This lesson will seek to explain the universals that pertain to marriage and choosing a mate for life. In doing this, it will highlight theories based on division of labor, prolonged infant dependency, and sexual competition.
Universal Reasons for Marriage
Today’s lesson on marriage and choosing a mate for life will pretty much be the opposite of what most of us think of when it comes to marriage. There’ll be no mention of a starry-eyed boy down on one knee proposing to a girl who’s biting her lip in anticipation. Instead, it will be a rather scientific look at what anthropologists call universals, or qualities found in all cultures, that play a role in choosing a mate for life.In saying this, it must be mentioned that all of today’s content will be based on theory and some big time generalities.
It should also be mentioned that not all anthropologists, or people for that matter, would shake their heads in agreement with these theories. For this reason, we’ll stick to the basics as we discuss the three most common anthropological theories for why all societies across the globe practice male/female pair bonding in the form of marriage.
Division of Labor
Not at all romantic, our first universal reason for marriage is division of labor, the breaking down of labor among different persons or groups. Going very much against the sensibilities of many in the modernized West, anthropologists note that all societies have a division of labor based on gender. Stated a bit more simply, all societies known to man have historically given different roles to men and women.
For instance, among almost every society that survives by hunting and gathering the men hunt and the women gather.With this division of labor, societies across the globe need a tool of sorts that will ensure that men and women share the fruits of their labor. In other words, enter marriage, a way to bond the hunters to the gatherers that will precipitate sharing. Like I said, not at all romantic. Moving a bit more into the modern world, it’s not too hard to see that the division of labor is still alive and sort of kicking. Yes, times are a changin’, but the division of labor still exists.
For instance, famous anthropologists Carol and Melvin Ember assert that regardless of where you find yourself in the world, almost every society sees the main burden for child rearing resting on women.
Prolonged Infant Dependency
With this very large generalization, we’re very well set up for our next anthropological reason for male/female pair bonding: prolonged infant dependency. Prolonged infant dependency is the extended time that human children are in need of total care in comparison to other mammals. Sort of along the same lines as division of labor, anthropologists assert that since almost all societies place the main burden of child rearing on women, prolonged infant dependency makes it difficult for women to take care of their own needs for survival.In other words, it’s rather hard to gather berries, plant fields, and hunt for game with two or three children strapped to your back or gathered at your feet. For this reason, and again totally generalizing, anthropologists would assert that marriage takes care of this problem, giving a woman a partner of sorts to fill in these gaps as she rears children.
This brings us to our last anthropological reason for male/female mate bonding through marriage: sexual competition.
Rather contested, this theory asserts that rivalry among males for sexual relations with women is controlled through marriage. To try to explain, unlike most other mammals, the female human will engage in sexual activity during all times of the year. Unlike, say dogs, which go through what we like to call ‘being in heat’, a woman’s sexual availability is not limited to a time frame. Due to this, many scientists have asserted that this rather open availability of women might lead to fierce competition between men.This would be especially troublesome in smaller cultures in which men may outnumber women. In order to quell sexual competition, many anthropologists assert that marriage places boundaries, or norms (acceptable rules of behavior within a society), around sexual competition. Again, really oversimplifying and generalizing, marriage places sexual boundaries around a pair bond and says, ‘Everyone else keep out!’
According to many anthropologists, there are three universals, or qualities found in all cultures, that play a role in choosing a mate for life.
First, there is division of labor, the breaking down of labor among different persons or groups. With this division of labor, marriage ensures sharing of the products of male and female labor.Anthropologists also cite prolonged infant dependency, the extended time that human children are in need of total care in comparison to other mammals, as a reason that men and women marry. With most societies seeing the burden of child rearing falling mainly on women, marriage acts as a way for men to partner in this.
Last, anthropologists assert that male/female bonding through marriage helps to quell sexual competition, or rivalry among males for sexual relations with women. Working as a norm, or an acceptable rule of behavior within a society, marriage places a boundary around a pair, excluding them from availability to other men and women.
Once you finish watching the video, your goal should be to do the following:
- Recognize what universals are and how they fit into marriage across cultures
- Understand what the division of labor is in a marriage
- Determine how prolonged infant dependency ties into male/female pair bonding
- Consider how sexual competition leads to marriage