"Arranged marriage" is a Western term for how marriage has developed historically in many regions of Asia, the Middle East and Africa. An arranged marriage usually distinguishes itself from other kinds of unions by the role parents or older family members play in choosing a spouse. The custom varies from community to community, but arranged marriage is often a way of ensuring that a family continues its religious traditions or caste.
"There is marriage endogamy and exogamy -- within and without," says Tahir Andrabi, a professor of economics at Pomona College in California. "Think of clans living together for a long time, marrying within clans. That's where this comes from. And a lot of these marriages are really within families -- sometimes, and even often, between cousins," he says.
Today, arranged marriages are most common in Southeast Asia and parts of the Middle East.
Andrabi, who holds a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has published many articles on women in rural Pakistan, says that the vast majority of marriages are arranged by a third party. "Traditionally, these would be elders, older women, moms, aunts and so forth," Andrabi says. "And in places like Pakistan, this kind of marriage is as high as 80 percent or higher. But," he adds, "there's no truly exact way of knowing at this point."
In the United States, first-generation immigrants from countries such as Pakistan, where arranged marriage is the tradition, are adopting new and inventive ways to make matches. Some now use Web sites specializing in arranged marriages or attend marriage conferences, where a parent will escort them for a weekend-long session of networking to find a bride or groom.
It is difficult to assess how many immigrants in the United States or other Western countries marry "by arrangement." Minoo Moallem, professor of gender and women's studies at the University of California, Berkeley, believes that it's "because arranged marriage is thought of as uncommon, even though it is evidently not. It is a fluid area of scholarship," she says, "and having tons of statistics wouldn't necessarily help you because it doesn't create a space for discussion."
My War at Home
(By Masuda Sultan, February 2006)
Sultan's memoir is the true story of an Afghan-American woman's conflict between two cultures after fleeing an arranged marriage at the age of 16 to a man twice her age.
Arranged Marriage: Stories
(By Chitra Divakaruna, May 1996)
This collection of 11 stories provides insight into how different women have learned -- for better or worse -- from their arranged marriages. The stories cover the experiences of Indian women who live in both India and the United States.
East Is East
(Directed by Damian O'Donnell and written by Ayub Khan-Din, 1999, United Kingdom)
This comedy about two Pakistani-English brothers reveals how the tradition of arranged marriage plays out for a younger generation caught between its English reality and its Pakistani heritage.
"Piyar Ka Passport"
This BBC World Service radio drama, which aired in February and March 2006, looks at a Pakistani family reunited in Pakistan by a wedding. The 12-part series explores the family through its gender relations, religion and drug addiction as well as the ethical problems facing the new generation of Pakistanis -- both those who have traveled abroad and those who have stayed in Pakistan.
Statistics Division, Government of Pakistan
The Pakistan government Web site provides census information on population, housing and agriculture as well as other demographic data.
Human Rights Watch -- "Women's Rights in Pakistan"
Human Rights Watch provides a number of reports about women's issues in Pakistan. The site also highlights articles covering under-reported violations and abuses in the country.
This matrimonial Web site established in 1997 caters to Indians and South Asians interested in finding a spouse.
"Marriage At First Sight"
This Washington Post feature by Paula Span follows the story of a 25-year-old Indian-American woman who, despite her firm stance against going to India to find a husband through an arranged marriage, ends up doing just that. Span's report uncovers the strength of traditional expectations and the confidence that her young subject, Vibha Jasani, finds in what she refers to as "doing the right thing."
Writing for Salon.com, Sridhar Pappu discusses arranged marriage in the context of his personal history as an ethnic Indian who "grew up as a white kid" in Ohio.
Compiled by Rob Krieger