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Marriage Patterns

Marriage Patterns

Author: Zach Lamb

Differentiate between endogamy, exogamy, monogamy, polygamy, and homogamy in relationships.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain

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[music playing] Hello. Welcome to sociological studies. In this tutorial, we're going to take up this question on the board right here. I've got this individual in society, he's asking who can I marry? And then down here, we have culture represented as a badge, as the law. Well the culture says only one person, and more than likely they're probably going to be a lot like you. So we're going to look at why this is, and give you a few terms to help break down marriages for you.

The first of those terms is endogamy, which is a marriage norm requiring a person to marry someone from inside his or her group. So this can be any kind of group. You might have an endogamous marriage with respect to religion. So you can only marry somebody in the same religion. Or class. You can only marry somebody in the same class. So often in caste societies, like in India, it's really frowned upon. You can't really marry somebody from different castes. That's rare. So that's an example of an endogamous cultural sanction on marriage. Or even ethnic groups. It's another way we commonly decide. Culture commonly says will who can marry who in endogamous fashion.

A similar term to endogamy is homogamy. Homogamy. It's kind of difficult to say. Homogamy is a marriage between two people who are culturally and socially similar. Now this sounds a lot like endogamy. It's a related term, but it's not the same thing. I'll explain that now. Homogamy is very common in society, and we want to marry people who are similar and who share the same background. Like I said, culture says you're going to probably marry somebody who's a lot like you. We want to marry somebody in terms of race, class, age, interests, hobbies, et cetera. All the same thing. And this is homogamy, a marriage between two people who are culturally and socially similar.

So for example, some examples of homogamy. A Harvard Ph.D. in marketing marries a Stanford MBA, masters of business administration. They share the education and the success and interests. A black man marries a black woman. They share a racial homogamy. A hairdresser marries a farmer from her high school, from her hometown. These are homogamous relationships. So two people could be of the same age and therefore homogamous, but they might be different races, or they may be different classes, so they are not homogamous along that line. So endogamy and homogamy are related, but they are distinct conceptual ideas.

What about the opposite, marrying somebody who is different? We call that exogamy, ex meaning outside. Exogamy is a marriage between people who belong to different social categories. For instance, in some places in India, people must marry somebody from a different village for cultural reasons. This is an exogamous restriction on marriage. Exogamy, having to marry outside, is historically more common in smaller, land-based societies, because you need to put some kind of restriction on marriage so that people ensure they marry outside of the gene pool. Because if you marry and try to have kids within the gene pool in a small population, this can cause a lot of problems. So cultural sanctions on exogamy grew up around ideas like this.

A second question we might have is not just who can I marry, but how many people cannot marry? How come I can't marry five people if I don't want to. Well, you can marry five people, culture says, but you can't do it at the same time. You have to get married, you have to have a divorce, you have to get married, and have to have a divorce. So in our society, a marriage between two people is called monogamy. It's not legal to have more than one wife or more than one husband. You only get one at a time. So monogamy then is just simply a marriage between two people.

On the other side, marriage to multiple people at the same time is called polygamy. And there are two types of polygamy. Polygany, where a man will have multiple wives as happens in some religious sects in this country, but it is illegal broadly. And another way to have polygamy is polyandry, which is where a female will have multiple husbands, and this is historically very rare.

Of course polygamy happens in society. You could think of people in your life who have probably had multiple partners at the same time, but this is not legally able with marriage. So an example is Hugh Hefner. Sure, he's had lots of women in his life, but yet he's not been married to them. You can't be married at the same time. So to get the legal designation of marriage, you have to be in a monogamous relationship.

I hope you enjoyed this discussion of culture and the way it relates to marriage and marriage conventions and taboos. Have a great rest of your day.

Terms to Know

A marriage norm requiring someone to marry a person from inside his or her group.


A marriage norm requiring a person to marry someone from outside his or her group.


A marriage between two people who are socially and culturally similar.


A marriage between two people exclusively.


A marriage to multiple people at the same time.