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What is Endogamy?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Endogamy refers to the practice of marriage within a social group. There are a number of different forms, based on convenience, religious beliefs, cultural values, or a desire to consolidate power, among other things. The practice is widespread throughout the world, especially among small social groups which are concerned about the possibility of dying out. When one marries outside of a social group, it is called exogamy.

Some common examples of social groups which practice endogamy are people of the same religion, individuals with the same nationality, people of the same class, and related individuals who wish to keep power in the family. Essentially any social group can practice endogamy, although the larger the group, the more successful it will be in the long term. Small groups may actually cause themselves to die out as a result of the practice, by concentrating deleterious genes which lead to sterility, serious birth defects, and other issues.

Often, social groups simply tend towards marriage within the group, with people preferring partners with similar life and cultural experiences. Sometimes, endogamy is actually heavily enforced through centuries of custom, laws, or cultural pressure. In some regions of the world, certain types — such as lineage endogamy — are actually outlawed, due to the risk of birth defects and developmental disabilities.

There are four rough categories of endogamy: caste, village, class, and lineage. In the first sense, people within a rigid caste system prefer to marry people of the same caste. This is particularly common in India, a nation with an extensive caste system. Village endogamy occurs when people in the same village or town marry each other; sometimes this is done by convenience, since other partners may be difficult to find, especially in highly rural areas.

Class endogamy is one of the more widespread forms. It refers to marrying within a particular class; for examples, explore the wedding announcements in a large metropolitan newspaper, which typically document unions of wealthy and powerful individuals. Cultural values often enforce this form, with practitioners seeking out partners with similar beliefs and life histories. Finally, lineage endogamy refers to keeping marriages within an extended family; the Egyptian royal family, for example, followed this practice.

Refugees and migrant communities often practice endogamy in an attempt to keep their culture intact. This is especially common with small communities which would otherwise be swamped by a larger population.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By johlucmoha — On Aug 26, 2012

Can a wife initiate a non-ethnic man into her family as a blood brother to her husband?

By sheenA — On May 18, 2012

Science proves mixed race, mixed group children are physically stronger, smarter, and good-looking. Inter group marriage satisfies the greed and egos of the people involved. Arranged marriages are long-lasting because families keep the pressure on to stay married no matter what, and that often involves ending in death, abuse, incest, extramarital affairs, alcoholism, drug abuse, and severe emotional stress.

Boy! that's an environment I want to raise my children in. Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity all provide for all sorts of relationships that inter-caste or whatever, however these selfish cultural practices have served only to gratify some imaginary sense of society that does not exist!

If marriage is supposed to be the goal in and of itself to gratify someone else in society, then the children will suffer.

By anon171690 — On May 01, 2011

@ysmina: Arranged marriages are about control. Women, for the most part, do not go into them willingly. They are told they are to marry a certain person. If they say no, they die. If they try to run away to stop the marriage, they die.

Have you never heard of honor killings? Women are controlled by their male family members until marriage, then controlled by her husband and his family after marriage. Sounds like a great way to live.

By bear78 — On Mar 29, 2011

I guess one good thing about marrying within the same community is that there won't be any battles when raising children. When people of different backgrounds marry, they might fight about what the children will be taught. It's not good for the marriage and it's not good for the children.

When the beliefs, customs and traditions are all the same, there is a consensus within the family, which in my view, makes the marriage stronger.

By ysmina — On Mar 28, 2011

People marry within their ethnic, religious or social class because it works! Just look at the huge divorce rates in the United States where endogamy has become less popular.

People who have arranged marriages tend to stay married for a lifetime. I don't know if it's because they have many things in common or if there is pressure from family members for the couple to be tolerant to one another and make the marriage work.

It might also be because people who have arranged marriages go into the relationship with little or no expectation because they don't know each other that well. The couple gets to know one another within the marriage and there is a lot of excitement that way.

I think another reason might be that since the families know one another and both wanted this marriage, they will be more supportive of their children if there are any problems or issues in the marriage.

But imagine you married someone your parents did not want. If you have a big fight and tell your mom about it, she will say "I told you not to marry him!" The families might push their kids towards getting a divorce rather than making the marriage work.

And I'm sure that there are plenty of people who fall in love with their spouses after getting married. I'm all for arranged marriage!

By fify — On Mar 27, 2011

I don't know why exogamy is considered to be a loss of identity. My parents keep saying that if I marry out of our ethnic and religious group, I will lose myself, my identity. But this seems more of a problem because I'm a girl.

My family thinks that children carry their father's blood and is a continuation of the father's family. So whoever I marry, that's what my children will be. I try to oppose this belief and keep saying that my children will carry both my and my future husband's genes. They will belong to me as much as they belong to their father.

I think my family has softened a bit. But all this opposition and pressure makes me uneasy. If I choose to marry outside of my group, I'm sure there would be some problems between me and my family. I love my family and I wish to make them happy.

But if one marries for love, you cannot know where you will find it. Marrying the choice of one's family does not guarantee happiness, but marrying one's choice doesn't either.

What would you do if you were in my place? Would you choose endogamy or exogamy? Love marriage or arranged marriage?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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