Family ties are an important part of South Asian culture, but like many other areas, they are changing.
Elders and older siblings often have the most influence in South Asian families. This demonstrates the respect for age, but can cause frustration if younger voices are ignored. The extended family is usually important to South Asians, with regular contact between households. It can be an excellent support network, emotionally and practically, providing everything from childcare to interest-free loans, but it can also put pressure on households and individuals.
Women are usually responsible for domestic chores like cooking and cleaning, as well as childcare. Many South Asian families are positive about women going out to work, while some feel that married women should not take paid employment. For some couples, especially younger ones where both partners are working, domestic responsibilities are shared.
Unmarried children, whatever the age, are generally expected to live with their parents. This is especially true for daughters, as families tend to be more protective towards them. There is, however, an increasing number of South Asians who are moving out of the family home before they are married, partly because this is what they see their peers of other cultures doing. Some have the financial support of their parents, who may see the benefits of a savvy property investment.
Most South Asian families see it as their duty to care for elderly relatives at home. The idea of placing them in an external institution is generally frowned upon, but this too is changing. As cultures evolve, work patterns alter and people live longer, some South Asians are spending their final years in nursing homes. This is no longer viewed by all South Asians as negatively as it once was.
Finding a partner
For many parents, the main goal in life is to see their children educated and wed. Arranged marriages are still normal for many South Asian diaspora families. While older generations often had little say in their choice of spouse, sometimes first meeting on the wedding day, younger generations are likely to play an active role in decision-making. Partners are sometimes found via the ‘auntie network’, a global operation in which aunties pass on information about eligible young people through a string of contacts. Some parents use professional matchmakers, matrimonial adverts or websites.
Where couples have met independently it is still important to get parental approval before a marriage can go ahead. The ideal candidate is someone from the same cultural and social background – this can encompass ethnicity, job, religion and caste, and in some cases even ancestral village. A small number of South Asians cohabit although this is usually met with disapproval from their families. Open same sex partnerships are rare and divorce is generally disapproved of by South Asian communities, but is on the increase.
The hunt for a suitable marriage partner has provided a wealth of material for Asian film makers and writers. So important is the institution of marriage, that the Indian wedding season even affects the global price of gold!
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