Channel 4 recently debuted a new series,‘Married at first sight’. As someone interested in families within my academic work, the concept of the programme proved rather intriguing. The programme was based on an original concept first aired in Denmark, called Gift Ved Første Blik, that has now been translated to other countries around the world. The Channel 4 version of the programme, aired over three weeks in July 2015, explored the idea of singletons being matched with their ‘ideal partner’ using science. Some of the scientific tests included, hip to waist ratios in women, shoulder to waist ratios in men, 2D:4D ratios, as well as psychological profiling and video elicitation to explore snapshots of the participants daily lives. As well as anthropologists and psychologists, the ‘matchers’ included a psychotherapist and a vicar who provided focus into the motivation for participants and their commitment to the process.
The scientifically matched parties then wed, meeting their ‘match’ at the end of the aisle as they were joined in marriage. Marriage was seen as integral to the experiment, offering a perceived level of commitment not believed by those behind the experiment to be achievable via merely bringing couples together in a dating format or even by creating a union through cohabitation. In an era of high divorce rates in the UK, where 42% of marriages are likely to end in divorce and the trend among young people across Europe is away from marriage, the choice to use marriage within the experiment is interesting. Does the programme then really reflect what people want in terms of long term relationships and unions?
The programme did interestingly explore the notion of the burden of choice and perhaps the difficultly within a complex modern society that people have in meeting a partner. With careers taking priority for many young people, the growth of geographical mobility and the difficulties in being able to afford a home, the focus on life experiences and ‘getting sorted’ may delay people in settling down . The participants shown on the programme all discussed not having found ‘the one’ and were tired of the process of trying to find a partner through other avenues. Does the concept of Married at first sight then offer a new means by which families may be formed in the future? Will science be a means to help people find the sometimes elusive ‘one’, or is this a new ‘reality tv trend’? The average viewing figures for the series of 1.9 million, shows that plenty of people watched the series, and the social media responses to the show and its outcomes certainly got people talking about the programme. However, only by following couples matched in this way over time, and the viewing figures of subsequent series, will we know whether science really is then a successful means for the formation of unions, or whether it just makes rather good television.