Arranged marriage was common for most of human history

*The following is an excerpt from a longer article.

Arranged marriage was common place for most of human history in many cultures and still is prevalent in many traditional cultures today. Arranged marriage has been observed to be the dominant form of marriage in hunter-gather communities.

A comprehensive anthropological survey found that arranged marriage was the dominant form of marriage in approximately 85% of a sample of 190 hunter-gatherer societies around the world and only mild levels of polygyny were observed in most of those cultures1,2. The high frequency of arranged marriage in the majority of hunter-gather communities in the present day, in past societies over thousands of years of history and in present day traditional cultures, has prompted scientists to undertake genetic analysis of our ancestors to reconstruct marital systems.

Based on phylogenetic analysis19 using data from present day hunter-gatherers and mitochondrial DNA, it was concluded that arranged marriage has had a substantive prevalence and impact in these communities since the migration of humans out of Africa at least 50,000 years ago. The analysis also found that low levels of polygyny was most likely the state of ancestral marriage in past hunter-gatherer communities. It has been shown20 as well with arranged marriage, that parental control on selecting a partner for marriage is particularly strong for parents of daughters and that fathers have a greater influence than mothers in choosing a suitable partner.

This same paper which again looked at 190 hunter-gatherer communities, also stated that we may be overestimating female mate choice on sexual selection and underestimating the influence of parental mate choice on human evolution during our prehistory2. The study reports that whilst parents consult with their offspring, consent from their sons and daughters is usually not required and they usually comply with their parent’s choice2,3. Furthermore, virtually all reproduction in these communities was found to occur whilst a woman is married2.

We can see numerous examples of patriarchal influence by fathers in arranged marriage practices across many cultures throughout history. It is not just limited to modern hunter-gatherer communities. Another study4 examining arranged marriage across 543 different ethnographies around the world, found that parents and their offspring in all areas of the world were very frequently in vast disagreement on the choice of partner and on the relevant traits of the right partner. The parental choice of mate often strongly disagreed with the offspring’s choice of mate. The authors note that sometimes extreme methods were used to enforce the choice of mate.

These realities are part of the truths behind the half-truth of feminist patriarchy theory. Female mate choice has not been some dominant force exclusively dictating the social structure of society. The jokes about fathers with their baseball bats sizing up their daughters’ partners, comes from a long history of parents and particularly fathers regulating who their daughters mate with.

Of course it would be correct to point out that male mate choice has also been curtailed to a somewhat lesser degree by the same system of arranged marriage. Before the advent of modernity and the luxury of modern technology, what was good for the prospects of families has often been regarded as more important than the wishes of the bride and groom. Marriage was used to form alliances and this no doubt had a direct benefit on social cohesion, resource sharing and ultimately the propagation of genes for familial lineages over multiple generations and for multiple kin.


  2. Sexual selection under parental choice: the role of parents in the evolution of human mating – ScienceDirect