Legally and socially sanctioned union, usually between a man and a woman, that is regulated by laws, rules, customs, beliefs, and attitudes that prescribe the rights and duties of the partners and accords status to their offspring (if any). The universality of marriage is attributed to the many basic social and personal functions it performs, such as procreation, regulation of sexual behaviour, care of children and their education and socialization, regulation of lines of descent, division of labour between the sexes, economic production and consumption, and satisfaction of personal needs for social status, affection, and companionship. Until modern times marriage was rarely a matter of free choice, and it was rarely motivated by romantic love. In most eras and most societies, permissible marriage partners have been carefully regulated. In societies in which the extended family remains the basic unit, marriages are usually arranged by the family. The assumption is that love between the partners comes after marriage, and much thought is given to the socioeconomic advantages accruing to the larger family from the match. Some form of dowry or bridewealth is almost universal in societies that use arranged marriages. The rituals and ceremonies surrounding marriage are associated primarily with religion and fertility and validate the importance of marriage for the continuation of a family, clan, tribe, or society. In recent years the definition of marriage as a union between members of opposite sexes has been challenged, and in 2000 The Netherlands became the first country to legalize same-sex marriages. See also bridewealth; divorce; dowry; exogamy and endogamy; polygamy.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
For the full entry on marriage, visit

Seen & Heard

What made you look up marriage? Please tell us what you were reading, watching or discussing that led you here.