Family and Household
The extended family continued to be a viable form of household
in the late 1980s. More families had begun to live in nuclear
households, but Jordanians continued to rely on extended kin
relations for a variety of purposes, which can be described as
exchanges. Exchanges might include financial support; job
information; social connections; access to strategic resources;
marital partners; arrangements, protection, and support in the
event of conflict; child care and domestic services; and emotional
sustenance. In turn, an individual's social identity and loyalty
continued to be oriented largely to the family.
Formally, kinship was reckoned patrilineally, and the household
usually was based on blood ties between men. There was no one form
of family; and household structure changed because of births,
deaths, marriages, and migration. A household could consist of a
married couple, their unmarried children, and possibly other
relatives such as parents, or a widowed parent or an unmarried
sister. Alternatively, a household could consist of parents and
their married sons, their wives, and their children. At the death
of the father, each married son ideally established his own
household to begin the cycle again. Although the kinship system was
considered patrilineal, maternal kin also were significant.
Because the family was central to social life, all children
were expected to marry at the appropriate age, and eligible
divorced or widowed persons were expected to remarry. Marriage
conferred adult status on both men and women. The birth of children
further enhanced this status, especially for women, who then felt
more secure in their marital households. Polygyny was practiced in
only a minority of cases and was socially frowned upon.
Traditionally, the individual subordinated his or her personal
interests to those of the family. The importance of the group
outweighed that of the individual. In the late 1980s, it was still
uncommon for a man to live apart from a family group unless he were
a migrant worker or a student. Grown children ordinarily lived with
parents or relatives until marriage. Children were expected to
defer to the wishes of their parents.
Marriage was a family affair rather than a personal choice.
Because the sexes ordinarily did not mix much socially, young men
and women had few acquaintances among the opposite sex, although
among beduins a limited courtship was permitted. Parents
traditionally arranged marriages for their children, finding a mate
either through the family or their social contacts. In the late
1980s, this pattern had changed substantially
(see Jordan - Changing Social Relations and Values
, this ch.).
Among village and tribal populations, the preferred marriage
partner was the child of the father's brother. In most areas, a man
had a customary right to forbid his father's brother's daughter
from marrying an outsider if he wished to exercise his right to her
hand. If the ideal cousin marriage was not possible, marriage
within the patrilineal kin group was the next best choice. Such
endogamous marriages had several advantages for the parties: the
bridewealth payments demanded of the groom's kin tended to be
smaller; the family resources were conserved; the dangers of an
unsuitable match were minimized; and the bride was not a stranger
to her husband's house.
A University of Jordan medical department study in the late
1980s pointed to a 50 percent rate of family intermarriage: 33
percent of marriages were between first-degree relatives, 7 percent
between second-degree relatives, and 10 percent were within the
extended family. Nonetheless, in the 1980s, endogamous marriages
had declined in frequency; previous rates of intermarriage may have
been as high as 95 percent. Increasing female education and
employment allowed young people more opportunities to meet and
marry outside family arrangements. Also, there was growing
awareness that genetic problems could arise in the offspring of
In Islam, marriage is a civil contract rather than a sacrament.
Representatives of the bride's interests negotiate a marriage
agreement with the groom's representatives. The future husband and
wife must give their consent. Young men often suggest to their
parents whom they would like to marry; women usually do not do so
but have the right to refuse a marriage partner of their parents'
choice. The contract establishes the terms of the union, and, if
they are broken, outlines appropriate recourse. Special provisions
inserted into the contract become binding on both parties.
Islam gives to the husband far greater leeway than to the wife
in terms of polygyny and in matters of divorce. For example, a man
may legally take up to four wives at one time provided he can treat
them equally; a woman can have only one husband at a time. A man
may divorce his wife by repeating "I divorce thee" three times
before witnesses and registering the divorce in court; a woman can
instigate divorce only under very specific circumstances. Few women
seek divorce because of the difficulty of taking a case to court,
the stigma attached to a divorced woman, and the possibility of a
woman's losing custody of her children. In theory and as a matter
of public appearance, men exercise authority over women. That
authority, however, is not as absolute as once thought. Women wield
considerable power within the home and decision making often is a
joint affair between husband and wife.
Data as of December 1989