Skeptics (or rather the realists?) have asserted that the reason for marriage at its origins meant nothing but creating an insidious legal framework for the man to “acquire” a slave. An interesting, bold and cynical point of view at the same time. Is there any economic substrate that explains the need for the most debated institution in human history?
The first representatives of the human species, those who lived five million years ago, did not really need marriage. They were supposed to exhibit a primitive behavior, hardly differentiated from the animal one, and therefore, sex at will, with more than one partner, was something absolutey common. As females could get themselves fruit, plants and insects while still wearing or protecting their “offspring”, males were needed neither as protectors, nor as family caretakers. That meant that in those times no one would gain (anything) from a stable relationship.
As the climate became warmer and the forests retreated (became more rare), people began to migrate towards the savanna, where what was edible came from fruit trees and other vegetation types, rests of spoils left by predators, and thereafter animals or birds brought by hunters who began using empirical, man-made weapons. A diet mainly based on meat meant that babies were born a little earlier, requiring more mother care. This is the period (between 1.8 million and 23,000 years ago) where the offspring of those who formed the first stable relationships had more chances of survival.
Do not think of the respective unions the way they are perceived nowadays. The couples of those times most likely stayed together for about three or four years, after which each left to establish “another future” for themselves, there being but very vague “moral” pressures in the sense of the safety of the newborn until the age at which dangers were the same for all. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that it is exactly this 3-4 year period which is subject to the highest rate of divorce in the modern period/time, even though the reasons are entirely different... although relations in their initial form seemed to be more natural, more honest, more predictable and more pragmatic than what was to come/to follow.
23,000 years ago, people began to cultivate(grow) their own resources for subsistence, thus revolutionizing human interactions. Inventing the plow 4,000 years ago meant that most of the productive household arrangements were those in which the tasks were divided according to the capabilities of the members. Men, stronger and less physically bound by children, used to stay mostly in the open to work in the field, while women were taking care of their children, being involved in petty, household activities.
Agriculture has created strong bonds between the individuals and the land, which means that at the end of the 3-4 years of child rearing, no one was that willing to leave in order to find another partnership. Here's how the first signs of the social and the economic (life) have perfidously insinuated themselves in what was the natural of the period of mutual commitment to a relationship. Thus, in most cases, “husbands” have remained together to work in a joint effort to nurture and care for the procreated children.
Defining marriage as a legal contract came into being in time as groups of people established what was “normal” for organizing a family and thereafter defined this normality by law. For example, it was but natural for parents to take care of their own children. Thus, laws were created that gave men the certainty that the descendants they reared were their own, while giving the women the certitude that they could no longer be abandoned without reason. Therefore, marriage was not designed to create a legitimate setting for disguised slavery, although no one denies that both signatories of marital contracts have often been treated as such. Nevertheless, the true motivation lies in the biological desire of both sexes to see their own children surviving or, in short, the perpetuation of the species.
Nowadays, there is no need for marriage in order to ensure this wish. So, would it still be necessary? Many would say yes, others (as many) would gladly give up the “burden” in question. Those who still believe in the union of the soul mates are largely believers, convinced that the holy mystery of marriage is a covenant in the sight of God, and it occurrs, of course, with His blessing. There are also the kind of “heroes” who “struggle” with all their strength for things to “work out”, invoking reasons that imply the sphere of morality, the well-being of children, the assuming of the responsibility to get over all the oppressions and vicissitudes of life, that is, ruled by the old slogan: “for better or for worse”.
Of course, it is not taken into account one’s own happiness or inner liberty often lost or crushed. Practically, depersonalization occurs and, in many situations, depression, neurosis and aggressiveness more or less externalized are encountered. The very ones who hold on to their own psycho-behavioral entity are the advocates of free relationships of false obligations, even if there are children involved. There is an attempt to return, in a sophisticated form, to the honesty of ancestral relationships, to maintaining the couple as far as the relationship is alive and has strong feelings as binder and combustion at its ground. In this case, either, things are not as simple as they should be, since social patterns make their presence felt as coercively as in the case of traditional marriages, while the economic implications influence as much and incisively alike the dynamics of the relationship.
What appears to be a brief conclusion of the genesis of marriage is that mankind has always been, is, and will surely be in constant fret(ting) about this essential aspect of life itself: the need for association, communication, affectivity, and cohabitation. Unfortunately, there is also an element specific to the whole of humanity, which distorts any approach of it, that is: hypocrisy. And so very simple would everything be without it...