The “Perfect” Marriage Looks Different Around The World—Take A Look

By Keelia Clarkson
·  6 min read
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When we think of the ideal marriage, we may imagine two people who’ve fallen in love, coming together and deciding to choose each other for the rest of their days. They buy a house together, get a dog, and eventually start a family. They treat each other as equals, but leave room for their different strengths. They’re best friends, partners, and lovers.

It’s understandable to assume that such a marriage would be held as the “perfect” or ideal marriage to the majority of people and cultures, but that’s actually not the case. While love is universal, our opinions, values, and expectations for marriage aren’t.

Cultures are separated by more than just food, geography, fashion, and language – they’re also separated by their understanding of marriage, family, and love. We each have different views on the purpose of marriage and what a perfect marriage looks like, often being heavily influenced by the culture we grew up in. So what does the “perfect” marriage look like in different cultures?

In the United States

American culture heavily emphasizes individuality, achievement, and happiness. We were raised with the idea that marriage is a union meant for two people who love each other – with 9 in 10 participants in one survey saying that love was enough of a reason for them to get married – so it’s not surprising that the United States is now one of the few countries that recognize same-sex marriage.

Many American couples also place importance on both spouses being considered the other’s equal. While a few decades ago, we took on more traditional gender roles within marriage, today it’s becoming more and more normal for an American marriage to include both spouses working and taking care of the children, sharing more responsibilities rather than assigning them – though traditional gender roles are far from disappearing completely in American culture.

Still, even with our newer attitudes toward dual-income marriages becoming more popular, the ideal American man to marry has a high income, offering stability for the woman he marries, as well as status and a sense of “marrying up” – a practice known as hypergamy. While just over half of Americans consider two children to be the ideal, the number of children American couples have varies widely, and is ultimately considered a personal choice.

In Japan

Japanese culture heavily emphasizes duty, honor, and tradition. So it’s not surprising that, when it comes to marriage, many of the customs and expectations stem from their long-held practices. In more recent decades, particularly after World War II, Japanese culture has shifted in its approach to marriage, with younger generations prioritizing marrying for love more than ever before. 

But before this shift, one of the prevalent Japanese customs, called omiai, was for two individuals to be introduced to one another for the purpose of marrying – what Westerners might think of as matchmaking. Marrying for love wasn’t much of a concern before the more modern shift; rather, marriage was a means of continuing alliances and bloodlines. Women were called upon to be a “good wife and wise mother,” meaning they were expected to take on the role of an attentive wife, thoughtful mother, and skilled housekeeper, very much in line with traditional gender roles – and these days, this is still a prevalent idea.

The top factors taken into account when searching for a spouse are character, shared values, and compatibility.

The grand majority of Japanese people today wish to marry, many of them for love, and one survey found that the three top factors taken into account when searching for the right spouse are character, shared values, and compatibility. Interestingly, though, while more and more Japanese people are focusing on love when choosing their spouse, they still aren’t as openly affectionate with their spouse as Americans are (“I love you” not being the common phrase it is here in the States), and birth rates in Japan have continued to fall, pointing to a dying interest in having children.

In Mexico 

Mexican culture heavily emphasizes respect, family, and religion. While some younger Mexicans have begun cohabitating instead of tying the knot, getting married and starting a family is still the widespread norm and is considered incredibly important in Mexican culture – which isn’t surprising, considering over 80% of Mexicans identify as Catholic, making marriage much more than just a piece of paper, but instead, a sacrament (making divorce far less common than in the States). Along with that, the significance of family in Mexican culture means that the average Mexican woman will have more children than most other women.

Traditional gender roles prevail in many Mexican marriages. Women in Mexican culture, due to a strong connection with their religion, emulate the Virgin Mary in their relationships and look to her as the ultimate example of being both a woman and a mother. Known as marianismo values, this often looks like being held on a pedestal as an image of goodness while also taking a more submissive role with her husband. While most Mexican women are expected to be homemakers, some poorer families also see the mother taking a job in order to help support the family.

Men, on the other hand, take on a machismo approach – what Americans might see as overly masculine behavior, but is seen in traditional Mexican culture as a man taking “responsibility to provide for, protect, and defend his family.” Men are expected to be the primary, if not the sole, breadwinner in Mexican families, while caring for the children is often still seen as a woman’s job.

In India

Indian culture heavily emphasizes harmony, community, and unity – concepts that aren’t all that foreign to Americans, but here’s where Indian culture really differs: a 2018 survey found that 93% of Indians had an arranged marriage, and just 3% had what they called a “love marriage.” Another stark difference from American culture is the adherence to a caste system; in India, marrying across classes is very rare.

93% of Indians had an arranged marriage, and just 3% had what they called a “love marriage.”

The majority of Indians identify as Hindu, so when it comes to their picture of an “ideal” marriage, many Hindu values come into play: marriage is often seen as a sacramental union that melds the body, soul, and mind of spouses, and is ultimately more to serve religious and spiritual duties than to satisfy your physical needs. Divorce is also looked down upon in Indian culture. 

Typical gender roles are relatively common in India, though 62% of respondents in one survey said that both men and women should be responsible for taking care of the children, and 54% said that both men and women should share the responsibility of making money. Indian culture holds collectivism in high regard, so family is very important to most, with many Indians acting with their family’s “reputation” in mind, and often, big decisions are made with their family’s best interest at the forefront.

Closing Thoughts

Our understanding and expectations of marriage vary widely across cultures, and while every culture’s approach to marriage has some downsides, they each have their upsides as well. Although there are obviously many other cultures to explore and compare, simply by looking at these four, we can already see that there is no one “perfect” marriage model, but instead, a view of marriage that’s given to us by our upbringing, faith, parents, and culture.

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