Forms of Marriage





Like family, in almost all societies one or the other form of marriage exists. Historically, marriage as an institution has existed in a wide variety of forms in different societies. These forms exist on the basis of the number of partners and rules governing who can marry whom. On the basis of the number of partners, two major forms of marriage are observed:

1. Monogamy:

  • Monogamy denotes marriage to one spouse at a time.

  • In this form, a man can have only one wife and a woman can have only one husband at a given time. Monogamy is the most familiar pattern of marriage for most of us.

  • Monogamy seems to be the popular and more accepted form of marriage.

  • In monogamy after choosing a partner, the individual lives with a single spouse throughout his/her lifetime.

  • Many societies have laws to uphold this practice.

Eg: India.

2. Polygamy:

  • Polygamy denotes marriage to more than one partner at a given time.

  • Polygamy exists in two different forms:

  1. Polyandry: Wherein one woman marries more than one man at a given time. Polyandry can be a social response to harsh economic conditions and extreme poverty when a single man cannot adequately support a wife and children. Extreme poverty may also pressurize a group to limit its population.

  2. Polygyny: Wherein one man has two or more wives at a time. Polygyny can be seen as a strategy that allows powerful males to control reproductive resources and to tactically manipulate kin ties.

  • In some societies, individuals have free choice of mate selection. The family does not play much significant role in deciding when to marry, or whom to marry. In some societies, marriages are governed by certain rules and prescriptions.

  •  Restrictions regarding individuals who can or cannot be married are specifically defined, thus restricting individual choice.

  • Decisions regarding mate selection are largely made by parents/relatives.

On the basis of rules governing who can marry whom, two major forms of marriage are observed:

  1. Endogamy denotes marriage within a culturally defined group. (e.g. caste, sect, tribe)

  2. Exogamy, on the other hand, denotes marriage outside an individual’s own group e.g. Gotra.

Hypergamy and Hypogamy Marriages usually take place between partners having similar social status. Hypergamy and hypogamy are two forms of marriage related to the social status that the bride and groom come from and whether or not they marry ‘up’ or ‘down’.

  • In hypergamy, a man marries a woman of a lower social group or a woman marries ‘up’ which elevates her position in society.

  • Hypogamy, in the opposite, is a form when a man marries ‘up’ or marries a woman of a higher social status group. This type of marriage offers a man from a lower rank an entry into a higher rank.

  • Since the 1980’s there has been increasing interest in gay, lesbian, transgender marriages and partnerships. These are ‘families of choice’ as opposed to the conventional ‘families of blood’. In 1989, Denmark became the first country to formally recognise homosexual marriages. Formal recognition meant extending some social legitimacy to gay, lesbian, and transgender couples, as well as conferring legal advantages for health

Marriage is a socially acknowledged sexual union between two adults, not only connects those two individuals but connects a wider range of people.

The family of birth is called the family of orientation and the family in which a person is married is called a family of procreation. The kin related through blood is termed as ‘consanguineal’ kin while the kin related through marriage are called ‘affines’. Even in a rapidly changing world of today, family, kinship, and marriage provide primary bonds between individuals.


1. Basis of a number of partners :

Monogamy Polygamy
One spouse at a time More than one spouse at a given time
No forms. Polyandry when a woman marries more than one man and Polygyny when a man marries more than one woman.

2. Basis of who can marry whom in some societies :

Endogamy Exogamy
Marriage within the culturally defined group Marriage outside an individual’s own group
Eg: Caste, sect, tribe Eg: Gotra

3. Forms of marriage according to social status :

Hypergamy Hypogamy
When a man marries a woman of a ‘lower social group’ When a woman marries a man of a ‘lower social group’
In other words, when a woman marries ‘up’. In other words. When a man marries ‘up’
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