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Jordan Table of Contents


Family and Household

The extended family continued to be a viable form of household in the late 1980s. More families had begun to live in nuclear households, but Jordanians continued to rely on extended kin relations for a variety of purposes, which can be described as exchanges. Exchanges might include financial support; job information; social connections; access to strategic resources; marital partners; arrangements, protection, and support in the event of conflict; child care and domestic services; and emotional sustenance. In turn, an individual's social identity and loyalty continued to be oriented largely to the family.

Formally, kinship was reckoned patrilineally, and the household usually was based on blood ties between men. There was no one form of family; and household structure changed because of births, deaths, marriages, and migration. A household could consist of a married couple, their unmarried children, and possibly other relatives such as parents, or a widowed parent or an unmarried sister. Alternatively, a household could consist of parents and their married sons, their wives, and their children. At the death of the father, each married son ideally established his own household to begin the cycle again. Although the kinship system was considered patrilineal, maternal kin also were significant.

Because the family was central to social life, all children were expected to marry at the appropriate age, and eligible divorced or widowed persons were expected to remarry. Marriage conferred adult status on both men and women. The birth of children further enhanced this status, especially for women, who then felt more secure in their marital households. Polygyny was practiced in only a minority of cases and was socially frowned upon.

Traditionally, the individual subordinated his or her personal interests to those of the family. The importance of the group outweighed that of the individual. In the late 1980s, it was still uncommon for a man to live apart from a family group unless he were a migrant worker or a student. Grown children ordinarily lived with parents or relatives until marriage. Children were expected to defer to the wishes of their parents.

Marriage was a family affair rather than a personal choice. Because the sexes ordinarily did not mix much socially, young men and women had few acquaintances among the opposite sex, although among beduins a limited courtship was permitted. Parents traditionally arranged marriages for their children, finding a mate either through the family or their social contacts. In the late 1980s, this pattern had changed substantially (see Changing Social Relations and Values , this ch.).

Among village and tribal populations, the preferred marriage partner was the child of the father's brother. In most areas, a man had a customary right to forbid his father's brother's daughter from marrying an outsider if he wished to exercise his right to her hand. If the ideal cousin marriage was not possible, marriage within the patrilineal kin group was the next best choice. Such endogamous marriages had several advantages for the parties: the bridewealth payments demanded of the groom's kin tended to be smaller; the family resources were conserved; the dangers of an unsuitable match were minimized; and the bride was not a stranger to her husband's house.

A University of Jordan medical department study in the late 1980s pointed to a 50 percent rate of family intermarriage: 33 percent of marriages were between first-degree relatives, 7 percent between second-degree relatives, and 10 percent were within the extended family. Nonetheless, in the 1980s, endogamous marriages had declined in frequency; previous rates of intermarriage may have been as high as 95 percent. Increasing female education and employment allowed young people more opportunities to meet and marry outside family arrangements. Also, there was growing awareness that genetic problems could arise in the offspring of endogamous marriages.

In Islam, marriage is a civil contract rather than a sacrament. Representatives of the bride's interests negotiate a marriage agreement with the groom's representatives. The future husband and wife must give their consent. Young men often suggest to their parents whom they would like to marry; women usually do not do so but have the right to refuse a marriage partner of their parents' choice. The contract establishes the terms of the union, and, if they are broken, outlines appropriate recourse. Special provisions inserted into the contract become binding on both parties.

Islam gives to the husband far greater leeway than to the wife in terms of polygyny and in matters of divorce. For example, a man may legally take up to four wives at one time provided he can treat them equally; a woman can have only one husband at a time. A man may divorce his wife by repeating "I divorce thee" three times before witnesses and registering the divorce in court; a woman can instigate divorce only under very specific circumstances. Few women seek divorce because of the difficulty of taking a case to court, the stigma attached to a divorced woman, and the possibility of a woman's losing custody of her children. In theory and as a matter of public appearance, men exercise authority over women. That authority, however, is not as absolute as once thought. Women wield considerable power within the home and decision making often is a joint affair between husband and wife.

Data as of December 1989

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Jordan Table of Contents