General Article How marriage has changed over centuries

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Has marriage always had the same definition?

Actually, the institution has been in a process of constant evolution. Pair-bonding began in the Stone Age as a way of organising and controlling sexual conduct and providing a stable structure for child-rearing and the tasks of daily life. But that basic concept has taken many forms across different cultures and eras. ‘Whenever people talk about traditional marriage or traditional families, historians throw up their hands,’ said Steven Mintz, a history professor at Columbia University. ‘We say, “When and where?”’ The ancient Hebrews, for instance, engaged in polygamy – according to the Bible, King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines – and men have taken multiple wives in cultures throughout the world, including China, Africa, and among American Mormons in the 19th century. Polygamy is still common across much of the Muslim world. The idea of marriage as a sexually exclusive, romantic union between one man and one woman is a relativ...

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