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Society And Marriage – What Are Global Changes?


Specialists of the Institute of Comprehensive Social Studies (Modern University for the Humanities) have carried out detailed analysis of changes in the matrimonial relations structure in the world since 1950 to 2000. The researchers considered four types of matrimonial relations: monogamy (one man – one woman) and three types of polygamy - polygyny (one man – several women), polyandry (one woman - several men) and polygyandry (several women – several men). The fifth type of reproductive relations - promiscuity, i.e. lack of permanent conjugal units between sexual partners - was not taken into account.

As for monogamy, it can be complete (men and women have only one partner during the entire life span) and serial when men and women enter new monogamous marriages after divorce. As compared to animals, monogamy is to a larger extent biologically tied up with human beings, this being explained by the necessity of joint upbringing of children for a long period. Nevertheless, only 30 percent of human communities are monogamous.

For analysis, the researchers used information from the International Database of US Census Bureau across 160 countries about which the most complete data was available since 1950 through 2000. The following trends were discovered.

On a global scale, both the share of married women and that of married men are decreasing with time. The percentage of married women on average remains 1.1 percent higher than that of married men, which means that polygyny (polygamy) is preserved in some countries.

Concurrently with decrease of percentage of married persons, the share of divorced women and men is growing. However, the share of divorced women grows quicker, which means that divorced men re-marry more frequently, than divorced women do. The share of single women and men (who did not get married) is also growing, but the number of single men is by 4.4 percent higher than that of women. One of the reasons is lower disposition to marriage of part of men as compared to that of women.

These global trends show up at a different extent in various parts of the world.

In Europe, shares of married women and men are decreasing and are practically equal, which indicates the lack of polygyny. The share of divorced women is growing faster than that of divorced men. The share of single women does not increase significantly, whereas the share of single men increased by 3.8 percent.

In Asia, percentage of married women and men is decreasing, but the main contribution to this decrease is made by the Moslem countries (the share in these countries decreased by approximately 5 percent), which contradicts to a common opinion about strong conservatism of the Moslem communities. On the contrary, non-Moslem countries (Hindu, Shinto, Christian) are conservative as regards to marriage – the share of married people in them is decreasing statistically insignificantly as opposed to the global trend. The excess of married women share over that of married men (the sign of polygyny) is mainly introduced by the Moslem countries, where the excess makes 1 percent. The number of divorces in Asiatic countries is growing insignificantly. The share of single men is not changing significantly, and the share of single women increased by 3 percent.

In Africa, there was a heavy decrease in the share of married women (approximately, by 9 percent) and that of married men (by 8 percent), but excess of married women share over that of married men (by 4.7 percent) does not change significantly in the course of time, indicating polygamy that is widespread in Africa. The share of divorces in Africa does not change, but the share of single women and men grows rather heavily: by 9 percent and 7 percent, respectively.

As for America, the general tendencies are preserved in the USA and Canada, but in the countries with predominantly Indian population the share of married women and men is growing essentially (by 6 percent for both men and women). The share of divorced persons is decreasing accordingly.

Thus, although in various regions these ratios differ, the general trends are usually preserved. Moreover, the authors point out evident converging of marriage structure of the society in different parts of the world, i.e. a kind of “globalization” of marriage relations.

The ratio of married women share and that of married men, indicating polygyny, is steadily going down all over the world, except for Africa, where polygamy is as common as it used to be half a century ago.

However, divorces and remarriages (the percentage of which is growing steadily) convert strict monogamy into serial one, which can be considered as implicit polygyandry, as former spouses, tied by the care about their common children, keep contacts with each other, i.e. they become members of expanded polygyandric family.

The authors of the research hope that the effort performed will serve a starting point for further investigations, first of all, for study of marriage structure change tendencies in the Russian society.

Sergey Komarov | alfa
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