Country Listing

Mongolia Table of Contents



In the twentieth century, most marriages have been initiated by the couple themselves rather than by parental arrangement. The image of courtship presented in contemporary Mongolian stories and pictures is of a young couple riding across the grassland on their horses while singing in harmony. In form the traditional Mongolian wedding was an agreement between two families, with elaborate transfers of bridewealth in livestock from the groom's family and a dowry of jewelry, clothing, and domestic furnishings from the bride's. The wedding, which was a contractual agreement between families rather than a religious ceremony, was marked by celebratory feasting that brought together as many of the relatives of the bride and the groom as the families could afford to feed. Some version of this custom survived in the countryside in the 1980s, as did the practice of the bride's moving to reside in the camp of her husband's family, which traditionally provided a new ger for the bridal couple. Brides usually had their own household and family rather than joining the household of their husband's parents as subordinate daughters-in-law, and they made fairly frequent return visits to their natal families. Among herders, a traditional place to seek a spouse was from the adjacent herding camp that exchanged daytime custody of lambs (to prevent the ewes from nursing the lambs in the pasture). In-laws frequently cooperated in herding or joined the same herding camp.

In cities, the wait to be assigned an apartment did not seem to delay marriages, perhaps because the couple had the option of moving to a ger on the edge of the city until an apartment became available. Urban weddings sometimes were celebrated in special wedding palaces. That of Ulaanbaatar, an imposing white structure vaguely resembling a traditional Mongolian hat in shape, was one of the capital's architectural highlights. For a modest fee, the couple received their choice of traditional or modern wedding costumes, the services of a photographer, the use of a reception hall, a civil ceremony and wedding certificate, and a limousine to carry them to their new home. Fellow workers and colleagues played a relatively large role in urban weddings, as guests and donors of gifts to set up the new household.

Most marriages were between schoolmates or coworkers. Such a mechanism of mate selection reinforced the tendency, common in many countries, for people to marry within their own social stratum. Herders tended to marry herders, and young professionals married young professionals. Divorce was possible, but rare; there were 5.6 marriages and 0.3 divorces per 1,000 inhabitants in 1980 and 6.3 marriages and 0.3 divorces per 1,000 inhabitants in 1985. Mongolian fiction described disparities between the educational level of spouses or the unwillingness of husbands to accept the demands of their wives' jobs as sources of marital strain.


Kazakh hunters
Courtesy Steve Mann

Data as of June 1989