The history of marriage in the Americas is one that often combines economics (especially in North America) and race (especially in South America and the Caribbean.) In colonial North America, marriage and subsequent family life were interwoven into the fabric of community. Success in marriage was less about emotional satisfaction and love than performing certain jobs and producing offspring, who would grow to create more people to do the jobs. A high mortality rate further created a situation in which emotional attachment was not encouraged in this negotiated arrangement.
In slave families, a brother, sister, child or spouse could be sold away from the family, leaving a legacy still visible today in the many fatherless African American families. In African Americans, this has created unique and difficult relationship interactions, as African and African American women became strong enough to hold a family together by themselves. This strength and independence is often seen as negative by African American men who then seek Asian or Latin wives who may not proffer the battles or control in the way that an African American woman might.
In the Southern Americas, high slave populations in countries like Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and the Caribbean isles such as Cuba created problems for the white elites who realized that if they allowed African slave and freedmen populations to breed, whites would soon be outnumbered, and in fact, they were outnumbered. The precariousness of their rulership was thus threatened, and the choice was to enjoin the slaves to fight for freedom from European colonial rule or to risk slave uprisings where they themselves would be the targets of rebellion.
Miscegenation, or intermarriage of whites and blacks or native Americans, therefore became encouraged as a “whitening process” in order to lessen the risk of experiencing popular uprisings and creating a more nationalist view of unity.
The history of foreign brides runs parallel to these histories. Although Europeans moving into New England and the Virginias often came with families from Europe, fur trappers and other men moving into the west often took wives from cultures other than their own. The history of the mail order bride business is documented as far back as the Revolutionary War, and pre-arranged marriages have always been the norm rather than the exception.
In the Americas, transplanted Europeans sometimes turned to taking indigenous women or slave women as concubines or at least for release of sexual needs, resulting in many mulatto and mestizo children. In California, however, the need for foreign brides arose from a huge Asian, mainly Chinese and Japanese, pool of laborers working on sugarcane plantations and later, the railroads. Since interracial relations between white women and Asian men was forbidden, Chinese women were brought to the United States to work as prostitutes for the working community.
By 1860, over 80% of the Chinese women in San Francisco were prostitutes. Many were kidnapped or brought to the United States under false pretenses. Eventually, the mail order bride was conceived and carried out by Korean and Japanese societies in the early 1900’s, as the use of photography made it possible to see photos of potential brides, called “picture brides”. Matchmakers were used as “middlemen” to negotiate for the American or Asian American men.
These arranged marriages not only eased tensions within the Asian working community, but also increased the number of immigrants to the United States and strengthened the labor pool, as wives would also work alongside their husbands.
In the South Americas, European white men took indigenous, Mexican or African/mulatto women for concubines until European women could immigrate to their hemisphere. Although there was less a need for foreign brides in the Caribbean and Southern hemisphere due to the large number of mainly African women, as East Indian and Asian workers migrated to the Americas to work for United Fruit Company or on the Panama Canal, Asian women were yet again lured to foreign ports.
In some of these communities, the marriage of Asian women to members of the mulatto population was seen as preferable to marrying another black or mulatto, as the lighter complexion of Asian women was seen as lightening or “whitening” the population, considered a positive end result., As stated earlier, the first and second world wars also brought foreign brides to American shores. Many white Americans still harbor negative associations with the term “war bride”. These women whom American G. I.s met during their stays overseas emigrated to the United States and met with the hostility of American women who felt “their men” had been stolen from them twice; first by war and then by foreign- born women. The implication, even then, was that these women’s intentions were to steal the money of American men, and this attitude still remains.
This author’s recent survey showed that 50% of American women believed that foreign women seeking to enter the United States were seeking citizenship only, 30% said foreign born women were seeking security, and another 10% asserted that foreign born wives were seeking “a free ride”. More American men—25%--mentioned the word “money” in guessing what foreign brides wanted, and 50% stated that the women wanted security and a better life. 12% of men felt these legal immigrants were looking for “a free ride”.
Interestingly enough, 70% of the American women surveyed said they knew nothing about international marriage agencies that act as marriage brokers in these intercultural marriages. Only 20% of the men did not know anything about these services. 82% of the men said they would marry someone from another country, and 60% of the women said they might do so. Yet, 44% of the men said they had actually searched on the internet for a foreign born spouse, and only 10% of the women said they had done so.
The American focus on the monetary aspects of marriage to a foreign born person is in juxtaposition to American views on what potential American-born partners are looking for in a relationship or marriage. 37% of American men felt American women were too materialistic, and yet only 4% of the women mentioned money as being important when choosing a mate. American women overwhelming listed qualities like honesty and sharing as being important, while men listed trust and being appreciated as important. Money was significantly lacking in the list of important factors in a relationship or marriage. Yet, marriage itself is a legal and social transaction with ideological and social bases.
Marriage is, according to most anthropology scholars, “a culturally sanctioned union between two or more people that establishes certain rights and obligations between people…” The rights and obligations include conjugal rights (who sleeps with whom and who is barred from sleeping with whom) and economic negotiations (who pays for what and what is the work/sex exchange thereby). Economics in marriage is evident in the following statistic: after divorce in the U.S., a woman’s standard of living drops by 73% and a man’s increases by 43%.
In many countries, arranged marriages are the norm (India) because the economic exchanges that take place between families is vital. Certain societies use the payment of a “bride price”; that is, the groom’s family pays the bride’s family a certain amount of money or gifts—which can be goats, cattle, or even land. Sometimes this exchange of funds is to help “set up” the wife for her married life.
There is also something called “bride service” in which the groom works for the bride’s family, but more common is the reverse, where the bride works for the groom’s family and leaves her own family to live with his.
In Eurasian societies that are more agrarian in nature, the wealth comes from the bride’s side in presentation of a dowry. In the U.S., this is expressed as the wife’s family paying for wedding expenses. The dowry is traditionally the parents’ inheritance given to the daughter who will then pass her portion of the inheritance to her new family. The dowry is supposed to take care of a woman if she loses her husband. It also allows women to compete through dowry for desirable husbands. In these cultures, the emphasis is most often on child- bearing.
When the demographics of the U.S. indicate that the gender percentages are pretty much 50/50, and there are not the shortages of women that were common during the European spread into the Americas, the question must be asked, why do American men still seek to find women from outside American borders for wives? One answer might be found in the informal survey this author offered to the single professional men recently. Fully half of the men taking the survey finished this sentence, “American women are…” with the word “materialistic”.
Even though American women clearly don’t think of themselves that way, American men have a perception that they do, and when looks at the demographics of the wages and educational level of men vs. men in the United States, one finds that, although women are over all more well educated than men, their income falls far short, compared to the men and their respective education and earnings. In short, women still marry for money, because they must, to be financially viable.
Marriage is a business.
 Douglas, W., 2003. Television Families: Is Something Wrong in Suburbia? Mahwah, New Jersey. Laurence Erlbaum Associates.  Reid-Andrews.  Reid Andrews, G. 2004. Afro-Latin America 1800-2000. New York, New York. Oxford University Press.  Douglas, W., 2003. Television Families: Is Something Wrong in Suburbia? Mahwah, New Jersey. Laurence Erlbaum Associates.  Haviland, Prins, Walrath, & McBride, 2005. Cultural Anthropology: The Human Challenge. Belmont, California. Thomson Wadsworth.  Reid-Andrews  Perez, B. Woman Warrior Meets Mail-Order Bride. Berkeley Women’s Law Journal. (211-236). 2003.  Perez, B. Woman Warrior Meets Mail-Order Bride. Berkeley Women’s Law Journal. (211-236). 2003.  Roopnarine, J. et al. 1997. Caribbean Families Diversity Among Ethnic Groups. Greenwich, Connecticut. Ablex Publishing Company.  Alleyn, M. The Construction and Representation of Race and Ethnicity in the Caribbean and the World. Kingston, Jamaica. University of West Indies Press.  Reid Andrews, G. 2004. Afro-Latin America 1800-2000. New York, New York. Oxford University Press.  United States Congress & Senate. Human Trafficking: mail order bride abuses: hearing before the Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs of the Committee of Foreign Relations. U.S. G.P.O. July 13, 2004.  Haviland, Prins, Walrath, & McBride, 2005. Cultural Anthropology: The Human Challenge. Belmont, California. Thomson Wadsworth.  Ibid.  Weitzman, L. J., 1985. The Divorce Revolution: The Unexpected Social and Economic Consequences for Women and Children in America. New York. Free Press.  Haviland, Prins, Walrath, & McBride, 2005. Cultural Anthropology: The Human Challenge. Belmont, California. Thomson Wadsworth.
Larry McEntire, owner of Christian Singles Registry, says without hesitation that the feminist era of the Sixties ruined American women. He declares with no affection that when women started to claim their rights, the husband was forgotten. American women were given the ability to say no to their husbands. Larry is a firm believer in the Christian doctrine that the man rules the roost, and the wife should look to her man for guidance in all things, spiritual and otherwise.
Many American men long for the kind of relationship they witnessed in the older generation, good or bad. American men seeking women from Latin and Asian cultures desire a return to the pre-1960 lifestyle of the “nuclear family”. According to Dr. William Douglas, whose studies are focused on the American family, the selection of partners to form a procreative family (“nuclear family”) is based on factors like physical appearance, similarity of values, and opportunity to interact.
There are two kinds of marital “paths” or ideologies. Traditional views include the typical view of a “nuclear family”, which stresses steadiness and commitment in a framework generally accepted by the society in which one lives.. Therapeutic views focus instead on the feelings of gratification arising from love and emotional interactions. Those believing in a traditional view of marriage, most often espoused by men seeking foreign brides for marriage, often believe in the importance of time-honored institutions and value a certain amount of stability and predictability in relationships. The more therapeutic view, also known as the ideology of uncertainty, thrives on change and the ability to experience individual freedoms as well as sharing them within a family structure. Most people term the former “old-fashioned” and the latter “modern”.
Indeed, in my informal survey, 56% of women and nearly 79% of men classified themselves as “a little old-fashioned and a little bit modern”. No one described themselves as “old-fashioned” only. 11% of women described themselves as “modern” only, and 16% of men did the same. Yet 76% of both sexes claimed that “marriage is a partnership of equals sharing”, and 11% of men said that “the man should rule the roost”. No women said the latter, nor did any women say “the woman should rule the roost.” While all relationships experience degrees of interdependence, a healthy family offers a balance of family structure and cohesion and independence, according to D. Olson writing in Family Typologies.
The question is, how ingrained is this desire for the nuclear unit in American men and women? According to Noller & Fitzpatrick in Communication In Family Relationships, there are three basic ways couples relate—“Traditional” that stresses stability and fidelity. This kind of relationship still includes a high degree of interdependence and companionship. “Independents” experience a high degree of companionship and sharing but don’t want to be limited. The partner is allowed “space”. “Separates” hold opposing views about relationships; they may be simultaneously traditional and independent, but there is less sharing in these relationships. An important addendum here is to note that when partners agree independently on what a relationship is, the relationship more likely to be more successful.
In my recent survey of American men and women, statistics revealed that Americans still revert to stereotypical nuclear family roles. These roles include the male of the family being the sole breadwinner and the female being the caretaker. These roles must be deeply ingrained, since, when asked what duties men would be willing to do for the family, 100% wanted to be the sole breadwinner, and lower percentages were willing to do things like do laundry or cook and clean. 0% of the men wanted to be the caregiver at home or to carpool the kids around. 71% said they would be willing to cook or do yard work around the house. As mentioned above, 77% said they were “a little bit old- fashioned and a little bit modern” when it came to marriage. 11% claimed a man only should rule the roost, but 77% said marriage should be a partnership of equals sharing.
There were few women who wanted to be the sole breadwinner (only 18%), but they were willing to do everything else, including yard work (40%), but at the top of the list of duties they were happy to perform was cooking (74%) and laundry (66%). Cleaning was something that some of them would do, but some preferred to hire someone (51%). Only 40% of women said they were interested in being the primary caregiver at home. 0% of men and women wanted their spouse to do everything, although a few admitted that sometimes they ruled the roost, and sometimes their spouse ruled the roost. A majority of people felt that they were “a little old fashioned” and “a little modern”, both.
Keep in mind that the demographic that answered this survey, which, although sent equally to all age groups—was between 30 and 60, leaning to over 45. The 50-something men also indicated the greatest interest in foreign brides. The Republican right in the last election sought to use “old-fashioned” or “traditional” marriage values to lure the Hispanic vote to their side, although Latinos generally tend to vote Democratic. The Republicans were aware of the “strong family values” component to Hispanic American culture. The Hispanic culture is well known to be centered around the family. There is usually a strong father figure, and the entire family participates in the keeping the family unit stable. I have known many Hispanic teenagers who give their wages to their parents.
I also have known, especially in Europe, that Asian families that do the same. All the monies are compiled for the good of the family. This drastically differs from the American view of American kids getting allowances to spend or having their own jobs which they spend on their own stuff. The American culture is one that fosters and admires and encourages independence, but Hispanic and Asian cultures value the family and respect for elders first.
According to studies by a number of communications researchers, , , couples from different cultures get into relationships for the same reasons intracultural couples do. Two factors that strongly influence the facilitation of intercultural relationships are both a strong sense of ethnic identity and a profound interest in other cultures,, and similar education and socioeconomic status.,, Although the former, strong ethnic identity and interest in other cultures can make one more apt to get into an intercultural relationship, if one member is more educated or higher up in a social hierarchy, the less likely they are to marry out of their culture.
When we have similar values to other cultures, we are more likely to have intercultural relationships., perhaps this explains why American men seeking the “Father Knows Best” image of the American family look to the similar values expressed in Asian and Latin cultures.
The question is, are American women all money hungry vultures as Larry McEntire of Christian Singles Registry, says they are? The second question is, if the women from overseas are coming here to better their lives, aren’t they too “money hungry”? Marriage, over the centuries has been essentially an economic deal—isn’t that what the gays and lesbians are fighting for—to be eligible for tax credits—and if marriage is an economic deal, then it is natural for women to be looking at the money a man makes.
Women and their families are looking at that and have been doing so since the beginning of time, because women have historically been objects to be bought and sold.,, Therefore, whether a woman is American or from any other culture, in the end, marriage is all about the money—even more so than being about sex. In fact, marriage is closer to indentured servitude—or prostitution, because it’s a deal—“I make the money, you clean the house, have sex with me, and take care of the kids”. (because men don’t only not eat quiche, they don’t carpool or care take!) In some cases, it’s legalized prostitution. “You do these things, and I’ll buy you things.” In some cases, it’s slavery—“I own you, and you have to do this, like it or not.”
Despite the less obvious nature of who owns whom in marriage these days, the convention still implies a business deal. Nothing shows this more clearly than demographics about living together, marriage, and divorce. According to a 2002 government survey, “Couples who live together before getting married are more likely to divorce. After 10 years, 40 percent of cohabiting couples had broken up, versus 31 percent of those who did not live together first.” A couple may have lived together happily for 10 years, but the minute they marry and put the legal deal to the relationship, the men slip into typically masculine roles “you have to do what I say”, and the women slip into feminine caretaker roles, according to family therapist and researcher Dr. Betty Carter, author of Love Honor & Negotiate.
These roles may not have been presupposed before the legal entanglement, but they become apparent afterwards. Couples who have lived together for years and then choose to get married are overwhelmingly more likely (40% more likely) to get divorced. Had they not gotten married, they stood a better chance of survival. Once the roles change from freedom and equal partnership to become roles of ownership and obligation, the partnership often cannot maintain itself.
In other words, the rules change. The problem is with marriage itself. Once relationships are built on force and what one “has to do”, they are no longer love relationships. People don’t like to be forced. That is why American marriages end in divorce. Americans are still trying to live by old rules, but they no longer apply.
One cannot force one’s partner to do anything using historically aged social or religious laws. We don’t own each other anymore. Larry McEntire is right. Feminism did indeed kill the world he knew. This is not saying that the old fashioned nuclear family can’t exist. It does exist in Latin countries and Asian countries, and about 50% of American marriages are based on this model. Countries that have arranged marriages and indeed countries like the Philippines that do not believe in divorce place a higher value on commitment.
The reason why arranged marriages work is because the two people come into the relationship agreeing that they will make it work. It is still a deal, but the deal is, “we will make it work, no matter what”. Structure of the marriage behavior is also agreed. The husband will do this; the wife will do this, agreed. This is a business deal based on reciprocation. American marriages fail, because that agreement is not there to begin with, and we all know there is an “out”.
Many women, like this author, endure years of physical and emotional torture, because they believe in the deal of commitment, no matter what. The Christian “till death do us part” is a death trap, or at least a life sentence of suffering, for many women. Many foreign brides come to the United States believing the same premise.
Worse, if for any reason, their spouse dies or leaves them, they may not have the language skills, the education, or knowledge of American ways, and not the social support to know what to do here. However, there is still lingering an older generation that has the same problem when the male spouse dies: American women who do not know how to drive, write a check, or pay bills, because the spouse did it all while they cleaned house. These situations occur, even in the United States today.
But the views of many Americans are slowly changing, even if some things stay the same. American men and women and their gender roles have been affected by the feminist movement, just as the industrial revolution, the rise of the labor unions and labor laws, more technology at home, and the post-World War II boom changed the American family. As the woman was released from having to work in factories and better technology offered more leisure time and more focus on the children, the American family changed.
Today, in a post-feminist era where typically both partners in a marriage work and must do so to maintain their standard of living, the sharing factor becomes more evident and is desired by both male and female, as clearly indicated in my survey. Men and women alike in great numbers overwhelmingly want trust and sharing from their partner. They are looking for a best friend who understands them. Very few of either gender from my survey mentioned either money, looks, or sex as important criteria.
In summary, as long as both parties agree to the basic structure of what marriage is and should be, the partnership is more likely to be successful, no matter where the individuals were born. American women and men who are more modern and progressive in their thinking can take heart in the findings of my survey which suggest that both men and women in the U.S. are seeking best friends, trust, understanding, and a commitment to sharing in relationship. Now that they have agreed on what they want, all they have to do is commit to being those things. In so doing, they can change the premise of marriage from a negotiated legal and financial deal to a truly fulfilling partnership based on shared experiences.
 Bellah, Madson, Sullivan, Swidler & Tipton. 1985. Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitmentin American Life. Berkeley. University of California Press.  Olson, D. H., 1981. Family Typologies: Bridging family research and family therapy. In E.E. Filsinger & R.A. Lewis (Eds) Assessing Marriage: New Behavioral Approaches. (74-89) Beverly Hills, Sage.  Noller, P. & Fitzpatrick, M. 1993. Communication in Family Relationships. Saddle River, New Jersey. Prentice Hall.  Ibid.  Samovar, L. et al. 2003. Intercultural Communication. Belmont, California. Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.  Gurung, R.A. R., & Duong, T. Mixing and matching: Assessing the concomitants of mixed-ethnic relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Vol 16 (639-657). 1999.  Kouri, K., & Lasswell, M. Black-white marriage. Marriage and Family Review. Vol 19 (241-255). 1993.  Lampe, P. Interethnic dating: Reasons for and against. International Journal of Intercultural Relations. Vol 19 (483-504). 1982.  Shibazaki, K., & Brennan, K.A. When birds of a different feather flock together: A preliminary comparison of intra-ethnic and inter-ethnic dating relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Vol 15 (248-256) 1998.  Nguyen, L. T. To date or not to date a Vietnamese: Perceptions and expectations of Vietnamese American college students. Amerasia Journal. Vol 24 (1). (143-169). 1998.  Parsonson, K. Intermarriage. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. Vol 18 (363-371). 1987.  Shibazaki, K., & Brennan, K.A. When birds of a different feather flock together: A preliminary comparison of intra-ethnic and inter-ethnic dating relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Vol 15 (248-256) 1998.  Mills, J. K., Daly, J. Longmore, A. & Kilbride, G. A note on family acceptance involving interracial friendships and romantic relationships. Journal of Psychology. Vol 129 (349-351). 1995.  Sung, B. L. Chinese American intermarriage. Journal of of Comparative Family Studies. Vol 21 (337-352) 1990.  Tucker, M. & Mitchell-Kernana, C. Social structure and psychological correlates of interethnic dating. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Vol 12 (341-361). 1995.  Grant, P. R. Reactions to intergroup similarity: Examination of the similarity-differentiation and the similarity-attraction hypotheses. Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science. Vol 25 (28-44). 1993.  Osbeck, L. M., Moghaddam, F. M., & Perreault, S. Similarity and attraction among majority and minority groups in a multicultural context. International Journal of Intercultural Relationships. Vol 21 (113-123). 1997.  Haviland, Prins, Walrath, & McBride, 2005. Cultural Anthropology: The Human Challenge. Belmont, California. Thomson Wadsworth.  Gates, H. Buying Brides in China—Again. Anthropology Today. Vol 12 Issue 4: (8-12). August 1996.  Wang, Hong-zen. The Commodification of International Marriages: Cross-border Marriage Business in Taiwan and Vietnam. International Migration. Vol 40, Issue 6: (93-114). 2002.  Douglas, W., 2003. Television Families: Is Something Wrong in Suburbia? Mahwah, New Jersey. Laurence Erlbaum Associates.