Changing Marriage Patterns in Asia
National University of Singapore (NUS)
January 15, 2010
Asia Research Institute Working Paper No. 131
This paper provides an overview of changing marriage patterns in East, South and Southeast Asia. It begins by relating marriage patterns to kinship systems. Differences in kinship systems go a long way towards explaining differences in marriage arrangements and stability of marriages in different parts of Asia, and also the greater resilience of the system of arranged marriage in South Asia than in East and Southeast Asia. The paper then examines the trend toward later and less marriage throughout Asia. This has been particularly marked in East and Southeast Asia, with the important exception of China, and especially in the large cities of the region and among highly educated women. It has shown no signs of slackening; in countries such as Japan, Taiwan and Myanmar, about 20 per cent of women currently in their 20s and 30s could well remain single when they reach their late 40s. Social norms and community and family structures have not yet adapted fully to this remarkable increase in singlehood. Yet at the same time, many young women in some Asian countries are still marrying as teenagers, in many cases below the legal minimum age for marriage. An important set of issues arises from such early marriage patterns.
Consanguineous marriage has been widely practiced in some Asian countries. In some countries, it is on the decline, but in others (including Pakistan and Iran) there is little evidence of such a decline.
Finally, the paper examines divorce trends. Divorce rates have been rising sharply in many Asian countries, particularly in East Asia, as a result of the strains on marriage and an erosion of the belief that marriages must be preserved at all costs. However, divorce rates remain very low in South Asian countries, where the marriage system does not allow for the “escape route” of divorce, even for dysfunctional marriages.
Keywords: kinship systems, marriage, consanguinity, divorce, Asia, singlehood
Date posted: November 29, 2010