The Origin of Marriage

There are things in life that we take for granted thinking that it has always been like this. I once came into a debate where a biology professor explained how marriage evolved from an evolution point of view. The read is very interesting. I guess you would like to check it up and decide for your self.

In order to understand why marriage originated one has to take a look at two allied trends in human psychology. The first is that men and women’s genetic interests are *not* the same but are, in fact, in competition. The second, which flows from the first, is that it is in the interests of both parties to only be supporting those off-spring that they can reasonably afford to. Now, for the mother, that question is relatively simple to work out–she supports the children that came out of her womb first and foremost and if there’s anything left over then adoptive or step-children can benefit as well. For the father, that question is a little harder to work out. It’s in *his* genes best interests not to support another man’s children but he has no way of knowing, with reasonable certainty, which children are his and which are not–unless there were some way of buying an insurance policy against being cuckolded. Marriage is such an insurance policy.

How does marriage insure against a man supporting children that are not genetically his? Notice that the legacy (and in some cases not-so-legacy) penalties for adultery almost *always* fell on the woman much more harshly than the man. Did you ever stop to think about why that is? Marriage was originally designed as a *generational property transfer* with women being the property in question. The father transfers ownership of his daughter to the husband–*literally* this was what marriage was originally intended for. The emphasis on virginity has *nothing* to do with sexual purity and everything to do with making certain that a man isn’t going to marry a woman who is *already* pregnant with the child of another man.

The first *institutional* codes for marriage were written in the Hammurbic Laws (see Gerda Lerner’s “The Creation of Patriarchy) and the Levitical marriage codes, from which we Westerners inherited our marriage codes, are direct line descendants of the Hammurbic Laws. But in ALL human cultures one sees the following things:

* Father’s ‘give away’ their daughters
* The *ideal* bride is a young woman who is a virgin.
* The penalties for adultery are harsher on women than on men.
* The prescription on pre or extra-marital sex are much more severe and enthusiastically enforced on women than on men.

In MANY cultures divorce is easier for men to obtain than for women. (Running the gamut from impossible to merely extremely difficult.)

ALL of this is more or less exactly what one would *expect* if marriage were originally instituted to protect the genetic interests of men against the genetic interests of women. Now, did the Ancients conceive of it this way? Of course they didn’t! But one of the great human forms of art is self-deception. The idea of ‘romantic’ love leading to marriage is a recent creation of Western civilization, being no more than between 500 and 700 years old. Before that marriage was pretty blatantly a matter of economics (there’s a *reason* why sons are more prized than daughters in agrarian cultures and it’s because sons don’t cost their families a ‘bride price’ whereas daughters *do*). We in the West have just fooled ourselves into believing that marriage has *always* been about love, but it hasn’t and there’s nothing in the history of our species to suggest that it has.

(Please keep in mind that I am talking about our Ancestral populations and the *average* behavior and its effects over time.)

Is that why we are still emphasising on the virginity of our women?


  1. The Levitical Law, which has Hammurabic roots, does not distinguish between men and women in punishment for sexual sin (Lev 20), neither does the New Testament.


  2. After thinking and reading more, I stand that marriage (as designed in the Bible) was designed to help women have a stable environment for men to flourish to their raise children.

    But moreover, marriage was designed to be a symbol of God’s covenent love with us (see Wedad’s post a couple days ago). Infidelity breaks covenant.

    Why does the prophet Malachi state God hates divorce? Because it is like the tearing of flesh, when two become one, tearing asunder is a bloody, painful process. He goes on to state that one of the reasons for marriage was to produce godly offspring.

    Virginity was also designed for men, go read Proverbs! It warns against the temptress, and encourages men to love the wife of their youth, not to go elsewhere.


  3. “The emphasis on virginity has *nothing* to do with sexual purity and everything to do with making certain that a man isn’t going to marry a woman who is *already* pregnant with the child of another man.”

    oh my this part had me laugh out loud in my office!

    i’m starting to throw out the thought of marriage and starting to think maybe i am to live a life of solitude. is it so bad? my virginity has said good bye and so sad that i will never see it again. but honestly who marries for love? i have loved but i sure didn’t see any of them that claimed to love me knocking the door down to be my husband! (speaking out of hurt i guess?)

    Now you really got me to thinking Mr. Observer. I think this will be my next quest.



  4. Hey Kinzi, this article is talking about marriage from an evolution point of view rather than a religious one. Although most cultures are based on some kind of religious teachings, and yes, you are right about those laws in the bible, you still can see that eventhough with religious laws that are meant to equalize punishment towards men and women, people do still treat adulterer women more harshly than men.

    Even when religion asks for the virginity of men as well, you can still people disregard it and concentrate on women virginity.

    Marie, who marries for love? I think that although a lot of people dont do that, there are many others who do actually marry for love :). Maybe according to the lady in the article, marriage wasnt invented for lovers, but it certainly evolved to be only for lovers.

    These days we don’t have economical necessities for marriage. People do only marry now to please their society or to live with the person they love.


  5. Very interesting post. Well, I think that the concept of marriage began to develop about 140000 years ago. Before that, humans would have sex when the woman was in oestris and the male sensed that. He did his thing with her and went on his way. It was purely instinctual just like in the animal kingdom. People still did not make the connection between sex and pregnancy. As people slowly began to stand upright, our heads/skulls grew larger. As a result, women began dying while giving birth, because the infants’ heads were too big to pass through the females’ tiny hips (since these females were very young, in puberty). The human race actually nearly died out. It was at this time, when females began making a connection, that if they have sex, there’s a chance that they will die months later. They began hiding their oestris and waiting till they were a bit older. As a result, males could no longer sense when the females were in oestris and to be “prepared for action” at all times, so they began to “stick around”.


  6. that’s very naive point of view,
    as a biology professor he had to explain how the second fact (that of the offspring) is related to biology, but it may be related to psycology.

    it is my first time to read the term ‘cuckold’, i googled for it and i foud that it refers to the bird Cuckoo which the female lays eggs in other bird’s nest,
    well, then that other buird is called cuckold, for that other bird (another kind of birds) that support the cuckoos kids, does it know that those kids are from another bird, sure, but why to support them, if the second fact was true ? or it is not ? or it exclusively runs for humans ? and why ?

    i can say that the main cause for a man to hate to be cuckolded, is the deception itself, when he loves someone who love another, that’s all

    comments on cultural notes

    “* The *ideal* bride is a young woman who is a virgin.”
    if there is a way to insure men’s virginity it will be the same

    “* The penalties for adultery are harsher on women than on men.”
    he may still talking about roman church in middle age, or some ‘derived’ popular laws

    “* The prescription on pre or extra-marital sex are much more severe and enthusiastically enforced on women than on men.”
    i don’t think so either

    “there’s a *reason* why sons are more prized than daughters in agrarian cultures and it’s because sons don’t cost their families a ‘bride price’ whereas daughters *do*”
    that’s totaly strange, pride and her parents usualy recieve gifts from groom and his family, but it is true that in some cultures ‘specialy agrarian ones’ parents prefer sons on daughters, but the cause is that sons are more likely to help fathers in there work, plus the social cause that sons carry family name, and that’s another problem i am not going to discuss it now


  7. Recently the way I used to think of reasons of marriage have changed, I still believe that you should marry someone that you madly love and know for a good period of time, but now I see that there is other elements in the equation, readiness is as important as love (I am not talking about financials).In our society most people get married when they are ready not when they find someone they love (I am absolutely against those marriages).I think that marriage is a little complicated, you need to be in love, ready, organized, willing to invest and work on the relationship and you need to have time for all that, you are going to live in a house that you need to <>“Manage”<> which is not easy if you work more than 10 hours a day..Those thoughts were coming to my mind the last few days, and it made feel, young, lazy and happy 🙂Maybe what I wrote is not that related to the subject, but this was a release of the thoughts bombarding me lately Interesting post fufu:)


  8. Khalid khalil, I disagree with what you have said. Just look at our society, people don’t care whether a man is a virgin or not, in the contraty, it is better for a man to be experienced before he get marriend, there is no shame in men loosing their virginities.As for harsher punishment of women for adultery, no, it isn’t just about the church in middle ages, we practice that even now in this current age and under some kind of Islamic country. This is a common case in most cultures and most probably is derived out of our evolution. Natasha, you are young, and seem to be happy, but you are not lazy 🙂you are extremely right, ofcourse marriage now needs a lot of work. Reasons for marriage has changed, but it is changed to bring love as the top reason in my opinion. Especially now that women are gaining their finanacial independence where they can support themselves without needing a man beside them, they can make their choice out of their own interest rather than others interest.


  9. Back to the virginity question …I see it as a stupid women-purity measurement, a woman can lose her virginity for the man she loves and stay pure and loyal, on the other hand there are virgins who have oral sex with every second guy they meet, so where is the point? Our <>beloved<> men need to feel that they can control things, and they absolutely cannot, if you want to marry a woman that is pure and loyal your only way of measurement is a healthy friendship with her.You know what is the worst part of our <>double standards<>? we are becoming a prostitution consuming society, men can have sex before marriage while women cannot! With whom are they gonna sleep?? It is so simple!The worst incident happened to me 2 weeks ago , I wanted to attend a conference in an Arab gulf country and I needed an express visa , I couldn’t get it because I am a single female under t 30 , the visa process for young females is <>deferent<> and needs long time ! I wish that is because they want to prevent prostitution not because they want to <>control the business<>, anyways it is offensive that every young woman heading to that <>Arab Muslim<> country is suspected to be a prostitute


  10. I totally agree Natasha, I don’t like the prevention precautions where we punish a whole set of group for the mistakes of individuals. It doesn’t even make any slight sense here in your case. It is a total ignorance and mistreatment to many Arab women. It happens when people in authority still live in the dark ages!


  11. The sole purpose of marriage is to allow a man to enslave a woman. A wife is a slave, otherwise why is her master called a husband ?I support the institution of marriage to be gradually abolished with the legalising of gay marriages and right for a woman to have 4 “husbands”.I am a libertarian, a green, and a humanist.


  12. this may come late by a year but the above comment by “__earth” is done by an impostor.


  13. Thanks for these posts. My father was married to a woman besides my mother, and I never got to meet him. No one felt my loss until I was about to go to college, and my second step-father convinced my mother to tell me his name. I had suspected that my surname was not my biological father’s. My mother wed a neighbor to escape an “oppressive” household where she was cared for as the unwanted offspring of a marriage between (a black and a white?) couple who abandoned each other and her. They lived happily, constructively, and prolifically, until he died nine years later, leaving her with five children and hostile in-laws who relieved her of whatever inheritance and left her and her children homeless in our nation’s capitol, Washington, D. C. My father was her benefactor/seducer until she became pregnant with me. I actually had no legal name until I was forced to go to school, and got a lovely name to match that of my step-father, who married my mother five or six years after my birth. When he left, some six years later, when I was twelve, my mother made me “man of the house” as she recognized my devotion to her as she raised his four additional children, and her five previous ones all sought to escape. Her new husband stayed until his death, when his two children by her were grown, and she died a few years later. I think the best purpose of marriage is to give children the rights to their true parents, and so it should be conferred on the basis of the production of children, as a natural recognition and social responsibility. To serve the interest of freedom and facilitate freedom’s exercise, it should also be conferred on those adults who choose to marry one another, to promote the concept of voluntary positive devotions that emit from love. In this respect, I am composing an article against the California Proposition 8 that seeks to limit marriage in the law, to heterosexual couples.


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