The family is central to one’s social life in Bangladesh, forming the basis of individuals’ support networks. The typical household in Bangladesh, especially in villages, often includes several generations. Indeed, if individuals do not live in a village, they will usually still have relatives (such as their parents)who reside in their home village. People living in urban areas and cities often try to make at least one trip per year to their village – particularly men that work in different locations to provide for their family. The general approach to family ties is communal, and people often act in the best interests of the community rather than based on their individual preferences. Generally, children are expected to consult their parents on major life choices such as their education and marriage. This is slowly changing, with some people making decisions without deliberating with their parents.
The most common family unit in Bangladesh is called the ‘barhi’. This consists of a husband and wife, their unmarried children, and their adult sons with their wives and children. The barhi provides economic stability and a form of social identity. The barhi is bothand patrilineal. For example, it is common to find married sons living in their parents’ household during the father’s lifetime, and grandparents may also be present depending on the family’s economic and personal situation. While sons often build separate houses for their nuclear families, they remain under their father’s authority.
Women tend to be in charge of household affairs. Most of their economic and social lives revolve around the home, children and family. Although women are gradually gaining more mobility and roles outside of the domestic sphere, men continue to have greater access to education and paid labour as well as acting as the primary source of authority. The oldest woman may have considerable authority within the household, but ultimately it is thewho makes most decisions.
Dating and Marriage
Many marriages are arranged and will generally take place once parents decide that their child should be married. Parents may contact agencies, a ghatak (matchmaker), relatives and friends to find an appropriate partner for their child. Parents often seek to match their child with someone who is of similar or equal economic status, educational background and religious piousness. However, this is changing, with more Bangladeshis having more autonomy over whom they marry. Although Muslim and Hindu marriage have distinctive religious rituals, there are many common Bengali wedding practices across both. Divorce is a source of social stigma, and thus it is uncommon for people to separate once they are married.