| May 30th, 2006

When to get married: Before or after graduation?

These days I am seeing some articles (Biye: Porashona Sheshe, na Majhei) going on in the women’s pages on this topic, when is the right time for a woman to get married: before or after graduation from college (Undergraduate program). Recently I received an article from a young woman from Dhaka on the same topic. She nicely presented some case studies showing the fact that getting married before graduation seems to be a popular choice but when something unexpected happens (sickness, death, divorce) it leads to much less favorable consequences. Hence she, like other articles I mentioned, came to the conclusion that women should get married only after they have earned their bachelor’s degree. I was wondering is it really that black and white decision? Let’s take a good look on this topic.

The history of women’s education in Indian Subcontinent both at the primary and college levels is fairly new. It was the parent’s responsibility to educate the girls with religious rituals and household activities in order to find a bread earner (read ”husband”) for her. So the parents wanted to get it done as soon as possible because that is the only way they could make sure there is someone to support their daughter after their death.

As time changed women now-a-days go for higher educations and some of them have their own professional careers as well. This education is supposed to make a woman more financially independent therefore it should be much less of a goal, when the marriage issue comes, to find a person who can support her (financially).  It seems counter intuitive though, in groom searching criteria it is still a top priority to make sure the guy makes or has the potential to make good money. So whenever there is a possibility of a potential groom, parents and in some cases girls themselves don’t hesitate to get married before finishing their degrees.

There is couple of reasons that we can think of that works behind this mentality:

1. Financial security is not good enough in our society for a woman to live by herself. The society still does not accept the fact very well that a women may live a decent life on her own and not get married. Have you noticed, almost no landlord in Bangladesh rents out (apt/house) to a single woman (who never married before)? She has to stay either with the immediate family, in a working women’s hostel or with some close relative.

This might be one of the biggest reasons parents still are concerned that they should make sure their daughters are in “good” hands.

2. Ideally a person should be able to graduate by the age of 22 (18 years for HSC+ 4 year for undergrad degree), in reality a person becomes 26-28 years old when he/she comes out of that program. Thanks to our session jams and student politics in the public universities!

While a young woman waited to get the undergrad degree, the biological clock did not wait, it kept on ticking. Any knowledgeable person in women’s reproductive health knows there is only a specific period with a number of years when there are higher chances to conceive. So if someone wants to have babies in their lives they would not wait too long to get married. (Just for completeness’ sake, similar fact applies for men’s reproductive health as well; however, it is outside the scope of this article.)

Now let’s see, If a woman want both a family and a career then what are the options? Is it even possible to have both?

I believe yes, it is possible. But be advised that it is not something that will happen automatically. From early age you need to set your priorities. Even when you are 18 years old you are grown up enough to think about your future path.

First of all, don’t ruin your higher studies by falling in love with the good looking guy across the street. Be open to girls and boys alike. By open I mean treat the boys as friends as you would to a nice girl. It’s okay to like someone but don’t get too carried away with it. Prepare yourself for your university admission. After you are in a university, you will have boys as your class mates, study partners etc. You will learn how it is to work with them. You will learn how to see good things in people when you get a chance to interact with them through your academic programs. Be open and respectful. It is not a good idea to keep aloof from boys and to make friends with girls only. When you respect people for their quality you will earn respect from them as well. In Bangladesh, for most of the people universities are the first place where they get to mix with people of the opposite sex. If you are not careful about your and other’s limits that might get harmful as well.

Anyway, as you are heading towards your graduation, you will get a fair knowledge about the actual qualities in people including boys other than their look or the potential to make money. If you learn this lesson well it won’t be too difficult for you to find a quality person as your life partner (sometimes with some help from the parents, friend and/or other family members) as well as complete your graduation without going to a gambling like route of our traditional arranged marriage system.

As I say this, it is very possible that you won’t find a person as quickly as your other girlfriends are getting a husband or a boyfriend. Don’t get disheartened. If you want to architect your own life you have to take some risk. That is okay as long as you do things you believe in. When you do things just because that will make you like a cool girl or a good girl, it is much harder for you to continue on that when something goes wrong. In those cases people tend to accuse others without really trying to solve the issue.

So girls, believe in yourself, be open and respectful to others, look for quality, and be ready to take a calculated risk. Or, no one will be able to stand behind you. There is no cure all solution for one’s life, different ways work for different people as long as one knows what his/her goal is.

It is hard to go against the family the society and most importantly to loose the comfort of being taken care of. But trust me, when you know your intentions are good you know you will overcome all those difficulties — “Deep in your heart do believe that you will overcome some day”.

Chart: The effect of age on fertility


15 Responses to “When to get married: Before or after graduation?”

  1. Sultana Begum says:

    Excellent topic with respect to today’s Bangladesh where women are taking active role in job market. It touched
    the pros/cons for getting married before/after finishing
    undergraduate studies. Looking forward to have in-depth
    discussion on the same topic.

    Overall it’s a thought provocative article.

    Thanks, –Sultana

  2. Samiha Esha says:

    Hello sharmin Apu,

    Its really a brilliant Article…thanks for it 🙂 Take care…:)


    Samiha Esha…:)

  3. Zee says:

    Interesting Read! im working on something similar. will post it as well. once im done with it!

  4. Anonymous says:

    I can’t say anything for Bangladesh universities as I have never been to one but having gone through the US educational system, I can say that marriage before graduation (although it may work for many people), seems like it would take away from two of the most significant experiences in a young woman’s life; college and marriage.

    College is an opportunity to develop oneself–intellectually, psychologially and emotionally. It is one of a very short list of periods in one’s life that are designated for self-discovery and improvement. Though these things are inherently a part of marriage (I assume/hope), there is a lot to be said for undertaking this journey on your own. It makes you stronger and it makes you who you are.

    I cannot speak from personal experience about marriage but I imagine that when I do decide to take the plunge, I will want to approach it with 100% of myself. I don’t know if this would be possible if I was not already 100% sure of who I was.

    Just my opinion…

  5. Nandita Andromeda Mitra says:

    It’s a great topic and a complex one. So many things I want to write but trying to make it short. I was in Bangladesh and kind of know how it works there. Now a days in educated families marriage after graduation is more common at least around me I found that. Actually the main problem arises when one girl wants to do MS/MA/MBA and PhD. Sometimes marriage can be a obstacle. But my personal opinion is if the partner is a helpful and understandable person then any girl can manage study and family together. And I think one girl should get married after being financially independent. But ofcourse I agree it is not a black and white decision and sometimes life does’t go as the way we want it. Thanks to Sharmin for the article.

  6. Strong, powerful & beautiful Flower says:

    I am just rambling, my thoughts are scattered, but here they are….

    1. In the western society, a female who are above the age of 18 is referred to either as a lady or woman. It is disrespectful to refer to such an adult as a “girl”.

    2. South Asia consists of the following countries:
    – Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Burma. In the South Asian culture, a woman who does not get married by a certain age (maybe 25 at the most), gets called the following labels: old shoe, old woman, laughing stock or a dishonor to family. You typically hear phrases like “I am ashamed to have you as my daughter”.

    3. In both the western and eastern societies, many girls are discouraged from a young age to be “intelligent”. What is the point of educating a daughter, what is the point of encouraging her to be too smart or too studious. Her only mission in life is:
    – Have a pretty face, be demure, be fragile (i.e. weak) and helpless
    – Go to college and get an MRS degree (it is the American term for going off to college and finding a husband), forget about concentraing on one’s career after graduating and trying to make your own mark in the world.

    4. It is a waste of financial resources to educate a daughter, because one day she is going to get married, have kids, and eventually NOT work and NOT earn any money. When sons get educated, THEY will always work and earn money. So there is a preference to encourage sons to get advanced degrees and stop daughters from getting a MSc/MA/PhD/MBA. The crude thinking is “What a waste of money to educate a daughter”. A daughter is discouraged from getting too much education, because the traditional South Asian family fears that if she becomes too independent-minded and confident, no guy will ever want to marry her. Typically insecure guys tend to run away from strong and independent-minded women.

    5. Quoting the words of a middle-aged woman with two grown kids and a now deceased husband, “A woman wears the mask of arrogance as a defense mechanism and to look tough, otherwise society will her to shrivel, collapse, be completely helpless and cry”. She was telling me how she had to work even when her kids were growing to provide the income as her husband was ill and during bad economic conditions, he would get laid off. I have a lot of respect for this woman, she is a widow, she owns her own house, she has a good executive position in a very male-dominated company, a very nice and kind lady and is financially independent. She couldn’t stop working as she had to provide continuous health insurance for her husband and family.

    And finally ……
    6. A young woman should not be forced to marry. In many Asian and Middle-eastern cultures, an unmarried woman is called many bad names behind her back. She is treated like an outcast. She does not get any help from people of her own cultural/religious backgrounds. Should she desire to not get married and not follow the traditional route of life, she is left to her own resources to carve out her own existence in this world. Her own people turn their backs on her. Wouldn’t this world be a better place if they just showed some genuine compassion and care to an unmarried woman. In reality, an unmarried, intelligent and independent woman has many positive things to contribute to this world, she inspires young girls, she becomes their mentor, teacher, friend and protector. She encourages other women to pursue activities that enrich their lives and those of their families. She too is a very beautiful flower – strong and powerful.

  7. suman says:

    Not sure about the specific situations in Bangladesh. I’ve never been there. But the plight must be similar everywhere with a few plus and minus here and there.

    the problem, as we all understand, lies in the fact that women are never considered normal human beings or equal to the other gender. according to the traditional norms in most societies, women must be protected and respected. In Hindu culture they worship women as mother goddess. Yes, they ask men to treat women respectfully. But the point to note here is men are asked to respect women as their mothers and sisters. so that evokes some questions.
    1) what happens to those who are nobody (a man)’s mothers/sisters? are they not to be respected?
    2) what happens to wives? are they not to be respected?
    3) why is a woman not respected for being another human being? why is the importance on the role?

    Treating every woman as a mother is another beatiful trap. Motherhood is one of the most over-glorified concepts in this world today- an emobiment of all virtues, no vices, one who sacrifies everything for the children, one who forgives everything.. the list goes endless. By calling a woman “Ma” (‘mother’ in Hindi and many other Indian languages) the society is making the boundaris for her life and behaviour. She becomes the most idealist thing in this world. I strongly feel that is how Hindu families survive. They protect the womenfolk, in return women get only a conditional freedom and existence.
    Even the social security schemes and women’s programmes try to protect the women within this traditional framework only. Widow pension and pension for unmarried women indicate this basic disability in the positioning of women.

  8. Sharmin says:

    Hi Suman,

    Understand your points. I see lots of passion in your writing.
    Do you like to share your ideas how to make things better? Pointing out issues are the first thing for a change, however that alone is not sufficient, we need to think of ways that can help us move forward.


  9. jyotsna sarabu says:

    Hi………..all of the above articles have been written very well in terms of content and realistic potrayal of pre-existent and existing norms for women in general,especially in the asian sub continent.

    I’m going to pen down some random thoughts to add onto the already existing pool of thoughts.

    i feel that it’s extremely important to give a woman time and space to prove herself……..men have a lot of leeway in terms of them being allowed ample time to work on their career……..which is not the case with women………they are expected to acheive the sun and the moon in no time in order to settle down in life(by getting married to some goon), who only thinks of the woman as a sum of body parts……………inspite of her being as good as the man or even better………..

    Marriage is never an assuarance that the man in your life is going to remain that way for the rest of his life…….things change as time passes by and realising at the fag end tof ones career that one hasn’t done much on the career front can be heart-breaking and traumatic…….

    Whether one chooses to marry or not……..it’s important to have a career…….everyone has the right to a life of dignity…….and self respect……..

    So never pressurise women to work on their career just beacuase they need to get married early……….They should be given as much freedom to choose a career of their choice and also the time to settle down professionaly…….as their male counterparts are allowed to…………

    lets get over the entire dowry thing which is rampant in the indian society……..unless we revolt to certain misconceptions which have been given the name of tradition, we will not be able to bring in a change……….

    The need of the hour is a sea change in the way we look at the functioning of indian women as such……….we are a talented lot and we need to overcome certain evils that hamper our growth as individuals…………and as a community…………If not nething else, we are better than men in a lot of things………..

  10. Suman says:

    Yes, Sharmin. I would like to share my thoughts on the topic…

  11. Smile says:

    Thanks for the article and the discussions followed. I just want to say that yes, it is true that a girl needs to get educated and financially independent before getting married. But how much education does a girl need to have for being “educated”? How much money does one need to earn in order to get “independent”? The reason I raise these question is because….. well, let me share my story with you:

    I am a girl approaching 36 in couple of days. I have completed by Masters and am in quite a respectable position in my office. My parents dreamt of having their girl being educated, and I also dreamt of studying as far as I could and then enter the workforce….

    My family is not strictly conservative, but to some extent they are. During my university days, my parents were not very open to the idea of “free-mixing” with boys. But when I was in Masters class, my parents said that “ok, we are looking for your groom. You can also look around and let us know if you find any”. That was nice of them, except the fact that Masters class are considered almost the highest level in our uni. So you see, even if I wanted to find someone, I just possibly couldn’t because all my senior bhais were out of the department, and the male bachelor teachers in the uni… well, they were teachers and a teacher student relation was not in my head…

    Anyway, after my masters, I joined the workforce, and soon I was doing good, and was climbing up the ladder, both in terms of position and salary. My parents kept on searching a groom for me….

    Throughout my life, just like many other girls, I have dreamt of finding my own life-partner, a person who would accept me the way I am, who would love me and I would love him equally. And for this dream, I used to say “no” to any proposals that used to come to my parents. I just thought that the prospective person can not my lover because I don’t know him, and so I can not possibly love him….. I was so sure of finding my lover all by myself….

    Then, just about a year back, I found someone. I believed with all my heart that he was the “one” who I was looking for all my life. I was so very happy. I was so grateful to Allah for giving me such a gift. Anyway, finally for some reason, it did not work out…

    Now I am passing my days with so much pain, that I never thought existed. ….. After being refused, I thought that I will not marry, and lead my life keeping me busy with other things. But eventually I felt that to get married is important for various reasons. But whenever I thought of getting married, I felt tremendous pain inside because the person who I will get married to is not going to be the person I thought would be….

    Anyway, at the moment I am just waiting for any proposal to knock at my family’s door and I am going to accept it……. I don’t know what’s to blame for my situation, in fact, I don’t blame my education or my financial status or anything, but I guess it’s my fate….I don’t know….. All I know is that I did not deserve the refusal, I do not deserve the pain that it is causing me, I do not deserve this punishment…. but I guess the end word is “what man proposes, God disposes”….

  12. Smile says:

    Just want to add with my last post that whenever any proposal came to our family for me, even if my parents proceeded despite my saying “no”, at one stage the prospective groom’s family would say that the girl is “not good looking” “kalo”, she is highly educated, she is earning more money that our son, they won’t match together, etc. etc. And now I hear people say that she is “old”……

  13. Sharmin Islam says:

    I agree that it is better to get married after finishing college. At least that way, if you had to for whatever reason (e.g. death of your spouse), you would have an easier time landing a job and supporting yourself than if you did not at least have a college degree. However, I don’t think that there’s a “one-size” that fits all in relation to this question about when it’s better to get married. I think that women who have earned their degrees and worked for a while, gotten married, but then decided to stay home to raise kids because they CHOSE to, are also following a path that is equally valuable as a career woman’s path. It’s not just a career woman who can make her “mark” in this world as one person seems to have suggested above. In the end, when one is about to leave this world, career is not something that they can take with them to the next world. However, if a woman believed that her time spent raising her kids and educating them is what she enjoys most, then I think that she has also left a significant “mark” in this world. So why should we automatically criticize a woman if she chooses to be a home-maker over a “career” woman? I personally think that a lot of women criticize other women who choose to stay at home and not pursue a career and I think that they are wrong. Just like women who do not get married don’t want people to judge them, they too should not judge those who choose to be homemakers and not follow a career path.

  14. RK says:

    Smile, here is a question for you: why would you settle for someone who is not good enough for you? I am sorry that someone rejected you. But look at it this way: it was his loss for not appreciating you as you are. Would you rather marry someone just to be married off? I don’t think that you honestly believe that “just settling” for the next offer will make you happy in the long run. If you did, you would have settled down long ago.

    People can be cruel sometimes. People often use good qualities of an individual in a negative way to criticize that person. Yes, they are trying to punish you for being highly educated, earning a lot of money, etc. What a way to kick someone when she is down. Shame on them! Let them find a Miss Universe look alike with no education and no earning potential for their son.

    Meanwhile, accept yourself as you are and be proud. Yes, you are 36, and highly educated, and earn what you deserve. And I am sure you are a beautiful person, inside and out. Good for you! It takes a lot of hard work to be as successful as you are. Don’t waste your time on people who cannot appreciate that. They have NO right to judge you when if given the same opportunities, they won’t be able to measure up to you themselves. You need to distance yourself from the negative things in life and concentrate harder on people and things that make you feel positive.

    Life is too short to have your time wasted on unproductive and backward minded negative people.

  15. RK says:

    One common mistake a lot of us make is that we equate freedom of a woman with having a career.

    Raising kids is a job by itself. Let me rephrase that, raising kids is like having two full time jobs without any breaks, vacations, raises, bonuses or total appreciation. My hat goes off to ladies who do it willingly.

    In today’s world, it is not enough to only have a degree before a woman gets married. What good is a degree if you haven’t gained the skills to implement your knowledge?
    Sure you can graduate and get married immediately, using your degree as a safety net to help you support yourself should things go wrong in the future. But think about it realistically. Job market is competitive out there. Companies are eager to hire young fresh graduates or older skilled people with some job experiences. IF things go wrong 10 years after you get married, do you know how difficult it will be for you, at that age, to start from scratch in the job market? Not to mention, if you are lucky enough to be hired at an entry level position, you will be paid an entry level salary. You will also need to compete constantly with coworkers 10 years younger than you are to survive there.

    Colleges can bring great opportunities if women choose to take advantage of that freedom and explore. Remember, you DON’T have to do ANYTHING just because so and so in the community did it. Having expectations of you can be limiting and suffocating at times. However, having high expectations from yourself can be motivating and liberating.

    You can allow others to guide you in life. But nobody has the right to “tell” you how to live your life.

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