Marriage in Sweden and in India

Marriage, a basic social custom practiced by practically all human societies worldwide, varies widely by culture.

In some cultures, such as in India, marriages are usually arranged, partners often do not meet before marriage, and the rate of marital separation is very low. In other cultures, such as in Sweden, marriages are a choice made by the couple, cohabitation is an entirely acceptable form of heterosexual romantic partnership, and dissolution of partnerships is relatively common. A number of cultural factors distinguish what marriage means in each of these countries and why the two cultures have such differing manifestations of marriage. Women have many more rights and much more equality with men in Sweden than they do in India. In Sweden, it is perfectly normal for a woman to live on her own, have a career, dress as she pleases, and party if that’s what she wants to do. In India, a woman who lives on her own or has a career is often considered too independent, an undesirable characteristic in a potential partner for a family’s son.

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Women in India are expected to be attractive, docile, educated (but not too educated), and obedient to their husbands. In contrast, Swedish women are much less constrained by such expectations. Another difference between the two cultures that helps to explain differences in marriage is the role of family. In India, a woman lives with her parents, siblings, and her married brothers’ families all in one house until she is married, at which point she moves in with her husband, his parents, his siblings, and his married brothers’ families. The reputation and social standing of a prospective mate’s family is often the most important factor in making a marriage in India, and the family (primarily the parents) usually chooses whom a son or daughter is going to marry. In Sweden, meanwhile, young adults tend to move out of their parents’ home around the time they reach 18 or 19 years of age, at which point they live alone or choose to cohabit with a romantic partner or get married.

The family has very little influence on Swedish marriages; the family does not decide who the young person marries or lives with, and the family’s reputation is not a matter of prime consideration when the young person chooses a romantic partner. Indian culture places much more emphasis on marriage than does Swedish culture. In India, getting married is seen as a societal obligation; cohabitation and divorce are both completely scandalous and very rare. Sweden, meanwhile, has been depicted as having gone through a transition when it comes to attitudes about marriage and cohabitation. In the first stage, cohabitation is a rebellious activity practiced by only a few people.

The second stage is characterized by many couples cohabiting before marriage in order to test the strength of the relationship. The third stage is the point at which cohabitation becomes a social norm and couples that have children during cohabitation are not stigmatized or pressured into marriage. In the fourth stage, cohabitation and marriage are viewed as essentially equivalent. Hence, the pressure to marry is felt much less in Sweden than it is in India. A fourth difference in the marriage traditions of Sweden and India is the gap in how easy it is to dissolve a relationship. In Sweden, the divorce rate is relatively high, and cohabiting relationships dissolve rather regularly–though 75% of cohabiting relationships that produce a child last for at least five years after the child’s birth, which isn’t a horrible statistic.

In India, however, there is great social stigma associated with divorce, and even extremely unhappy relationships, such as those that involve psychological or even physical abuse to the wife, are often continued because divorce is so taboo. In short, marriage is very different in Sweden than it is in India. The Swedes are much more casual about marriage, and indeed are by this point almost completely indifferent about whether or not they get married. In India, getting married is a matter of great social and familial importance. Swedes choose their own partners and dissolve relationships with relative ease, whereas Indians by and large have arranged marriages and very rarely get divorced. Social norms and cultural traditions conspire to make marriage a much different experience in Sweden than it is in India.