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What are the cultural differences and similarities in dating and marriage culture between Brazil and the United States and how does this affect relationships? This paper explores the cultural factors that affect love and marriage in these two counties. An external search for information provided background and context for primary research I conducted. The primary research consisted of a content analysis of pieces of writing between my Brazilian grandparents and my American grandparents. The analysis of these writings and the research found from the external search explained how the American ideology of individualism and the Brazilian ideology of familism affected marriage. Brazilian’s emphasis on love as a prerequisite for marriage is an explanation as to why the writing between my Brazilian grandparents was more affectionate and loving than that of the American couple. Marriages are a product of the culture people are raised in and are affected by the way marriages are viewed during the start of a relationship.
Brazil and the United States, both countries in the Americas, have many differences, but also some similarities. Brazil, officially the Federative Republic of Brazil, is the largest country in South America with a population of 211.05 million (Brazil Population 2019). In terms of its size and population, it is also the fifth largest country in the world (Brazil Population 2019). Most of Brazil is sparsely populated with a population density of 24.66 people per square kilometer, ranking sixth in the world (Brazil Population 2019). According to the United States Census Bureau, the estimated population in the United States is 329.45 million making it the third largest country in the world by population (United States Population 2019).
Regarding demographics, Brazil’s census records ethnicity and race by categorizing people mostly by skin color. It asks people to place themselves into various categories, some of which may be unfamiliar to Americans and Europeans. For example, citizens are asked to report whether they are white, black, brown, or yellow, along with the smallest category of “indigenous.” The results of the 2019 census showed that 42% of Brazilian citizens were white, 44% were brown, 7% were black, 0.5% were yellow and 0.25% were indigenous (Brazil Population 2019). This method of classification is controversial within Brazil, however, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IGBE) continues to use it. In 2019, the United States Census reported that the population is 60.4% white, however, by 2055 whites will no longer be the majority (United States Population 2019). The census categorizes United States citizens as either White, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, or Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander.
Lastly, the main religion in Brazil is Christianity with around 90% of the population practicing either Catholicism or Protestantism. Brazil has the world’s largest Catholic population of 123 million people (Brazil Population 2019). However, in the United States, there are a wide range of religions practiced across the country. The Protestant/Christian religion holds a clear majority of 48.9%, Catholics make up 23%, and other minority faiths in the United States include Judaism, Islam, and Mormonism. In a final contrast to Brazil, the United States has a significant minority of people who identify as having no religion or as Atheist/Agnostic, making up 22.8% of the population.
As the daughter of a Brazilian immigrant, I have seen many cultural differences between Brazilians and Americans in my everyday life. My mother was born in São Paulo, Brazil and moved to the United States when she was around five years old. My grandparents, Ivan and Leonice, about thirty at the time, packed up what they could and flew with their three children to a foreign place. My grandparents settled in Bridgeport, CT where they only knew a few people and began an entirely new life. Even though they have lived in America for almost forty years, it is still clear to me how differently they think and act than my other grandparents who have lived in the United States their entire life. My grandmother on my father’s side of the family, Theresa, was born and raised in the United States and my grandfather, Jorge, was born in Puerto Rico but was raised here in America. Growing up, I could see how different the relationships were between my two sets of grandparents, especially since my father’s parents divorced when he was a child. Since both sets of grandparents are between the ages of 67 and 70, I know there could not be a generational reason for these differences. So, I often ask myself if the reason their marriages were so different is because of where they are from. This is the question I will be exploring in my cross-cultural study: What are the cultural differences and similarities in dating and marriage culture between Brazil and the United States and how does this affect relationships?
To begin answering this question, I began an external search to find studies and research on the cultural differences and similarities between Brazil and the United States. I focused on finding articles that pertained to dating culture, marriage culture, and family structure in both countries. This secondary research would provide background and context for my primary research. It was important for me to create a lens for looking at the information I collected from my grandparents. Secondary research helped to clarify my research question and narrow down exactly what I wanted to focus on in this cross-cultural study. The articles I used for my research were found in EBSCOhost and Google Scholar.
My primary research for this study involved a content analysis. I chose this methodological approach because I wanted to analyze the relationships my grandparents have with each other based on their writings to one another. Content analysis is a research tool used to analyze the meanings and relationships of certain words, themes, and concepts within qualitative data. Content analysis organizes, summarizes, and describes the content in interviews, television shows, letters, newspaper articles, etc. In doing a content analysis it is important to describe both the manifest content and the latent content. The manifest content being the literal content of the data and the latent content being the underlying meaning and interpretation of the data. In this investigation, I analyzed two poems that my Brazilian grandparents wrote for each other in 1969 and two letters written to my American grandmother from my grandfather in 1967 and 1968. I took these pieces of writing and studied them to uncover any differences or similarities that could be explained culturally. I compared their writings to each other with the secondary research I conducted on Brazilian and American culture to help answer my research question.
Beginning with marriage culture in the United States, it is first important to note the many changes that the U.S. family system has seen. Andrew J. Cherlin’s journal article, “American Marriage in the Early Twenty-First Century,” reviews the historic changes in marriage and the economic and cultural forces that have changed family life in America. Cherlin begins by assessing the demographic changes over the past century, such as the age people marry. The median age of marriage during the 1950’s reached a historic low at twenty-three for men and twenty for women, but in the 1960’s, the median age began to rise again. Today, women are marrying much later, and the vast majority of young adults have had premarital sex (Cherlin, 2005). In addition to this, cohabitation, or living with a partner before marriage, is far more common today than it was in the early- or mid-twentieth century (Cherlin, 2005). While marriage rates have been declining, divorce rates have been increasing. Beginning in 1950, about one-third of marriages ended in divorce and during the 1960’s and 1970’s, the likelihood of a married couple getting divorced increased significantly. Since then, the divorce rate has remained about the same. According to recent estimates, 48 percent of American marriages would be expected to divorce within the first twenty years. Lastly, this combination of divorce and more unmarried women giving birth has increased the number of children living with only one parent.
To explain these changes in American family life, Cherlin looks at both economic and cultural factors. Economically, the increase in demand for workers in the service area encouraged women to get more education and drew married women into the workforce. In the 1970’s, there began a decline in job opportunities for men without a college education. This led to the decline in manufacturing jobs as factory jobs were moved overseas and wages in these jobs decreased. These shifts in the labor market portrayed non-college educated men as less “marriageable” and began the rise of dual-income families. Culturally, American marriage went through two major transitions in the twentieth century. The first was the shift from institutional marriages to companionate marriage (Cherlin, 2005). In institutional marriage, families were held together by the law, tradition, and religion. However, in the mid-twentieth century, emotional ties between a wife and husband became the foundation of marriage. During this time, marriages were focused on companionship, friendship, and romantic love and spouses were satisfied performing their social roles. Then, around 1960, marriage transitioned from the companionate marriage to the individualized marriage. People began to think more about their own self and no longer thought in terms of gaining fulfillment through building a family.
In analyzing the letters written to my grandmother, Theresa, from my grandfather, Jorge, and evaluating their marriage, I noticed these trends in American culture. My grandparents met as teenagers in the mid-1960’s and were married when my grandmother was only eighteen years old. My grandpa Jorge was in the Vietnam War between 1967 and 1968 and so, my grandparents frequently wrote to each other. The first letter he wrote to my grandma began with, “Hi babe. How’s life? So far, I’m fine. What have you been doing since I last talked to you? (which was yesterday),” and ended with, “How’s it going? Still hanging around, doing nothing, like always? Well babe, I really haven’t much more to write about, but this is a start, right? Until later on, take care. If not, take it any way you can get it.” This letter was written on August 14, 1967 and like most of the letters, his writing was casual and conversational. He always addressed my grandma as “babe” and signed all of his letters, “Love, J.R.” In my grandpa Jorge’s last letter to my grandma, he wrote, “Well babe, the time we’ve been waiting for is almost here. I sure am glad…I’ll feel better when I get home and can kiss and hold you in my arms. Ha, ha corny (aren’t I).” I found it interesting that he laughed at his own words of affection and in all the letters I read, this was one of the only ones where he spoke affectionately. As I previously mentioned, his writing was mostly casual and did not express many deep feelings. Since many marriages in the United States were institutionalized marriages up until this point, the idea of being loving and affectionate toward your partner may have seemed foreign.
In looking at their marriage through the context of my secondary research, their relationship began as a companionate one, however, their marriage shifted to an individualized one. My grandparents divorced less than fifteen years after marrying and had two children prior to their divorce. The shift in American culture toward individualized marriage and the focus on the self has an undoubtable connection to America as an individualistic society. Individualism prioritizes personal goals rather than group goals. My grandparents’ marriage ended in divorce because of this individualistic philosophy. When spouses have different personal goals, divorce is often the outcome. In analyzing the letters, my grandfather was often self-focused and wrote mostly about his daily experiences. He rarely commented on my grandmother’s life and asked only general “How’s life?” questions. This focus on the self was clear from the beginning of the relationship and would ultimately be the reason for their divorce.
In contrast, my grandparents from Brazil have a very loving marriage and have prioritized their family above all else. In a journal article written by Cláudio V. Torres and Maria Auxiliadora Dessen, family structure and marriage in Brazil are analyzed through a cultural lens. Much like the United States, the transition to a democratic country and rise of industrialization in the 1960’s, resulted in a change in values and a redefinition of women’s roles in society. However, in the 1980’s, the economic crisis in Brazil led to high unemployment and a change in the traditional family structure. At this time, divorce rates in Brazil significantly increased due to most men being unemployed and being unable to provide for their family. Women were now required to financially provide for their family which led to the change in “who is boss” (Torres & Dessen, 2008). However, even in the face of these changes, Brazil’s collectivist ideals and familism kept many families together through strong family-work bonds.
In addition to an emphasis on the importance of family, studies have shown love to be of great importance in Brazil as a prerequisite for establishing a marriage. Close Relationships: Key Readings, written by H. T. Reis and C. E. Rusbult, reports a study on love and marriage in eleven cultures. In this study, a total of 497 undergraduate males and 673 undergraduate females from India, Pakistan, Thailand, Mexico, United States, England, Japan, Brazil, Australia, Republic of the Philippines, and Hong Kong completed a questionnaire on love and marriage. In response to the question, “If a man (woman) had all the other qualities you desired, would you marry this person if you were not in love with him (her)?”, 85.7 percent of Brazilian respondents answered “No” (Reis & Rusbult, 2004). The recency of this study can explain why this number of respondents answering “No” is so high. As previously discussed, the economic shifts and development of the country has allowed Brazilians to focus on choosing a partner out of love. It is important to note that those who answered the survey were college students who are most likely financially stable and have the freedom to marry by choice.
In looking at the marriage of my Brazilian grandparents, I found evidence to support the findings of my secondary research. When analyzing the poems they wrote for each other in 1969, it is clear that their relationship was founded on love. My grandma Leonice’s poem for my grandpa Ivan began, “Imagine how I love you. I’ll always live with you. I’ll always be by your side. Nothing is missing dear,” and ended, “All I want is to live by your side.” Her language is extremely affectionate and filled with words of love. My grandfather’s poem to her is similar in language, “I saw your name reading a book and I was thinking how much I love you. I’ll never forget you. I’ll love you forever.” Both of them express their love for each other with clarity, which I found to be noticeably different from my other grandparent’s writing. Brazilians emphasis on love as a prerequisite to marriage helps explain why their writing featured more affectionate love language.
Brazil’s cultural syndrome of “familism” also explains how my Brazilian grandparents have remained in a loving marriage after so many years. Familism puts priority on the family as a whole over the need of any individual family member, creating a version of collectivism. Especially after moving their family to another country, my grandparents knew that in order to have financial stability and emotional support they must remain in a committed, loving marriage. They make decisions based on the needs of the family as a whole and define themselves in terms their familial roles. It is because of their love for each other and their strong priority on family that my grandparents are still in a successful marriage.
In conclusion, the relationship between my two sets of grandparents can be explained culturally. Their marriages were a product of the culture they were raised in and the way marriages were viewed during the start of their relationships. America’s ideology of individualism and Brazil’s ideology of familism played a large role in the outcome of their marriages. My American grandparents had a failed marriage, mostly because their differing personal goals, while my Brazilian grandparents’ marriage has thrived on the importance of family. This look at marriage through a cultural lens can provide a deeper understanding of why some marriages last a lifetime and other do not. Lastly, it explains the function of marriage in different countries and how this function of marriage can result in various outcomes.
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