Maldives was a caste society well into the 1920s.
Modernization efforts however, have helped make Maldives
homogeneous in the early 1990s. Traditionally, a
has existed between the elite living on Male and the
the population inhabiting the outer islands--those atolls
from Male. President Gayoom's development philosophy has
on decreasing this gap by raising the standard of living
the 75 percent of Maldivians who live in the outer atolls
as making Maldives more self-sufficient. Fortunately,
tensions that might have affected these two distinct
were lessened by the isolation of the outer islands. The
geographical advantage of having many islands, for
enabled Maldives to limit the impact of tourism to special
Male, the traditional seat of the sultans and of the
nobility, remains an elite society wielding political and
economic power. Members of the several traditionally
ruling families; government, business, and religious
professionals; and scholars are found there. Male differs
other island communities also because as many as 40
its residents are migrants.
The island communities outside Male are in most cases
selfcontained economic units, drawing meager sustenance from
around them. Islanders are in many instances interrelated
marriage and form a small, tightly knit group whose main
pursuit is fishing. Apart from the heads of individual
households, local influence is exerted by the government
appointed island khatib, or chief. Regional control
each atoll is administered by the atolu verin, or
chief, and by the gazi, or community religious
Boat owners, as employers, also dominate the local economy
in many cases, provide an informal, but effective, link to
The family is the basic unit of society. Roughly 80
of Maldivian households consist of a single nuclear family
composed of a married couple and their children rather
extended family. Typically, unmarried adults remain with
relatives instead of living alone or with strangers. The
usually the head of the family household, and descent is
patrilineal. Women do not accept their husbands' names
marriage but maintain their maiden names. Inheritance of
is through both males and females.
As Muslims, men may have as many as four wives, but
little evidence to suggest that many have more than one.
law, as practiced in Maldives, makes divorce easy for men
women. Divorce rates are among the highest in the world.
According to the 1977 census, nearly half the women over
of thirty had been married four times or more. Half of all
marry by the age of fifteen. About 60 percent of men marry
twenty or later.
The status of women has traditionally been fairly high,
attested to in part by the existence of four sultanas.
not veil, nor are they strictly secluded, but special
are reserved for women in public places, such as stadiums
Data as of August 1994