Mate Choice, Courtship, Marriage & Childbearing

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Evolution and species-survival depend on reproduction, which is facilitated by humans as it is in all species. The process discussed in this lesson is focused on mate selection, courtship, marriage, and childbearing. While these are steps in a studied process across cultures over time, this process is not absolute and does not apply to all individuals' choices in starting a family or choosing to become a parent or parents. Updated: 04/19/2022

That's Life

In today's lesson, we are going to make a baby. Wait, that didn't come out right. We are going to study the social and evolutionary processes that go into the creation of genetic offspring. There, that sounded more academic.

The process of starting a family is complex, but very important in both evolutionary and social terms. There is a lot that goes into this; from why we choose to start a family and who we choose to start one with, all the way to what we expect that family to look like. There are rules and expectations and hopes and disappointments that go into this. It sounds messy, but hey, that's life.

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  • 0:40 Mate Choice
  • 1:25 Courtship
  • 2:23 Marriage
  • 3:40 Childbearing
  • 5:05 Lesson Summary
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Mate Choice

The first step in starting a family is picking a partner. Mate choice is defined as the process of mate selection based on the desirability of their traits. Mate choice is considered to be an important part of evolution and a way that species pass on the most desirable traits for their survival.

There are several qualifications that affect mate choice. Just think about all the things that go into your decision to date someone. Physical traits are one common qualification. This could refer to traits that indicate evolutionary benefits, like strength or speed. It could also be determined by what a certain culture finds physically attractive, from a symmetrical face to small feet to a rotund belly. Other qualifications could include intelligence, creativity, personality, and social standing.


After a person has developed an interest in someone, they begin the process of getting to know that person hoping to generate a more intimate, perhaps committed relationship. We call this dating; social scientists refer to it as courtship. During the courtship phase, the relationship has not achieved the status or recognition of being completely official, not like a marriage. However, couples in courtship are considered to be more tied to each other than, say, strangers on the street. It's sort of an in-between phase.

The expectations of courtship are completely different by culture. In some places, the couple is always watched by a chaperone. In others, they are given freedom to get to know each other alone. Gifts are often an important part of the courtship process, from flowers and chocolates to goats. The various practices that a culture expects through this period are called courtship rituals. Traditional American courtship rituals extend from dinner and the movies to asking a woman's father for a blessing of marriage.


So, the couple has met, they went through the courtship phase, and they have decided to get married. Now the fun really starts. Anybody who's been married knows what a process this is. Traditionally, marriages are one of the most actively celebrated social events throughout human history. Marriages represent the uniting of families, the continuing of a family line, and future prosperity, since it was traditionally associated with having children. A marriage celebration is often large, lavish, and directly involves the entire family.

In most cultures, marriage is the act that officially severs the two individuals from their old families and unites them as a brand-new family. This is often seen as a sacred thing. As with the rest of this process, aspects of marriage are determined by culture. In some places, the marriage ceremony must be done in a very specific way for it to be legitimate. Additionally, the expectations of each person in the marriage are culturally defined. How do you treat your spouse? What are your obligations to them? What are theirs to you? All of this comes down to cultural values. As the concept of family evolves, marriage is not always deemed necessary by some people as a required step in forming a new family.

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