Marriage is an expected rite of passage for the attainment of adulthood. Almost all people marry, usually in their late teens or early twenties. According to Vietnamese law, arranged marriage and polygamy are illegal. Young people can court freely, but many women are careful not to court too openly for fear of developing a negative reputation. In traditional culture when it comes to marriage, the virginity of the bride is taken into great account. Many Vietnamese people regard the development of romantic love as an important component in deciding to marry, but many will also balance family considerations when making their decision. Vietnamese prefer to marry someone of equal status, though it is better for the husband to be of slightly higher status. Such considerations have become more significant in recent years as wealth differentials have grown. Vietnamese law allows both men and women to ask for a divorce. Divorce rates have increased, particularly in urban areas, but many women are reluctant to divorce because remarriage is difficult for them.
The common pattern for the domestic unit is to have two or three generations living together in one home. In some urban settings, particularly if the family resides in government allocated housing, the household might only include two generations, while some homes in the countryside have up to five generations. Residence in most homes is organized around the male line. Authority within the household is exercised by the eldest male, although his wife will often have an important say in family matters. Sons stay in the parent’s home, and after marriage, their brides move in with them. The eldest son will usually remain in the home, while younger sons might leave to set up their own household a few years after marriage. Women of all generations tend to such matters as cooking, cleaning, and caring for children, though these responsibilities tend to fall on the younger wives.
The general custom is for the eldest son to inherit the parental home and the largest portion of the family property, particularly land. Younger sons will often inherit some land or other items, such as gold. In rare cases, daughters receive small items. Many parents like all of their children to receive something in order to prevent discord. If a person dies without a pre-stipulated arrangement, Vietnamese law requires an equal distribution of property among the next of kin.
Patrilineages are the most important kin groups. At birth, children become members of their father’s patrilineage and are forbidden from marrying anyone of that patrilineage within five degrees of relation. Most rural villages have several patrilineages whose members live amongst each other. Patrilineages generally do not exercise a dominant role in social life, although lineage members often meet to conduct commemorative rites for their ancestors. Many highland groups have matrilineage and different rules regarding marriage.