Cultural Variations in Relationships

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Outline (A01)

According to Moghaddam et al (1993) relationships in western cultures tend to be individualistic, voluntary and temporary, whereas non-western cultures tend to be more collectivist, involuntary and permanent.

Collectivist cultures show attributes that value verticle relationships (parent-child), over horizontal relationships (spouse-spouse), whereas this is the reverse in individualistic cultures. Western relationships focus on the individual, rather than the group/collective. Whereas there is more interdependence, and less self-reliance and heddonism in collectivist cultures.

You have a better chance of meeting and forming voluntary relationships in western society where there is higher social mobility. Traditionally, the potential for meeting people in non-western cultures was low, as these countries were less urban. Thus, arranged marriages were logical, as individuals may not ever meet 'the one' on their own.

Relationships in collectivist cultures tend to be more stable and permanent, where divorce rates are very low and partners report 'falling in love' with the other person (Epstein, 2002). However, due to increased choice through urbanisation, western cultures tend to have more temporary romantic relationships.

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Supporting Evidence and Methodological Issues (A02

Supporting evidence for inter-cultural variations in relationships comes from Hofstede (1994). He carried out a Culture's Consequences Study (CCS) comparing the results of IBM workers worldwide. He analysed scores along four dimensions, including collectivism and indivualism, finding North American countries scored higher on individualism, whilst South American and Asian countried scored higher on collectivism. This suggests that inter-cultural variations in relationships can be backed up.

However, inter-cultural research is problematic as it is affected by researcher and population bias. Most research is completed by and formulated using a western perspective to test non-western views (ETIC). The western picture of relationships also seems to fit in well with one particular group... students - the people most commonly used as pps. Thus research into inter-cultural variation lacks internal validity as both the methods and participants utilised might give an exaggerated view.

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Weaknesses (A02)

A further weakness of these explanations of inter-cultural variations is that they are reductionist. Factors such as divorce rates are often used to back up claims for the differences between cultures. However, Bellur (1995) notes that divorce rates among 'arragnged couples' are rising, indicating that personal freedom is gaining importance and that traditional structures are becoming less valid overtime in non-western cultures too. Thus, explanations of inter-cultural relationships lack historical validity and are oversimplified.

Furthermore, it could be argued that traditionally western methods of forming relationships, through work colleagues, friends, and more recently online dating agencies are like arranged marriages. If so, perhaps arranged marriage is a moew universal practice than it first seems and hence inter-cultural variation is less evident.

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Outline (A01)

As well as inter-cultural variations in relationships, evidence suggests that intra-cultural variations (relationships variations within oen culture) also exist. Same-sex relationships are an example of intra-cultural variations. Same-sex couples appear to have more relationship satisfaction than heterosexual couples, but appear to be much less permanent than heterosexual relationships. Blumstein and Schwartz (1983) found that 48% of lesbians and 36% of gay men broke up within two years, compared to only 14% of heterosexual married couples. They also found gay relationships to be less stable than lesbian relationships. This is to be expeted due to men holding different views on sex and commitment in comparision to women.

Cohabitation is also on the increase. Of those US women who married (for the first time) in the early 1990's, 56% had cohabitated with their partner beforehand. However even within the US culture there are intra-cultural variations as 61% of white women married before the age of 25, but only 31% of black women followed the same pattern (Bumpass and Lu, 1999). However cohabitation does carry some risks; higher rates of breakup, lower relationship satisfaction and greater risk for violence.

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Supporting Evidence and Methodological Issues (A02

Support for the idea that cohabitation is increasing comes from Chester (1985). He suggests that cohabitation is just a step on the way to getting married. Many couples cohabit first to see if they are compatible for marriage (75% of cohabitating couples expect to marry). If this is the case, cohabitation statistics provide supporting evidence for intra-cultural variations in relationships.

However, it could be argues that relationship status will not change in the long term, with cohabitation only being a precursor to marriage, not a different relationship type.

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Weaknesses (A02)

The overall problem when trying to establish cultural differences in relationships is that they ignore evolution, and the nature/nurture debate. Buss would suggest mate preferences are universal (nature) along lines of financial status, age and looks. He found the most cultural variation in terms of chastity - where those from more religious cultures, such as Ireland were more likely to desire this characteristic (nurture). As such generalisations about cultural variation in relationships might we be limited as we don't know how much of behaviour is due to nature and/or nurture.

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