Sociology of Family
21 January 2013
Economies of Courtship:
Gender, Class and Matrimonial Transaction in Egypt
Vignette One: Frustrated Love
Randa & Elwan: Young couple, who are neighbours and co workers who were engaged. The father of the
bride didn’t want them to get married because he couldn’t afford to buy furniture for the newlywed
couple. In time the pressure of the young couple ends up breaking off the marriage. The bride ends up
marrying her boss, who is able to provide for her although she isn’t happy with her marriage. The
groom ends up murdering her boss that she married, which was also the same time the middle Eastern
leader was murdered.
Vignette Two: Love Postponed
Zeinab & Muhamma: Couple that was engaged for 6 years. Her father couldn’t afford to help his son buy
the furniture and apartment for their wedding. It wasn’t until that the father was able to marry his first
two daughters then he was able to help their situation out
Vignette Three: Forbidden Love
Usama & Shaima: Young couples love was forbidden because Shaima was married before, and they
thought that it didn’t seem fitting for Usama a young man to marry a woman who had been married
Economic factors interact to produced outcomes
Topic: The Economic Foundations of Family Formation
What are the cause and consequences of high costs of marriage in contemporary Egypt?
- The young couples dependence on their parents stopped them from getting married.
Definition of Terms
Defining the “costs of marriage”
Who? Incurred by bride, grooms, and their families What? Expenditures on housing, furniture, appliance, jewelry, celebration etc.
When? During courtship and engagement
Where? Contemporary Egypt
How? Customs over who pays for what but the level and timing of expenditures are negotiated by
brides, grooms, and their families. In the western society, the guy pays for the ring. There are customs
that describes who should do what. In Egypt there are also customs. The bride and the groom must
negotiate who will be responsible for what and certain budgets that they should not go over.
Why? To symbolically mark a new life stage and the new relationships that come with it. To prepar the
newlyweds to set up a new family.
In Muslim families, the groom gives the bride money to by linens, chinas for the home and other
preparations for the wedding day.
Outline of Today’s Talk: Research Questions Addressed
1. How why, and with what effect have the costs of marriage change over time?
- Marriage costs increase from early 1970s to the early 1980s
- After 1985,marriage costs declined dramatically
- This patternof a rise and declined dramatically
- This pattern of a rise and decline in marriage costs was most pronounce for the middle and
- Marriage costs for the poor dropped steadily over this period
- The increasing working power of males has made, women compete to get a partmner. And a
way of competing for these partners is for the females parents to offer a dowry for them to get
- Women and meen have been marrying late 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.
2. How do high marriage costs affect marriage timing today?
- 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 marriage life
- Menès migration opportunities have diminished since the early 1990s, and this may have driven
lower spending on marriage.
- High marriage costs are more of an impediment to timely marriage for men than they are for
women. 3. Do women benefit from high marriage payments today?
- Taiwan- a larger dowry increases the husbands performance of household chores (Zhang and
- China- dowry increase household spending on womens goods, hubands time spent on domestic
chores, wifes leisure time, and her satisfaction with life (Brown 2009)
- In Taiwan and China, the dowry is given to the couple by the brides parents, and if the couple
splits the wife gets the dowry back.
- Bangladesh- dowry reduces womens well being, as proxied by physical abuse (Suran et al 2004)
- In Bangladesh is the couple splits the groom keeps the dowry.
- Singerman(1995)and Hoodfat (1997;1998) observe that marriage payments give working class
Cairene women leverage in their marital relationships
- El-Kohly (2000) argues that the informal contract listing goods purchased by the newlyweds plus
the wife deferred dower helps women deter divorce and claims their property in the event of
- These studies are suggest that women do benefit from marriage payments, however they
qualitative and based on a small number of respondents.
- She looked at all the payments that were made by women and men on marriage costs, and saw
if it correlated with the decision making in the household. She found that there was no
association. This go against the beliefs in society.
- Women and husbands need to know that if they are to get a divorce, the woman can claim the
things that they bought. Even though the courts rule in favour for women to get their property,
in reality people operate in the way that these things cannot be claimed by the wife and they
are denied access.
4. Why do people today insist on such high marriage costs?
- Existing research has emphasized functional importance of marriage expenditures. It makes
sense that you need to set a well equipped home after you get married. But marriage
expenditures also have symbolic importances. Rationalists will say that the costs of marriages
are greater than the benefits. The functional benefits are not as great as the costs. But there are
symbolic importance that are associate with marriage which is more beneficial.
- Marriage expenditures help display conformity with normative gender ideals:
- Marriage gifts and assets are highly gendered, with brides, purchasing feminine goods (linens,
washer, oven) and grooms purchasing masculine goods (apartment, tvs)
- Such purchases define the roles and obligations (homemaker versus breadwinner) of each party
in the marriage.
- They establish a normative power imbalance between husband and wife.
- Marriage expenditure demonstrate class position and social status:
- Celebration are occasions for conspicuous consumption and material display.
- Newlyweds also expect their homes to come under the scrutiny of visitors who come to
congratulate them. - Ignoring the commnitys material standards of respectability risks having negative judgments
made about their character or commitment.
- The cultural meanings associated with marriage expenditure make it difficult to