SOCB49 – Lecture 3 (Jan.21)
Economies of Courtship: Egypt
Vignette One: Frustrated Love
Randa and Elwan: A young couple who are neighbours and
co-workers who were engaged for a few years. Engagement
broke off because of their inability to finance the
establishment and maintenance of a new household. Randa
ends up marrying their boss instead, but is unhappy in her
marriage. Elwan murders Randa’s husband.
o From the novella The Day the Leader was Killed.
Vignette Two: Love Postponed
Zeinab and Muhammad: Engaged for 6 years while they
saved up to afford the goods necessary for a respectable
marriage. They were pretty old considering Egyptian
standards. Zeinab wanted to get married younger, but their
parents were unable to help them earlier.
Vignette Three: Forbidden Love
Usama and Saimaa: Entered into a secret marriage when his
parents, who he depends on for his livelihood, objected to the
match because she was divorced. His parents saw this as her
The Economic Foundations of Family Foundations
What are the causes and consequences of the high costs of
marriage in contemporary Egypt?
Definition of Terms
Costs of marriage:
o Who: Incurred by brides, grooms, and their families.
o What: Expenditures on housing, appliances, jewellery,
Common in Muslim communities
The opposite to a dowry (from Bride to
Groom family), in this case its money from
the grooms family to the bride. Necessary
for the marriage to be legal
o When: During courtship and engagement
o Where: In Contemporary Egypt
o How: Customs govern who pays for what, but the level
and timing of expenditures are negotiated by brides,
grooms, and their families. o Why: To symbolically mark a new life-stage and the
new relationships that come with it. To prepare the
newlyweds to set up a new family.
The Egyptian Context: Introduction
South of Europe, north of Africa.
The Egyptian Context: Marriage
Marriage is the only pathway to residential independence and
sexual activity. Difficult to move out of one’s parents house
before they are married.
Love versus arranged marriage
o Many people said that they met their significant other at
work or at school.
o In the past most marriages were arranged, and
continue today but it is very hard to characterize
matches that are purely arranged.
o Expected to fall in love during the engagement, if they
don’t they are allowed to end it.
Marriage stages for Muslims:
Can be pretty long, because they see casual
o Signing of the marriage contract
Basically facilitated by an Imam.
After it is signed you are considered to be
married, but do not have sex until they announce
that they are married to their peers.
An extension of the engagement period.
Marriage stages for Christians:
The Egyptian Context: Economy and Labour Market
The previous generation benefitted from a government
Todays young people are entering a labour market where
unemployment is high. Jobs are informal, so they don’t have
a contract or insurance, etc. Usually low-paying. Very
Compared to other age groups, more likely to be unemployed
and to have low wages
While unmarried youth have no children to support, they have
to finance their own marriages.
How have the costs of marriage changed over time? Peaked in the early 1980s, then declined and plateaued in the
Average cost is $7000 for the last 10 years.
Among which groups have the costs of marriage changed over time?
Has gone down for everyone.
Possible Explanations for the Rise and Fall of Marriage Costs
o Families used to live with their multigenerational
extended family lived in one household.
Was cheaper, less costs when getting married.
o Nuclear Family: Parents and their children living in one
On the rise in Western/developing countries since
the Industrial Revolution.
Changing consumption standards
o As lifestyles shift, many things that were unnecessary
are now seen as vital.
o Women are working now
o Migration work options are less available now than in
the past. In the past men could go work in Saudi Arabia
and make a ton of money.
Possible Consequences of the Rise and Fall of Marriage Costs
o Could be a consequence of delayed marriage.
How have the marriage costs of marriage changed over time?
Marriage costs have increased from the early 1970s to the
After 1985, marriage costs declined dramatically
This pattern of a rise and decline in marriage costs was most
pronounced for the middle and upper classes
Marriage costs for the poor dropped steadily over this period.
Nuclear families have become more and more common over
time, so family nucleation cannot explain the trend of rising
then declining marriage costs
Little is known about consumption standards, but it is likely
that couples see more and more goods as necessary for
Men’s migration opportunities have diminished since the early
1990s and this may have driven lower spending on marriage. With what effect have the costs of marriage changed over time?
Women and men (to a lesser extent) have been marrying
later and later over time. Rising then falling marriage costs do
not appear to have impacted marriage timing over time.
Very few Egyptians never marry, and never-marriage does
not appear to be affected by trends in marriage costs
Little is known about how rates of secret marriage have
changed over time.
How do labour market experiences affect men’s marriage timing?
Men who worked were more likely to get married, and sooner
than people who had never worked.
o People still in school were factored out.
People who were employed were more likely to get married
than people out of the labour force, or who had never
Working in the private sector reduced