Vietnam Academy Of Social Sciences

Reasons for Marriage of Young Married Couples in Vietnam


Vu Thi Thanh*


Abstract: Basing on qualitative data collected in the separated in-depth interviews with 30 young married couples in Vietnam, the article explores the factors leading young couples to marriage. It shows that love seems to become dominant motivation for the establishment of their marriage. Love promotes their desires to building a marriage for living together and encourages them to overcome barriers against their relationship. In addition, there are influences of parents and specific circumstances encouraging them to marriage. Apart from love as key motivator of modern marriage, the article reflects influences of traditional custom which affect the establishment of the marriage of couple in contemporary Vietnam.

Key words: Marriage, Love, Gender, Young People.


1. Introduction

Trends in marry countries have suggested that love seems to become the dominant factor influencing the establishment of intimate and marital relationships. Allan and Crow (2001, p. 60)suggest that love is “the natural basis for romantic/ sexual partner selection”. They explained that love is “not seen as a social construction, as a mode of selection rooted within a particular social formation”, but love “is something which is inherent in human nature” (Allan & Crow, 2001, p. 60). It is suggested that Western family ideas and values also seemed to have influences on the countries outside the West (Jayakody, Thornton, & Axinn, 2012, p. 10). According to Quah (2008), educated young people in Asia also have increasingly begun to make their own choice of spouse (Quah, 2008, p. 14). Thornton et al. (2012)indicate the changes in non-western marriages, including shifts from ‘parental control to youthful independence’, and ‘from arranged marriage to love matches’ (Thornton et al., 2012, p. 20).

With regard to Vietnam, marriages in tradition were usually agreed upon by the family with parental decisions playing an important role (Ministry of Culture Sports and Tourism et al., 2008; Nguyen Huu Minh, 1998; Nguyen Thi Van Anh & Le Ngoc Van, 2005; Pham Van Bich, 1999). When the French started their domination at the end of the nineteenth century, Vietnam came into contact with Western culture, and began to be ‘Europeanized’ (Tran Dinh Huou, 1991, p.28). Vietnam is not an exception under influences of Western trends as a result of the French colonization. During the colonial period, there were considerable changes in the society, particularly in urban areas. Young people started requiring the right to choose their mate and marriage based on love (Khuat Thu Hong, 1991). Well educated elite and “Westernized” people also criticized the arranged marriage system (Nguyen Huu Minh, 1998, p. 77). The Marriage and Family Law of 1959 ended polygamy and arranged marriage in Vietnam. Since the law was approved, arranged marriages have considerably decreased. The comparison on the marriage decision among marital cohorts indicates that marriage is arranged by parents of pre-1975 period occupied 14% and it reduced to about 8% in period 1975-1986 and to just around 5% to 6% in the period after 1986 (Ministry of Cultures, General Statistics Office et al., 2008, p. 64). Although parents tend not to have decisive influences in marriage decision, they still had a significant role. The most common way of marriage decisions in Vietnamese people is made by couples themselves but with asking the referring opinions of parents (Ministry of Culture Sports and Tourism et al., 2008). A study on marriage patterns by Nguyen Huu Minh (1998)during cohorts from 1946 to 1995 in Vietnam also indicates the significant role of parents in helping their children find potential mates, particularly, introducing children to their spouses. However, there have been significant changes in Vietnamese marriage. The comparisons among generations in Vietnam by Le Thi (2009)show that the younger generation now requires a marriage based on freedom and understanding. It seems to be that people now increasingly have freedom of love and spousal choice, and love seems to have become essential for marriage. This article will investigate the motivation to get married of young "couples in contemporary Vietnam. It examines how young couples decided to marry and identify the reasons leading them to marriage. The article is written up basing on the author’s study on marital experiences of young couples in Vietnam. Participants in the research include 30 married couples aged not over 30. They are selected by snowball sampling methods. Among them, there were 15 couples living in urban area – Hanoi and 15 couples living in rural area – Thai Binh province. This article uses pseudonyms to protect confidentiality of the participants.

2. Research Findings

2.1. Love as a key motivation for marriage

Marriages of young couples are characterized by the significance of love. All of the young people who contributed to this research, in both urban and rural areas, said that their relationship was established on the basis of love. Indeed, love was perceived as the natural pathway leading to marriage, rather than something requiring thought or explanation. As Huy, a man in Hanoi (26 years old, married for 2 years), explained: “Before marrying I didn’t have any specific expectations…I only thought that we loved each other, so then we get married and have children”. Love was also described as a motivation for marrying, as Quynh, a woman in Hanoi (26 years old, married for 2 years), said: “Actually we loved each other and so we decided to marry ... I loved him and I wanted to marry so we could live together, I didn’t give it any thought beyond that”.

The young people’s reflections on love indicate that it is not just characterized by passionate emotions of sexual attraction. Instead, love was also sometimes described as a mode of establishing relations of care and support that can be admired. For example, Van, a woman in Thai Binh (28 years old, married for 5 years), was touched by her husband’s love, although she did not feel the same way in the beginning. She said:

We were workers at the same workplace. At first, I didn’t like him. Until one day I got a fever when I was at work. He came to ask the team leader to allow me to go home and he brought noodles and milk to me in front of our colleagues, which embarrassed me. Since then I felt admiration for what he had done. I responded to his love, and after that I agreed to marry him.

Love also led Thu, another woman in Hanoi (26 years old, married for 3 years), to marry her husband. She fell in love with him just a few months after their first meeting, and then decided to marry. When he asked her to marry him soon after falling in love, she delayed giving him her answer. However, Thu was then convinced by his expressions of love and care. In addition to love, stability and care into the future were also emphasized in her account. Thu said: “Because he devoted so much love and care for me, I wanted to marry him. I thought he would be a mainstay for me in the future”.

It’s love which encouraged some couples to overcome difficulties, including geographical distance. Living place used to have a significant impact on who Vietnamese people would marry, reflected in the proverb: “Có con mà gả chồng gần, có bát canh cần nó cũng mang cho. Có con mà gả chồng xa, trước là mất giỗ sau là mất con” [When parents give their daughter in marriage to a person living nearby, she will always look after them by bringing them a bowl of a soup. However, if parents give their daughter in marriage to someone living far away, they lose their daughter and there will be nobody to worship them when they die]. A study by Nguyen Huu Minh (1998, p. 98)indicates that one third of those who married between 1946 and 1995 married a spouse living nearby. However, young people are now more mobile, with more chances to meet people from many places and are more willing to marry a person they love regardless of where they come from. Many participants in this research married people from different communes, districts, provinces or even different regions, across north, central or south Vietnam. This appeared to be more common for those living in urban areas than in rural areas. Among interviewees in this research, half of the couples in Hanoi (seven couples) married spouses from different cities or provinces. They were part of the broader process of urbanization, having moved to Hanoi to study or to find a job and then decided to settle in the city. Among urban interviewees, approximately one-third (nine in 30 urban participants) came from other provinces but settled in Hanoi after studying there. On the other hand, ten out of 15 rural couples married people from the same or neighboring communes, one couple married a person from another district, and four couples married people from other provinces. Among the four couples having a spouse from other provinces, three couples had lived in big cities for work, met their spouses, and then returned to the husband’s region to settle after marriage.

Coming from different locales was an obstacle that couples found ways to overcome, rather than a reason not to marry. They sometimes had to discuss the perceptions of cultural differences, as in the case of Hai, from the north, and Vien, from the south (living in Hanoi, married for 5 years). Hai described his wife’s concerns when deciding to marry him:

"She had mostly lived in the south. In her opinion, southern people are usually easy-going and think that northern people are strict and nitpicking. We used to have many arguments about this. I thought I should be a bridge to connect her with my family when she moved to live with us in the north. I agreed that, in general, her opinion was not wrong, but I persuaded her that not every person was the same and there were also easy-going people in the north ... I told her about the customs and characteristics of my family members and encouraged her to socialise with them".

The regional differences sometimes brought about difficulties in building family relationships. However, after marrying, couples made gradual adjustments to negotiate the influences of regional differences on their life.

2.2. Decision to marry: Consideration of sexual, economic and timing related reasons

While love is a principle reason for couples coming to marriages, there were various factors influencing their decision of time to marry. These include unplanned pregnancy, a desire to ‘settle down’ related to timing and sufficient conditions.

Having sex before married and becoming unexpected pregnant lead some people to marry. This is consistent with study in Australia by Richard (1978)which indicates that marriage as a response to pregnancy is common cause leading people to marry. While unwanted pregnancy and premarital sexual activities were prohibited in Confucian morality (Jayakody & Vu, 2009; Nguyen, 2007), it now appears to be increasingly accepted, especially by young people. Studies in Vietnam have reflected some current changes in social norms and values to sex relation. According to Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism et al. (2008), there are about one-fifth of adolescents agreeing with that ‘Men/women can have sexual relation with those who they will surely getting married with’ (p. 85). Similarly, study among generations by Le Thi (2009, p.157)indicates that there are 15.9% of young group accepting sexual relation before marriage whereas those of middle-age and old-age groups are much lower, 6.5% and 1.8% respectively. It appears to be that young people tend to increasingly accept sexual relations before marriage. This partly reflects the changes in the norm of sexual activities. In this research, there are also a few couples deciding to marry because of getting involved in unwanted pregnancies. For example, Xuyen and Dzung got married at twenty for unwanted pregnancy. At that time, they were so young that they couldn’t afford to live by themselves. Both of them were unemployed and depended on the supports of their parents. Xuyen (21 years old in Thai Binh, married for 2 years) said that:

“I was in the fourth month of pregnancy so we couldn’t delay marrying longer. At that time I was 19 and my husband was 20. He used to think that he would marry when he would be 27... My husband was still boyish and he liked a free life for socializing with friends. If I didn’t become pregnant, we would have married some years later”.

Her husband also admitted his immaturity when getting married at 20 years old. Dzung (22 years old in Thai Binh, married for 2 years) said that:

“I wasn’t spiritually ready for marital life. I am very young and I married when I wasn’t ready, so I feel restricted. Now I’m married but I still want to spend much time socializing with friends”.

Another case in Hanoi, Vinh and Than (married for 6 years), also faced a similar situation. Vinh (27 years old) said that:

“We thought that we would marry in another four years. However, actually we had to marry because I had been pregnant for a few months... It was too early to marry when I was 21 and my husband was only 20. If not for the pregnancy, we wouldn’t have married at that time”.

Some couples would like to marry arising from their demands for settling down their life. The needs are influenced by the consideration of timing and sufficient conditions, including stable income and jobs, for establishing a family. Considering of marriageable age seems to be a significant factor influencing marriage decision. Quantitative data in the nation-wide survey indicates that about one-third of those aged 18-60 in Vietnam decided to marry because they thought they were old enough to marry (Ministry of Culture Sports and Tourism et al., 2008, p.54). The qualitative study by Hoof (2013)with cohabitants aged 20-35 in Britain also indicated timing as a key factor for their plan to marry. In Hoof’s study in Britain, thirty is seen as “significant milestone” in the expectation to marry, and this age is equivalent to the average age at first marriage of British women. Nevertheless, the appropriate age for marrying of Vietnamese young people in the current research appeared to be earlier. Those who thought they were of an appropriate age for marrying were usually in their late twenties. In this research, the average ages at marriage of Vietnamese young people are 23.3 for women and 25.2 for men. This is similar to the age at first marriage of Vietnamese people with 22.4 for women and 25.3 for men Nguyen Huu Minh, 2019). Majorities of those who married before 23, especially men, thought that they have early marriage. On the other hand, those who married at the age of either 23 – 25 or after 25, particularly rural respondents considered their age at marriage was suitable. The respondents in their late twenties considered that they were old and mature enough for marrying. For example, Hai – a man in Hanoi getting married at 27 years old, said:

“Actually I was 27 years old. With this age, I became a person who married latest in my family because my siblings and relatives usually got married earlier. For example, my old brother got married when he was 24… At that time I was mature and also had enough conditions to support the family”.

Similarly, Manh – a man in Thai Binh getting married at 29 years old explained that: “I was 29 years old. I thought I was old enough for getting married”.

Together with timing, for some other people, having stable job and income was seen as suitable reason for their decision to marry. For example, Minh – a woman in Hanoi getting married at 24 years old – told her stories that:

“Sometimes I thought my husband might feel to regret for early marrying. However, my parents at that time thought that I was old enough for marrying. We have finished our studies for two years and had stable jobs. Both of our families suggested us to marry because we had stable life”.

Similarly, Trong – a man in Thai Binh getting married at 24 years old said: ‘I decided to marry at that time because I finished my study and had a stable job and I could support financially my family’.

2.3. The influences of parents on marriage formation of the young couples

In their writing on the individualization thesis and marriage and family, Smart and Shipman (2004)indicate two types of spousal choices. The first involves ‘individual’ or ‘free’ choices which prioritize personal motivation and desires and the roles of individuals in making choices. The second is contextual or relational choice, which is ‘socially constructed options’ and ‘taken in the setting of attentiveness to others’ (Smart & Shipman, 2004, p. 493, p.493). According to Allan and Crow (2001), the choices of individuals and families have become increasingly personal instead of being constrained by social convention. Straughan (2009)in her book on marital dissolution in Singapore documents choices of a mate and decision to marry and concluded that marriage in the past was seen as a kinship extension in which there was considerable emphasis on family-initiated match-making; however, personal choice has arguably become more important and marriage is increasingly based primarily bases on the individual’s emotion. In Vietnamese tradition, the opinions of parents used to be decisive factors for marriage (see Ministry of Culture Sports and Tourism et al., 2008; Nguyen Huu Minh, 1998; Pham Van Bich, 1999). Nevertheless, young people believe that marriage must now be based on freedom of choice and understanding between the spouses (Le Thi, 2009). This declining role of parents in their children’s decision to marry is also reflected by the young participants in this research. A once common proverb in Vietnam proposed that “Cha mẹ đặt đây con ngồi đấy” [it means children must marry the person chosen for them by their parents]. However, the proverb is now perceived by young people as “old-fashioned” and as no longer reflecting a norm. It is found that some couples decided marrying in spite of disapproval from their parents. For example, Tu and Huong (a couple in Hanoi, married for 3 years) , had loved each other since they were students at university. In the beginning, Tu’s parents disapproved of their relationship, which sometimes put their relationship at risk. Influenced by his parents’ opinion, they decided to end their relationship. However, a month later they were together again, having realised that they loved each other too much to separate. Huong said:

“His parents opposed our relationship because I was one year older than him. His mother consulted a fortune-teller and she said that we shouldn’t marry each other. We couldn’t have a good marriage because our years of birth were incompatible. They were against our relationship ... However they then realised that the more they opposed our relationship, the more we loved each other. After that they didn’t oppose anymore and they hoped that if we were free to love each other we would eventually get fed up and separate by ourselves. But we didn’t. We stayed in our relationship and then we married”.

Similarly, Tien and Phuong, a couple in Thai Binh (married for a few months), suffered from family objections to their relationship. However, their love encouraged them to overcome their parents’ disapproval. Tien (22 years old) recalled:

“When my parents knew about our relationship and our plans to marry, they opposed it. At that time I was 22 and she was 20. My parents thought that she tried to tie me down and they hoped that I would spend time on business rather than marriage ... My mother even met my wife and told her about my immaturity and about my family’s economic difficulties, which would cause my wife troubles when she became a daughter-in-law in my family. My mother asked her to give me up. However, my wife didn’t… Finally they couldn’t oppose us. We still married and they had to accept it”.

Young people appeared to have the absolute freedom and independence to choose their mate. However, deciding time for marrying depended on not only their own but also their parents. The The study by Nguyen Huu Minh (2019) shows that nearly 70% of Vietnamese people make the decision to marry by themselves but with the agreement of their parents. In the current study, the decision of when to marry was made by the parents of one-third of rural couples and half of the urban couples. Parents of rural couples suggested the time to marry based on reasons reflecting their specific circumstances, whereas the parents of urban couples made their decision based on choosing a year considered “good” for marrying.

People in Vietnam have habits and customs of choosing good days to conduct special events in life, for example, for building houses or organizing weddings. A good year for a marriage is usually based on the wife's lunar age. They avoid the age called Kim Lau, which is said to not be good for marrying (that is, when the lunar age of the wife ends with the numbers 1, 3, 6 or 8). When asking about the reasons for marrying at a particular time, more than half of the urban participants said it had been a good year for marrying. For example, Huong and Tu overcame parental disapproval in deciding to marry (as discussed above) but they followed the parent’s decision on the timing of the wedding, which was held when Huong was 26 years old (equivalent to 27 lunar years old). She reported that:

“Actually I didn’t want to marry at 27 but we decided to marry because of my parents’ perception. They didn’t want me to marry a year later because I would come to Kim Lau age. If I hadn’t married that year, I would have had to wait for two years… My mother consulted a fortune-teller who suggested this would be a good year for us to marry. So we decided to marry just a month later”.

Similarly, Xinh (25 years old, married for 2 years), a woman in Hanoi getting married at 23 (equivalent to 24 lunar years old) was put in the similar situation. Xinh said:

“To be honest at that time I wanted to introduce my parents to his parents in order to help they know each other and establish relationships. However, after their first meeting, they went to meet a future-teller and she advised that we should marry in that year. Then the parents suggested us to marry for the good year”.

A man in Hanoi, Bao (30 years old, married for 1 years), getting married at 29 years old, also said:

“Actually we also had to consider the age for marrying. I was 29 years old and my wife’s lunar age was 27. If we didn’t marry at that year, we would have to wait for 2 years until she would be 29. We needed to avoid marrying when she was 28 because it was Kim Lau age and it was said not to be good year for marrying”.

On the other hand, the rural respondents tended to have less consideration of the good year when deciding to marry comparing to urban respondents. There were one-third of cases in the rural area deciding to marry by the suggestions of their parents for specific reasons. For example, Vu (27 years old) – a woman in Thai Binh getting married at 22 years old, decided to marry because her husband’s parents wanted them to marry in order to make the husband become more responsible and mature. She recalled that:

“It was only over a month from our decision to marry to wedding. I had never ever thought about the time that I would like to marry. I just thought that I might get married after I had found a stable job. However, his parents told me that he worked at home and having a wife would make his life stable and help him give up indulging in pleasure”.

Similarly, Nguyen (21 years old) - a woman in Thai Binh getting married at 20 years old - said that:

“My parents thought that I was too young to marry and I should have married after one or two years. I myself also wanted to wait until I would be around 22 years old because I thought I would be more mature at that time. However, my husband’s parents wanted us to marry soon. They said that I could marry then I would gradually find a job. My parents then agreed with them. Anyway, we had been in love for a long time, then I agreed to marry”.

Another woman in Thai Binh – Doan (at the age of 27 years), getting married at 26 years old - said that her family wanted them to marry because her family sad situation. She told about her story:

“My younger brother died because of traffic accident one year before. My parents were very sad so they wanted their daughter to marry and the son-in-law would live with them so the family atmosphere could be happier. Then I decided to marry”.

3. Conclusion

Love was seen as key motivation for the marriage of young couples. Due to love, young couple overcome obstacles (such as geographical and cultural differences, disapproval of parents) for maintaining their relation and come to marriage. Nevertheless, there are various factors influencing their decision of time to marry. Young people might be more open to having sex before married. This reflects changes in sexual tendency of young couples. As result, pre-marital pregnancy is a reason for deciding to marry of some couples. In addition, marriageable age, desire for settle down their life, and economic fulfillment are considered by young couples when making decision to marry.

Young people now tend to become freer and more independent to choose their spouses. Nevertheless, young couples might not deciding time to marry by themselves, Although there have been changes in parental influence in which parents were less involved in choosing spouses of their children, the parents seems to have considerable influences on deciding time to marry of young couples.



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* Ph.D., Institute of Human Studies, Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences.


Source cited: Vietnam Journal of Family and Gender Studies, No. 1, 2020



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