Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Economic of Arranged Marriage

My parents were the first wave of marriage that was not previously arranged. But many of their contemporaries were still arranged marriages. I have always thought (and still do) that arranged marriage is unnatural and oppressive. However, I have met many who were genuinely happily marriage despite not knowing their spouses before the wedding dates.

The rate of failure is actually higher among chosen marriages than arranged marriage. I thought long and hard about it. And I think I have a theory on why. And the theory has to do with economic than anything else. Let first set a unit for happiness in term of utility. And let assume that the maximum utility is 10 which is maximum happiness, the minimum is negative ten which is maximum unhappiness, and of course zero is a neutral value where one is neither happy nor unhappy.

The reason that arranged marriage work well is because of the expectation in happiness. Most people expected their marriage to a stranger forced on by their parent to be extremely miserable – something akin to slavery. But when they were married, it does not seem to be so bad, or not as bad as they thought. On the other hand, people who married out of loves expected their union with their loves one to be blissful; often the expectation were rarely met. Their idealism was destroyed by the reality of marriage.

Let put this into the equation. An arranged marriage couples probably expect their marriage with a happiness utility value of negative ten – they expect a hellish existence. Most couples married out of love expect their marriage with a happiness utility value of positive ten – heavenly existence. Of course reality is far from expectation. In an arranged married, the actual happiness utility is closer to positive once, hence a couple in an arranged married gain eleven points in happiness utility. In a marriage out of loves, the actual happiness utility is close to positive four, and the couple lost six points in happiness utility.

Since the expectation in an arranged marriage is a negative ten (the lowest possible point), the couple in an arranged marriage cannot loose, they can only gain in reality. Unless one lived under Saddam Iraq, nothing in life can be equal to negative ten. Even with a reality of negative six, they still gain four points. They always end up better than they expect. In a marriage out of love, the expectation is positive ten (the highest possible point) which means they can only loose. This probably explain why second marriage is often better than the first one, people often lower their expectation the second times around.

This is of course only an exercise of the intellect. I am by no mean advocate arranged marriage. I still think people should marry out of love. Afterall, my parents are still married. But I do advocate lower one expectation.


Blogger Dymphna said...

I agree with you about expectation and the damage it can do. A favorite priest of mine once defined hope as "a matter of lowered expectations." Maybe that's why second marriages are often happier, begins to see that the same unhappiness can crop up and when it does, why then you have to ask yourself if the unhappiness can possibly reside in two different partners or might it originate with oneself?

When our son started college his room mate was a childhood friend. Not one he saw often, but one who was the child of people who were our friends. It was a very unhappy arrangement and the dorm advisor told me that "chosen" room mates seldom work out in the first year. She was right!

They are now distant friends, but will never feel the same warmth toward one another...e.g., one weekday night around 2 am my son had to go downstairs and pull the fuse for their room so he could get some sleep. His roommate sleep disorder left my son chronically sleep-deprived.

There is something to be said for the arranged marriage. Some people have taken to signing up for those places where you can meet like-minded people so that at least you get to sort thru the first level of incompatibility -- e.g., those who want children and those who don't; those who don't mind moving some distance away and those who wouldn't dream of it; those who go to church and those who frown upon such "primitive" behavior; and so on...we live in such a varied culture.

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