Mate Selection, Marriage, and Social Class


Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward (1874).  S. L. Fildes.

This contribution is an attempt to examine whether such factors as biological related ness, spatial nearness, and class structure, have any effect on the patterns of marriage in society. If they do, then in what proportion are these factors relevant? Can we assume that physical characteristics and genetic factors are operating in the determination of choice of marital partner? If biological determinants are factors to be considered it has to be established their relevant importance or unimportance. To what extent is the particular social an cultural background of marital partners a factor in establishing marriage patterns? To what extent is geographical nearness or propinquity a determining factor? In essence, do like tend to marry like? Finally, if it is argued that class structure is a prime factor to consider, can it be deduced from society in terms of social mobility – therefore movement up and down via the institution of marriage.

We can examine mate selection and mating patterns from both the biological and sociological points of view. Certainly we must, and can, determine certain regularities when basing our analysis on mate selection on the prevailing class relationships of a society. Unlike the theories of reductionist orientated population geneticists and the ‘statistics is an ends rather than a means’ brigade of social analysts, we can elucidate the main causative factor in the patterns of marriage in society. Reference to social mobility studies show that marital patterns and opportunities (with few exceptions) are determined by one’s position in society. More accurately – by one’s relationship to the means of production, one’s class position. In terms of social class or strata there is a tendency for like to may like, but we shall see that biological undertones are not of importance because, even though they have some validity, they are only secondary to class determinants. Marriage is a social institution, and shall remain so despite the efforts of some population geneticists to drown class relations and human development in a ‘gene pool’.

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