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History of Family and Marriage Patterns


Admission requirements

Required course(s):



Family and marriage are fundamental social institutions, present in all societies and no less important than the state, the market and the economy.

There is great relevance in studying family and marriage: the study of family and marriage is the study of the relationship between men and women, it is also the study of culture; family is the first place where one is given or denied one’s human rights and freedoms; family and marriage also influence the economy and consumer patterns.

Family and marriage have shaped the lives of men, women and children in many different ways throughout history. Ideas about family and marriage have shaped ideas about how men and women should relate to one another, and which rights and duties they have. E.g. should married women be allowed to work and vote? Should young women and men be allowed to marry by choice or to choose to remain single? Ideas about family and marriage shape ones identity, outlook on life and future prospects even. Throughout history, the relationship between men and women has largely been mediated through marriage and the family. This has shaped laws, policies and societal structures. Likewise, changes in family and marriage patterns, e.g. the inclusion of divers marriage and relationship patterns, shape laws, policies and societal structures, even the economy.

This course studies diversity in family and marriage cultures. Most particularly, this course studies the history of family and marriage cultures, which have changed over the course of time, and which have shaped society and it reflects on the future of family and marriage patterns.

This course aims to explore how marriage and family modernized in large parts of the West, but also to study where this modernization did not (fully) occur. It compares the modern marriage system to traditional marriage systems highlighting that marriage systems are divers and need to be studied in order to understand the divers roles individuals play in modern or in traditional patterns of family life. This course will zoom in on heterosexual marriage and family patterns, as well as touch upon other divers marriage patterns.

Through studying family and marriage, this course addresses a whole array of topical questions: do individuals enjoy freedoms and rights in modern families differently from individuals in traditional families and marriages? What does the study of different marriage and family patterns teach us about individual autonomy and choice? Do arranged marriages comply to human rights standards? Why do many around the world hold on to traditional marriage and family patterns, in which the group dominates the individual? Which norms and values are emphasized in such group cultures and what value is placed on individualism, emancipation, autonomy and human rights? Is it desirable to achieve social change in traditional family patterns, and if so, what benefits would be had by the individual, the family and society by this change? Is marriage becoming out of fashion and is being single on the rise and how does this shape laws, human rights, freedoms, policies, the economy, and the structure of society?

Course Objectives

  • Understand the importance of the study of family and marriage as a field of social science

  • Understand that the study of marriage and family is the study of culture

  • Understand the divers history in family and marriage patterns

  • Identify traditional and modern marriage systems, as markers of differences in cultures

  • Understand the role of the individual in family and marriage and how that role shapes society

  • Delve into religious sources on family/marriage and how they relate to human rights sources, most primarily UN reports on women’s and men’s rights related to family and marriage

  • Understand the interplay of individualism and collectivism in traditional family and marriage patterns and how this shapes the exercise of one’s human rights and freedoms

  • Work confidently with primary and secondary sources in the field of marriage and family

  • Learn about various scholarly perspectives on the subject-matter

  • Learn general speaking, writing and close reading skills that efficiently contribute to an interdisciplinary learning environment


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2023-2024 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

This course offers interdisciplinary methods and styles of teaching and it inspires students to adopt divers perspectives on the main topic. While it’s emphasis lies on seminar style teaching, there will be lectures, interactive classroom discussions, group work, close reading of texts during class, analysis of excerpts of literary work and film related to the topic. Students are expected to discuss readings prepared beforehand. Student’s contributions include oral presentations, podcasts, voice recordings and written work. They will be encouraged to connect theory with practice by studying mechanisms of social change on the subject-matter. Students will be encouraged to adopt different scholarly perspectives while studying and discussing the subject-matter and will be guided towards that goal by the instructor.

Assessment Method

Participation, 15%
Recorded essays (two), 30% (15 % each)
Presentation of case study, 10%
Final research assignment (podcast), 30%
Final research presentation, 15%

Reading list

Our main texts will be:

  • Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, a History, How Love Conquered Marriage, 2006.

  • William J. Goode, World Revolution and Family Patterns, 1963

  • J. Cherlin, ‘Goode's "World Revolution and Family Patterns": A Reconsideration at Fifty Years,’ in Population and Development Review, Vol. 38, No. 4, December 2012, Population Council, pp. 577-607

Further reading TBA during the course


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr. Naema Tahir