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Marriage as a Social Instution || Steven L. Nock || Compulsory English Grade 12


Marriage as a Social Instution || Steven L. Nock || Compulsory English Grade 12

Marriage is a Social Institution

Steven L. Nock



ü A basic and universal institution in the society,

ü Socially of legally recognized union in which two individual form same or different sexes share a common bond,

ü Legal or formally recognized union of two people as partners in a personal relationship, residential cohabitation, economic cooperation, formation of nuclear family, creation of children, fulfillment of sexual needs etc,

ü Marriage is a legal union of two different or same sexes for making a ratified relation for satisfying social, economic, physical and family needs.

ü It is an approved social pattern for establishing a family

ü Characteristics:

o   Universal phenomena: It exists everywhere there is a society (every country and every tribe)

o   Permanent: remains forever in the society

o   Ancient: existing since the beginning of human civilization

o   Dynamic: the concept of marriage gets changed according to the demand of the society,

o   Social approval: child marriage is not approved, transgender marriage is approved (homosexuality), widow marriage is accepted now

o   Establishes family: legal right to their children, birth certification, citizenship registration,

o   Religious and social institution

Type of marriage:

Monogamy: 1 spouse throughout life time,

Serial Monogamy: 1 spouse remarrying another after the death/divorce of the 1st spouse,

Polygamy: 1 individual having many spouses

Polyandry: 1 wife many husbands (Manag & Mustang)

Polygyny : 1 Husband many wife (Islamic countries)

Endogamy: Marriage with in a group (Raute)

Exogamy: Marriage in another group


Social Institution:

Social- comes from the Latin word “socious” which means “friend”

When you are being a social you are everyone’s, friend enjoy being with people or has to do with people living or gathering in groups.


Institution- an organization, the established law, practice, pattern, convention important to a society.

Social institution: Marriage, family, politics, religion, mass media, education, economy, law etc. People create such institution to satisfy their needs from different people, places, things legally. Marriage is a social institution because there is a legal association between two people from different sexes or same sexes to fulfill needs and desires.


“Marriage is a Social Institution”


ü Dr. Stephen L. Nock (11 March 1950- 26 January 2008)

ü A researcher, author, and the Commonwealth Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia (USA)

ü Wrote extensively on the role of marriage in society, cause and consequence of change in American family, investigated the issue of privacy, unmarried fatherhood, cohabitation, commitment, divorce and marriage,



This essay “Marriage as a Social Institution”, the first essay, is taken from his famous William J. Good Book Award (1999) winning book “Marriage in Men’s Lives” written based on over 6000 interviews with men since 1979, published by Oxford University Press in 1998.  The essay tackles politically and socially charged issue ‘marriage as a social institution’ and looks closely at marriage as a key social institution that affects men.  According to him the role of husband plays a unique function in the lives of men.  Normative marriage provides masculinity in adulthood. A man develops, sustains and displays his masculinity identity in his marriage.  Normative marriage is distinguished by free choice, maturity, and heterosexuality, husbands as head of the household, fidelity/monogamy and parenthood. The married couple, as life companions, responds to each other, culture, society, norms and values. Specially married men are better off than married women in terms of both physical and mental health. Marriage changes men on basic dimensions of achievement, participation in public social life, well being, comfort, luxury and prestige.




Marriage is the sum of two spouses bound by legal, moral and conventional assumptions having varieties of close personal affiliations and social relation. It is an institution- a patterned structure, incorporates with other institutions like family, education, economy, law, politics etc. The relationship between spouses is bound by rules and they exist within soft boundaries to follow the patterns in many ways. The soft boundaries- allowable limits of behaviors, distinguish marriage from all other kinds of relationships. Married spouses are distinguished to other couples by such institution. They become a part of a vast system of understood principles that help organize and sustain lives.


Marriage matters a lot for men because it provides structure to their lives and organizes their ambitions. To support this idea, Dr. Stephen brings the reference of a French sociologist Emile Durkheim (1858-1917).  For Emile, marriage prevents suicide; it legitimates the desires of wellbeing, comfort, luxury and prestige. Married people have lower suicide rates than unmarried. Marriage makes better citizen of men, and helps them to find their purpose in life. Marriage controls unrestrained longings and desires. Marriage forces a man to attach himself forever to the same woman to fulfill the need of love, moral balance, gives up other satisfactions, fulfills his duty, restricts desires and finds happiness in own family.


Unmarried cohabitation has been rising day by day. Unmarried cohabitation is an arrangement when two people are not married but live together. It is rising because the partners may have harmonious and happy life, freedom from the rule of marriage, don't have to follow accepted and approved boundaries, tremendous freedom of choice, exempt from the vast range of norms and laws. But their relation is not accepted widely and legally because they don't follow conventional assumptions, limits in behavior, no obligation to each other, no identity and no institutional relation. Married couple follows pattern, norms, laws and gets approval everywhere as husband and wife. They introduce each other as a husband and a wife proudly. Their relation is protected by laws, religion and customs.


Beside these, marriage works as a social capital. It renders the relations among persons. It creates bond of trustworthiness and trust. The new relationship is made on trust and belief. Husband and wife become connected to new kin. The relationship is obligatory and demands help and support at the time of need.  Individual benefits from social capital. Social capital inserts individual in networks that guide appreciated knowledge and information among all members. Such networks are sustained by social norms and social sanctions (honor, status etc.) that facilitate certain actions and constrain others. The institution of marriage is an individual asset but more difficult to sustain because it exists only as relationship with others.


The soft boundaries of marriage distinguish it qualitatively with other forms of relationships. The various rules of normative marriage define the relationship because mature people have choices of their spouses, heterosexual relation; husbands will be the principal earners, partners are sexually faithful to each other, and they become legitimate parents of their children. Their relation is protected by law, religion and customs. It is a form of social control because of appropriately channeled behaviors and aspirations. There is a collective sentiment of others. Other intimate relations are surpassed by marital relations.



Understanding the Text:

Answer the following questions.

a. According to the author, what is marriage?

Ans: - Marriage is the sum of spouses bound by legal, moral and conventional assumptions having varities of close personal associations.


b. How is marriage an institution?

Ans: - Marriage is an institution becaue the relationship between the spouses is approved by law for satisfying social, economic, physical and family needs and it is integrated into other institutions like education, education, politics.


c. What are the rules that a marriage has?

Ans: Marriage has a vast system of understood principles that help organize and sustain the lives of the spouses.


d. Why does marriage matter to men?

Ans: - Marriage matters to men because it provides structure to their lives and organizes their ambitions.


e. What is one of the central problems in modern society?

Ans: - One of the central problems in modern socieity is establishing legitimate boundaries around the limitless desires of modern humans such as well-being, comfort, luxury and prestige.


f. What does a social capital consist of?

Ans: - Social capital consists of an extensive network of individuals linked by bond of trustworthiness and trust.


g. What is normative marriage?

Ans: - Normative marriage is such kind of marriage which is based on established norms and values for example the six dimentions that define normative marriage in USA are: marriages are entered voluterily by mature, heterosexual adults, husbands as principal earners, sexual faithfulness of partners, and parenthood.



Reference to the Context:

a. Discuss the six dimensions that define normative marriage in America.

Ans: - Marriage exists every where but the concept of marriage differes place to place. Every society has its own norms and values regarding marriage. No matter whatever it is, it gives a legal right to two adults from different sexes to live as life partner fulfilling eachother’s desires. Every marriage in every place follows norms and pattern, so does in the USA. The patterned marriage known as normative marriage follows six dimensions in America. First is marriage being voluntary. There is no pressure for marriage from anyone. It depends on the choice of individuals. Adult people can manage their own marriages. The martial retaion must be heterosexual (opposite sexes). After marriage, the principal earner will be husbands. They have to run their families. Both partners must be faithful to each other specially in sexual behaviour. And only after marriage they become parents of their children.


b. Do marriages differ according to culture? How is your marriage practice different from marriage in America?

Ans: - Marriage practices differe place to place. The differences can be observed not only acrross the country but there are varieties within a country. The marriage practices of one geographic location are different to other even in our country. However, the majority of people in Nepal practice marriage ceremony according to Hindu religion. For us, marriage is a social, spiritual, cultural and legal union between a man and a woman as husband and wife. It is also establishment of relation between two families. Here are certain norms and values to be followed in marriage ceremony. (Marriage practice is given in deail in essay)


Our marriage practice is different from marriage in America because we follow Hindu tradition and Christian tradition is followed in the USA. The wedding ceremony takes places in a religious building called church with a religious leader officiating the ceremony. The bride and groom vow their love and commitment for one another with church provided vows. The officiant asks the guests if they know of any reason why the coupl should not be married. If noone objects then the couple exchanes rings which symbolize their never endign love and commitment towards one antoher. In public, first time, the couple pronunce husband and wife to each other with their first kiss.



Reference beyond the text:

a. Write an essay on marriage practice your own culture.

Marriage is much more than fulfilling sexual desire being bound of two adult persons of different sexes. The concept of marriage is changing day by day. The relation which was considered to be a taboo in the past is accepted now a day for example, our society now allows transgender marriage. Different types of marriages exist in our societies such as monogamy in which one person is allowed to have only one spouse, serial monogamy-one spouse remarrying another after the death or divorce of the first spouse; polygamy- one individual having many spouses; polyandry-one wife with many husbands; Polygyny- on husband with many wives; endogamy- marriage with in a group; and exogamy- marriage in another group.


I belong to Hindu religion, and we have our own rules of marriage. It is taken as a religious sacrament instead of a social contract. It is socially approved union of a matured man and a woman aiming at procreation, pleasure and observance of certain social obligations. A party from girl and another party from boy, perferms the pre-marriage occasion called engagement. The would-be partners exchange ring and put garlands to each other. This ceremony is sanctioned by family priest reciting mantra and performing rituals. On that day the date of marriage is fixed.


On the day of marriage, the bridegroom along with his family members, relatives and neighbours, ornating in bridegroom’s custume, leaves for groom’s house. A band of music accompany the group called ‘Janti’ who follows the bridegroom. A line of women carrying trays with different food items and gifts called ‘Saipata’ leads Janti. The wedding ceremony is performed at bride’s house on that day with the help of family priests. A Mandap or Jaggey is made at groom’s house where the whole procession takes place. Pandit or Priest, is the most important person who performs the rituals. A grand feast is prepared for Jantis and neighbourhoods. Several actions are carried out as per the instruction of the priest around the sacred fire in the middel of the Mandap. The main actions are circling the sacred fire seven time by the bridegroom and groom, bridgegroom puts virmillion powder on bride’s head, he puts a holy neckace aroud bride’s neck. Virmillion powder called ‘Sindur’ and a holy necklace called ‘Pote’ is the main indication of a married women. The bride’s father washed feet of bride and bridegroom, all the relative and frinds wish them happy married. At the last of the day, bride’s departure from her parental home is arranged. This is the most heart touching scence. Most of people from bride’s side weep as they farewell her. The newly married couple is welcomed at bridegroom’s house following welcoming culture. People gathered at bridegroom’s house stop singing dancing to see the face of new bridegroom. Hence the couple starts their newly married life.


b. Is marriage a Social Institution? Discuss

Any sociologists have given a clear-cut definition of marriage.  It differs person to person. Generally, is defined as a legal union between two people from different sexes having personal relationship, residential cohabitation, economic cooperation, formation of nuclear family giving birth to children and fulfillment of sexual needs. It is taken as an institution because it follows the established law, practices, patterns, conventions which are important to a society. People create such institutions to satisfy their needs from different people, places, and things legally. People from different sexes fulfill their needs and desires being accepted to the society following social norms and values. Marriage is a universal phenomenon. It is being practiced in every country, every society, and every tribe since the beginning of human civilization. It is permanent and remains forever till the end of human civilization. The concept of marriage is dynamic because the system of marriage in the past is not similar in the present. Child marriage was accepted in the past, but not now, widow marriage is accepted now, transgender marriage is also legal, it gives legal rights such as birth certification, citizenship certification to the children born out of the married couple, it is accepted by religion, law, and other social institutions.


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