based on "fragile emotions" like love. The idea of marriage for love was present, but highly frowned upon. The carvings of Inanna and Dumuzi serve as an acknowledgement of this unpopular opinion.
Fast forward a few thousand years, marriage has been declared a sacrament of the Roman Catholic church. During the Enlightenment and American revolution, ideas start to spread that life may not be all about money. As Thomas Jefferson put it we've been endowed with "certain unalienable rights, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" This is when the initial seed is planted that marriage should be for love. After the industrial revolution, common people were able to make enough money to not need to have an arranged marriage. Since then, marriage for love became the norm, however women being treated as possessions unfortunately stayed the same.
All throughout history men got to be educated breadwinners, and were the only ones able to accomplish anything outside of the home. The only thing that was culturally acceptable for a woman to accomplish was becoming a wife and a mother. So once women were old enough to find love and have children, they would! Americans were getting married young, the median age of men getting married was 24 and 21 for women. In those days, Marriage represented the start of adult life.
In the 20th century, this really began to change in American society. Women were encouraged to work during the World Wars, and they found incredible purpose in having their own careers. Jumping forward a few decades, we can see the work like Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique did for women. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was published, that doesn't allow employers to discriminate based on race, gender, or age. This influence of Women's rights movement allowed more American women to get educated, and get more jobs following the war, and the number of workplace has only escalated since.
Because of the Women's empowerment movement, marriage today has changed. Women are not only able to get an education, but now the number of women with degrees in America is higher than the number of men. 57% of women participate in the labor force, compared to less than 20% in the 40's. All of these factors have led to couples getting married later in life. The average age of people getting married is 29, now marriage isn't the beginning of adulthood, it's towards the end of it.
Now that women can accomplish so much more than just being a mother, women are spending the time in their early 20's to accomplish their other goals. Additionally, due to the recent financial crisis in 2008, millenials are much more cautious about having enough money before they start a family. Additionally, the divorce rate has been increasing in part due to the women's rights movement. Historically women were treated like property, and once they had the confidence to know they deserved more, they were able to get out of those relationships.
In Conclusion: Marriage today is viewed with more skepticism, because of the recent hike in divorce rates. Americans are getting married later in life in order to have independence in their 20's.