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Arranged Marriages make Darwin turn in his grave!

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on October 9, 2012

This afternoon I was reading “The Theories of Darwin and their relation to Philosophy, Religion and Morality”. To be honest, this is my first serious attempt at understanding Darwin’s theories more deeply. It is indeed exciting to explore the theories of descent, evolution and selection. There is so much logical reasoning that drives this study. I have not yet formed an opinion on the validity of his arguments, but I certainly know that arranged marriages do not go down too well with the theory of selection.

Arranged marriage is an ancient tradition in India and still account for 90% of unions here. In most cases, the match for the boy and girl is decided by the parents on either side. A lot of parameters influence these decisions, one of which is the economic and social background of the families. With so many criteria to match, the characteristics of the boy and the girl end up being pushed down the measuring scale to quite an extent until in some cases, the boy and the girl do not matter at all.Β  Religion, Caste, Financial strength and Astrological charts over shadow what the bride and groom to be really want.

Natural selection allows mating among individuals in a species in a way that the characteristics most desirable to survival are passed ahead. In my head, these characteristics can be categorized as Physical, Emotional, Intellectual and Spiritual. Ideally, we would want to see a union of individuals who are strong in at least one of the four areas. The more the better. While families measure each others collective strengths before setting up a marriage, they do not focus completely on the individual strengths of the boy and girl involved in the union. This gives rise to matches where mating selection is not being based on selection of the fittest, and the result can be off-springs that do not possess any significant prowess in either Physical, Emotional, Intellectual or Spiritual domains.Β  We may not be passing the best characteristics to the next generation.

When a union is based on love, I trust the boy and girl to select their match based on strengths in at least one of the above mentioned four categories. You may love someone for how physically strong they are, or how emotionally balanced they are, or how intellectually or spiritually gifted they are or all of the above. Such unions have a better chance of passing desirable traits to the next inhabitants of Earth. Hence, I am in favor of love marriages over arranged. I do not comment on their influence on the success of the marriage, but I feel they have a better chance of sustaining human evolution.

P.S: I have just come from a 26 hour train journey that has rattled every bone in my body. It may have also had an impact on my thinking and the above post must be read with that in mind. The image above is that of my kindle on my “Super Pants” πŸ™‚

Also, I do not suggest that arranged marriages “always” produce undesirable outputs. I am only suggesting that their probability to do so is higher.

As always, comments are welcomed.

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21 Responses to “Arranged Marriages make Darwin turn in his grave!”

  1. emmawolf said

    This is very interesting and given me a lot to think about. But I would guess that the considerations of parents during an arrangement have evolutionary benefits of their own.

    • Raunak said

      sure they do…but I’ve seen a lot of cases where the drawbacks outweighed the benefits.
      and the process can be quite cruel as well.getting rejected can be very depressing especially for the girl and her family.

      • emmawolf said

        “and the process can be quite cruel as well.getting rejected can be very depressing especially for the girl and her family.”

        That can be true with dating too…

        (I’m not advocating one over the other. I’m just really interested in thinking about arranged marriages from an evolutionary perspective. I should talk to my husband about this. He’s an evolutionary biologist [at least…I think that’s his title] and a lot of the people in his lab are of Indian descent. I wonder what they have to say.)

      • Raunak said

        evolutionary biologist…wow! I would love to hear his views on it too.please do share them.

      • emmawolf said

        The conversation I had with my husband about this ended up being really anti-climatic. He pretty much thought I was crazy and said that arranged marriages have not been part of a culture for long enough to have an evolutionary effect. (I’m not convinced this is a definitive answer.)

      • Raunak said

        πŸ™‚ that’s an interesting take on it. the time factor. I need to find out how long arranged marriages have been prevalent in India. Not less than 2000 years I think.

  2. soumyav said

    Very interesting post Raunak! the points you pointed out are true ,for in arranged marraiges only superficial things are noticed and taken care of,as status,family background,formal education to match and the looks. whereas in selectng your partner you ignore all these. But I feel for a marraige to be successful,it has to be the two individuals .The way they accept life ,its challenges ,their ethics,their principles and their nature to adjust and be compatible after the long adjustments and compromises. It all depends on the person,how he/she is and what matters them most!.yes the chances are less in arranged,but that too is just a probability. and on micro level,
    its our destiny and what we have stored in for us that decides on basis of our actions, who should be our partner and why?

    • Raunak said

      Thanks Soumya πŸ™‚ for sharing such wonderful thoughts.

      For me one of the keys to a successful marriage is balancing possessiveness with free space. And this takes a lot of respect for each other as an individual.

  3. This is a topic that makes one think, for sure. I myself wonder about the divorce rate of love marriages vs. that of arranged marriages. I have a few friends overseas in arranged marriages and, though I expected them to be unhappy about not having chosen their own mate, each one is very happily married. Not the hearts & flowers brand of love marriage that we’re accustomed to, but more of a mature, cerebral kind of ‘happy.’ There’s all kinds of love…who’s to say one is superior to another? I like the way you present this topic in your post, because it’s non-judgmental and leaves this question open for us to ponder. πŸ™‚

  4. I’m not sure about the connection between marriage and evolution (for me the theory of evolution holds about as much water as Creationism) but I suspect that marriage, pre-arranged or not, has at least, a social impact that is quite far reaching. The divorce rate in countries like the UK and the US is around 50% whereas in countries such as India it is around 4%. Of course this means nothing in terms of what type of marriage is more successful because as I understand it, in India there is quite a bit of social stigma associated with divorce; especially for women. However one study I read years ago indicated that arranged marriages did have a greater rate of success when measured in terms of general contentment and wellbeing. Kind of like what Sylver Blaque above wrote about. With nothing to base this on (either anecdotal or factual) I would say that the big impact of a marriage’s success or failure is on any children that have been born out of that relationship. That is where the far-reaching social impact of marriage lies.

    In any case, life is a game of chance in terms of where it leads us so whether we choose our mate or someone else chooses for us, I would be willing to bet that the odds of ending up with a compatible partner are about the same. In other words, whatever our lives, all we can say is: That’s life. πŸ˜‰

    • Raunak said

      Cedric, you’ve put it across really well. That indeed is life! Thanks for sharing your wonderful views.

      I am certain that the low divorce rate in India is a direct result of the stigma attached to it. The girl is under immense pressure from her side of the family to compromise and tolerate. I think this system is barbaric and must be done away with immediately. A lot of India treats its women like the Taliban. We are no better than the extreme Muslims, its just that no one talks about it in India.

      The effect I am trying to explore through this post is that arranged marriages interfere with the process of natural selection. Men and women are instinctively programmed to find the best mates for themselves. However, when the family makes that choice for you, the individual instincts are ignored and this may not result in the best offspring.

      • It is interesting that you should qualify arranged marriages as barbaric. It is a strong term and not one I have ever heard associated with arranged marriages. I’ve heard the forced circumcision of young African girls described as barbaric, as with the maiming of children so that they will elicit more money while begging, but arranged marriages, hmm…

        As for the effect of such pairing on the process of natural selection, well, I will state upfront that I know nothing about this but your comment that “Men and women are instinctively programmed to find the best mates for themselves” made me laugh. Forgive me. I have to ask what you are basing this on because I have not seen any study resulting in such a conclusion. Just going by my own circle of friends and acquaintances I can assure you that most of them have no such instinct, if the states of their relationships are anything to go by. Again, I’m only guessing (based on the few studies I’ve read on human psychology) but I would say that men’s basic instinct where mates are concerned probably does not go any furhter than… you know, mating. Women’s instincts on the other hand are more geared towards nesting and nurturing. Generaly speaking. As for either gender having an instinct for finding a best mate, I have to say I have never heard of this.

        Most of us in this world barely know ourselves beyond our immediate desires and to even have a chance of finding a good match I suspect we would need to know ourselves a little more than that. It’s not to say you can’t get lucky but in this scenario there is no reason why you could not get lucky in an arranged marriage.

        But as I said, I am largely ignorant on this topic, so much so that I hold no opinion on the matter so I would not place too much weight on what I have written. In any case, I have enjoyed the exchange.

      • Raunak said

        I do not term arranged marriages barbaric. It is the constant pressure from the girl’s family to remain in a failed marriage that I call barbaric. The girl is expected to exhibit unnatural tolerance.

        I’m glad you’ve had a laugh. I think I haven’t been able to convey the idea fully in words. Hopefully, someday we can discuss it over a round of beers πŸ™‚

      • Now you’re talking πŸ™‚

  5. thondus said

    Hi, awesome post! Very interesting.. This might sound weird but the way I see it natural selection is taking place just as much here. If you think of reproduction involving display, discrimination, selection, mating, raising, then it is only the last two that the parents aren’t doing. Breaking it down like this, I feel like making the claim that in arranged marriages, reproductive sex isn’t in fact mating. You are only mating when you select who you want your son or daughter to marry as this is an extension of your own mating ritual.
    I think since you share a great deal of genetic material with your immediate offspring in this scenario too, it is even more warranted to make this claim. I don’t see anything wrong with saying that when arrange marriages are concerned, instead of doing parts a b c d e all in order in the same persons mind, you do parts d and e after your parents do the a b c on your behalf. Then you do parts a b and c for your kids.
    You could also argue that all parents arrange marriages by influencing the behavior of their children by mere presence. I think that is going too far though and would require a sort of extreme determinism.

    • Raunak said

      Hi! thanks for those well thought out comments. They really contribute a lot of value to the post and my mind!

      But what happens when your parents choose a groom/bride that isn’t to your liking. In most cases you are forced to go ahead with the parents’ wish.

      If you had the choice to pick a mate, you would pick the one gifted in one of the aspects I mention. But parents choosing a mate does not guarantee that that person possesses any of the characteristics desirable to be passed onto the next generation.

  6. nyctanthesarbortristis said

    ” what the bride and groom to be really want.”………. absolutely correct you said
    But again if a person loves once seriously and FAILS in it…. never makes an attempt to LOVE again… say the HEART gets blocked(virtually), henceforth only ARRANGED MARRIAGE is left as an option.. aint it ?

    • Raunak said

      thanks for sharing your thoughts πŸ™‚ Really appreciate it!

      I’m all for arranged marriages. Its a system that’s worked for centuries and you’re right. Its a great option for a blocked heart.

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