Are India’s malls influencing India’s marriages?

“The malls are changing the culture,” our friend Monali told us a few months ago. We’d asked her to describe some of the changes she’d seen in India over the last few decades. This is a question we’ve asked many of our Indian friends; hers was an answer we hadn’t yet heard.

Saket Citywalk Mall in Delhi. Photo by Flickr user nithinkd.

We’d already learned that Delhi’s social life used to revolve almost exclusively around the home. Jenny’s boss Renuka told us of growing up in a Delhi in which there were almost no restaurants outside the fancy hotels, which meant that most gatherings of friends and family took place in each others’ homes. In this situation, children were never far from the watchful eyes of parents and neighbors.

Times have changed, obviously. As the 800+ Café Coffee Day outlets now open across India will attest.

Café Coffee Day in Mumbai. Photo by Flickr user ianjacobs.

And all those coffee shops, restaurants, and malls have made it easier for teenagers to do teenage things without that historically intense parental supervision. Especially the malls, as Monali told us. So now, with teenagers given widespread access to venues for hanging out on their own terms, a sea change could be cresting:

  1. Boys and girls hang out.
  2. They go on dates.
  3. They fall in love.
  4. They fall out of love.
  5. They fall in love again. (In other words, relationships are made and unmade in accordance with the fleeting whims of fickle teens — that is, independent of parental influences.)
  6. Which means teenagers grow accustomed to asserting control over their love lives.
  7. Which means they push back on traditional parental authority in this realm.
  8. Which means that India finds itself on the path to American-style marriage. (And, inevitably, American-style divorce rates.)

There have been many stories about the repercussions on India’s traditional family structure of children now routinely out-earning their parents. With such economic independence, it’s said, the decision-making role of the patriarch is significantly diminished. (And this goes double for women.)

But Jenny and I have only seen this shift documented upon the point of the child entering the workforce — which is, of course, after the child’s schooling. But if Monali and that conjecture above is correct, then the malls are breeding independence into teens during the schooling years.

Which means there are now two forces at work: economic independence in the twenties that builds upon social independence in the teens. So what kind of change will this bring?

5 responses to “Are India’s malls influencing India’s marriages?

  1. interesting…and I think I sort of agree with all the conjectures here, especially with the part about economic independence…I see so many school kids in malls these days it’s insane I mean if I compare it with my school days…I am not sure how it exactly impacts relationships. But I am assuming many parents these days prefer if kids find their own partners (American style, if you may) rather than arranged set ups cos that’s sort of far more difficult- with far lesser control than earlier times- and time consuming…

  2. More than malls I think cell phones have changed Indian teen culture. Just like the teens in the rest of the world, Indian teens are constantly calling, messaging, even (EEK!) sending photos of themselves in various modes of undress. So there mom & dad! Welcome to the 21st century India!

  3. Economic independence has always been a double edged sword. Parents these days have less time for kids, and kids these days prefer taking their own decisions without any consultation from elders then be that for a relationship or a career related goal. Before the malls came in to picture I am sure there must have been discrete places where teens met and fell in and out of love. Malls might be just one of the tools breeding independence in the kids.

    By the way, Bipasha does look hot in that photograph 😀

  4. The main problem is the idea of love portrayed not by the mall but by the movies. If one expects the kind of love one sees in a typical Hollywood/Bollywood film and equates that kind of love with marriage then divorce rates are bound to skyrocket. The same process occurred in American before you or I were born. There once was a time in America and Europe where love was an institution, an arrangement of practicality, not an arrangement that required romantic “perfection”. Love as seen on the movies requires perfection. Real “love” that is a product of humanity means coping with imperfection.

  5. Malls cannot be blamed completely, malls offers a hub for many things to invest your time upon for all the age group.

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