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  • Meredith Haberfield

Arranged Marriage vs. Forced Marriage: What's the Difference?



Many people, including myself, have been taught to believe that arranged marriages are sad and loveless relationships. However, this stereotype of arranged marriage is being dispelled by many women who have been sharing their stories about their own arranged marriages and how they came to be. In the past, arranged marriages were more formal and had less room for negotiation, but modern arranged marriages are more flexible, with parents and other family members not as involved as they once were in the process.


Arranged marriages are defined as a marital union planned by the families, typically parents, of the couple. Forced marriages, on the other hand, are when one or both parties do not give full and free consent to the situation. A marriage can also become a forced marriage if one or both of the parties are forced into staying in the marriage. According to the U.S. State Department, a forced marriage is human rights abuse, and the International Labor Union recognizes forced marriages as modern day slavery. Forced marriages can look like arranged marriages and often the two can be indistinguishable. Although it might be said that either party can decide not to get married, it can be strongly discouraged and those involved can be coerced or even threatened into a situation they do not want to agree to.


A surprising number of marriages today are arranged, although we rarely know or speak about them. It is estimated that over 50 percent of marriages around the world are arranged, and approximately 20 million arranged marriages exist today. Those who enter an arranged marriage also have a much lower divorce rate than those who enter a marriage without their parent’s involvement. The divorce rate for arranged marriages is 4 percent, while the divorce rate in the United States is around 40 to 50 percent. In India, where it is estimated that the percentages of arranged marriages is 90 percent, the divorce rate is only 1 percent. It is difficult to know whether these numbers indicate that arranged marriages work, or if the type of people to enter arranged marriages are less likely to file for a divorce.


Dating apps are one factor that has made arranged marriages less family involved and given the potential pursuer more options and the availability to become aware of more people. Oftentimes, in modern arranged marriages, the couple does not meet for the first time at the altar, although in some cases that still does occur. Young people nowadays have the ability to say no to an arranged marriage if they do not approve of who their parents have found for them, which is another more recent change.



In some places, such as Niger and India, the marriage age for young girls is extremely low, at only 15 years old. These are mostly forced marriages, where the girl is taken out of school left with no other options. This has led to a concerning amount of child births in these countries. Places consider arranged marriages a tradition, but when they turn out to actually be forced marriages, it is simply abuse. There are organizations such as Unchained At Last, who help those who are or have been in a forced marriage. Unchained has seen many young girls who have been in forced marriages and therefore forced motherhood most of the time. The rape, abuse, domestic servitude, loss of reproductive, financial, and human rights is frightening, especially knowing that this still goes on in the present-day. Unchained helps those who feel hopeless in their situation because they will be shunned or have acts of violence committed against them if they try to resist a forced marriage. Men are included in this abuse as well, although it is more unlikely for them to face the same repercussions as women. Men also have certain rights in some religions that women do not have, such as the right to file for divorce.


Arranged marriages have a negative connotation to them in the Western world, but when you take a deeper look, it is really forced marriages that contain the issues spoken about. This goes to show that what you see in movies or on TV is not always the case, and that to really learn what something is like, research and experience, whether it be first or second- hand is useful. Hopefully in the near future, we will be able to see a world without forced marriages or domestic violence, but for now, we must simply work and speak out against it.


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