Marriage And Family In India

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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female seclusion
women's labor force participation
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Reed, Megan Nicole

This dissertation studies two important dimensions of family life in contemporary India, marriage partner selection and female seclusion, using three different data sources: 48 interviews with the middle-class in New Delhi, panel survey data from the India Human Development Survey, and survey data from the Center for the Advanced Study of India Delhi National Capital Region Survey. The first half of this dissertation sheds light on attitudes towards and the processes involved in arranged marriage among the urban middle class. The young people interviewed approach marriage decision-making with marital pragmatism, framing their choices in terms of risks, uncertainties, and costs. Most describe arranged marriage as the safer option due to the support that these relationships receive from parents. Despite a strong preference for arranged marriage, interviews revealed significant hybridization between arranged and self-choice or “love” marriage. Couples in arranged marriages often engaged in courtship during their engagement. Furthermore, new survey data suggests that many families are willing to call off a wedding if the betrothed find themselves to be incompatible during their engagement, revealing the family’s prioritization of choice and compatibility for the couple. The second half of this dissertation examines patterns of female seclusion and attitudes towards women’s careers. Analysis of panel data shows that women from households which became wealthier reported increased restrictions on their physical mobility and greater odds of practicing head-covering or purdah. These findings suggest that the upwardly mobile may be using female seclusion as a way to signal household status. Dual earner professional couples in India challenge male breadwinner norms through their division of labor. Men who married working women mostly report that they were actively searching for an employed wife on the marriage market because of the financial security that a second income could provide. In addition, to some respondents, dual earning was believed to help facilitate a companionate marriage. This dissertation highlights the role of family, economic precarity, risk, and social norms in shaping marriage and family life in India.

Emily C. Hannum
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