What is Marriage? Definition, Features, Functions, and Types

What is Marriage?

Marriage is a socially approved union that unites two or more individuals as spouses. This union is that there’ll be sexual relations, procreation, and permanence within the relationship.

Marriage is a socially approved arrangement between males and females that involves an economic and sexual relationship. Children born to married couples are said to be ” legitimate”, whereas those born to an unmarried woman are often labeled “illegitimate”.

Marriage is regarded as a fundamental social institution in every society. Marriage encompasses two major aspects in each society and each time. Firstly it has assented relationship of two opposite sexes and secondly, a socially approved institution where these two sexes have legal approval to have a sexual relationship and produce children. The procurement and socialization of children are closely associated with this institution.

It is an institution of society that can have very different implications in different cultures. Its purposes, functions, and forms may differ from society to society, but it is present everywhere as an institution. According to Hindu scripts, marriage is taken as a religious tradition and not as a contract according to this, men and women become perfect only after marriage. Marriage is an important institution for their personality development and the continuation of society.

The international encyclopedia of social sciences has defined it in this way: ” Marriage may be defined as a cultural approved relationship of one man and one woman (monogamy), of one woman or two or more men (polyandry) or one man and two or more women (polygyny) in which there is a cultural endorsement of sexual intercourse between the marital partners of the opposite sex and generally the expectation of children will be born of the relationship.”

marriage a lifetime journey


Following are some important definitions of marriage.

  • Malinowski says that marriage is a “contract for production and maintenance of children.”
  • According to Westermarck, “it is a relation of one or more men with one or more women recognized by the law and custom having some rights and duties in case of having children.”
  • Horton and Hunt say, “It is a social system us hereby two or more than two persons establish a family.”
  • Mr. Muhammad NiaZ, ‘It is a union of husband and wife approved by the following four agencies i.e. religion, society, morality, law.”

In simple words, marriage is an institution that ties husband and wife to fulfill their desired needs like sex satisfaction bringing children, and fulfilling the social and psychological needs of both males and females.

Characteristics or Features of Marriage

It is a social and legal contract between two opposite sexes where they establish a family for the satisfaction of the physical, biological, social, psychological, and spiritual needs of males and females. It leads to the formation of a family and the procreation of children. Sexual relationships and the production of children are the basic aims of marriage.

It is characterized by the following characteristics;

Universality: Marriage is more or less a universal institution i.e. it is prevalent everywhere among literate, illiterate, everywhere territorial as well as hunter-gatherers. E.g. in Japan celibacy is publicly condemned; in Korea, unmarried persons are called ‘Half persons’. Among Hindus, marriage is a sacred phenomenon that every Hindu member should do.

Relationship between man and woman: It is the union of man and woman- which indicates the relationship between one or more men to one or more women that occurs under the different patterns of marriage.

An enduring bond: It is the long-lasting bond between husband and wife. It excludes those sexual relationships like with prostitutes who are not sanctioned by custom or law or religion.

It requires social Approval: Marriage between man and woman becomes a nuptial bond only when it is approved by society. Social approval is the ultimate way to get legal recognition.

It is associated with some civil or religious ceremonies: Among each and every socio-cultural and religious group, marriage gets its social recognition through some ceremonies. It suggests that marriage has to be concluded in a public and solemn matter.

It creates Mutual Obligation: It imposes certain rights on both husband and wife.


Its functions are:

It regulates sexual behavior: It helps cultural groups to have a measure of control over population growth providing proscribed rules about when it is appropriate to have children. Regulating sexual behavior helps to reduce sexual competition and the negative effects associated with the sexual competition.

Procreation of children: It is the legitimate way for reproduction and therefore the birth of children.

It fulfills the basic needs of marriage partners: It provides the framework within which people’s needs are met: shelter, food, clothing, safety, etc. Through the institution of marriage, people know for whom they are economically and socially responsible.

It perpetuates kinship/lineage groups: This is related to the previous function, but instead of simply knowing who is with whom economically and socially, marriage in a legitimate sense lets people know about inheritance.

It provides an institution for the care and enculturation of children: Within the umbrella of the marriage, children begin to learn their gender roles and other cultural norms. It lets everyone know who is responsible for children. It legitimizes children by socially establishing their birthrights.

Security for women and children: It is a marriage that brings husband and wife together, where the women and children get security.

Types of Marriage

The types of marriage are commonly divided as follows:

  • Monogamy
  • Polygamy
  • Endogamy
  • Exogamy
  • Group Marriage


It is a form of marriage in which one man marries one woman. It is the most widespread and civilized form of marriage. Aristotle has only recommended monogamous marriage.

A believer of monogamy essentially expects his/her, partner, to love him/her and cooperate with him/her to make a life. He/she also expects that to be the only one that his/her partner who has kids. This in turn implies that the partner should not be sexually involved with anyone outside the relationship.

Types of Monogamy:

It is also of two types as follows;

  1. Straight Monogamy: This is the type of marriage in which straight monogamy man and woman can not marry again in case of divorce or case of spouse death.
  2. Serial Monogamy: In serial monogamy man and woman can marry another person in case of divorce and death of a spouse.

Advantages of monogamy:

  • Universally Practicable: Monogamy gives a one-to-one ratio so can provide marital opportunity and satisfaction to all individuals. This form of marriage is universally practicable in different countries.
  • Economically better suited: No man having ordinary income can think of practicing polyandry as he has a very low income. So, monogamy can adjust itself to poverty. E.g. Even though Koran permits a Muslim to have four wives at a time but no ordinary Muslim can think of marrying four wives.
  • Promotes better Understanding between Husband and Wife: Monogamy produces the highest type of love and satisfaction between husband and wife. It contributes to family peace, solidarity, and happiness. E.g. Vatsayana an authority on “Kama Sutra” remarked, “At best a man can only please one woman physically, mentally and spiritually. Therefore, a man who enters into marriage relations with more than one woman, voluntarily courts unhappiness and misery”.
  • Contributes to Stable family and sex life: Monogamy is more stable and long-lasting and is free from conflicts that are commonly found in polyandrous and polygynous families. It does not give opportunity for having extra-marital sex relationships because sex relations are more strictly prohibited.
  • Helps to better Socialization: Since husbands and wives have a better understanding, they can give greater attention to the socialization of their children. Children are well looked after and the parents can give special attention to them.


Polygamy is a form of marriage in which one man or woman marries two or more women or men. It is a less common form of marriage.

Types of Polygamy:

It’s also of two types as follows; polygyny and polyandry,

i. Polygyny: Polygyny is the form of marriage in which one man marries more than one woman at a given time. This type of marriage was mostly practiced in ancient civilizations. Still, in some societies like Korea, Muslims can have four wives at a time if they want. This type of marriage is practiced in Nagas of India, Crow Indians, Eskimo tribes, Hidasta of North America, etc.

Types of Polygyny:

  • Sororal Polygyny: Sororal is a type of polygyny form of marriage in which one man marries two or more wives who are related as sisters.
  • Non-Sororal Polygyny: Non-Sororal is a type of polygyny form of marriage in which one man marries two or more wives who are not related as sisters.

Causes of Practicing Polygyny:

  • The practice of polygyny becomes common in a society where there are more women as compared to men which creates an imbalance in the sex ratio.
  • People practice polygyny for economic benefit. In some of the African Tribes like Longas and Thongas people practice polygyny thinking that women can contribute to family income.
  • Many people practice polygyny marriage to enjoy sex life with multiple wives because sex relation with a woman during her menstrual, pregnancy, and lactation periods is taboo in many societies.
  • Many people practice polygyny because of the childlessness of the first wife.

Disadvantages of Polygyny:

  • Having more wives leads to more no. children which increase the economic burden on the head of the family as he has to support the family.
  • In polygyny, the children cannot be looked after because too many of them are to be looked after.
  • In polygyny, there occurs jealousy among the wives and their children leading to conflict in the family.
  • Because the conflict destroys family happiness.
  • In these types of marriages, the women possess a lower position in the family as there are more no. women.

ii. Polyandry

When one woman is married to more than one man is called polyandry. This type of marriage still exists in some African and Indian tribes.

Types of Polyandry:

Polyandry is further divided into two types;

  • Fraternal Polyandry: When brothers take one woman as a wife is called fraternal polyandry. This type of marriage is still practiced by the tribe of India namely the Todas tribe.
  • Non-Fraternal Polyandry: In non-fraternal polyandry husbands of women are not related to one another. It’s up to the woman, whichever husband she chose to live with.

Endogamy (also called inter-marriage)

Endogamy is a form of marriage when one marries someone from inside one’s immediate social group i.e. marriage within one’s own tribe, caste, kin group. Endogamy is common among aristocracies, religious groups, ethnic groups, and social classes. Endogamy based on caste exists in Nepal and India.

Exogamy (also called out-marriage)

Exogamy is a form of marriage when one marries someone from outside one’s immediate social group i.e. marriage outside of one’s tribe, caste or kin group.

Anthropologists assert that exogamy is done in areas in which cooperation between differing tribes is necessary for survival. For instance, if one tribe only hunts, and another tribe only plants, the best way for them to ensure sharing is to marry off members of the society to one another.

An excellent example of exogamy is the Rani Khera village of India, in which women from far and near villages travel to Rani Khera to marry its men. Kung tribesman of Africa travels at least 40 miles to find a wife. Note: The word comes from the Greek, from exo + gamos which means “outside marriage’.

Group Marriage

In group marriage, a group of women marries a group of men. All of them have common wives and husbands.

4 thoughts on “What is Marriage? Definition, Features, Functions, and Types”

  1. It’s very usefull plz include about anuloma or pratiloma types of mrg in this article then no will go to search other articles.


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