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Thus, the concept of marriage is changing widely in many countries.
Historically, marriages in most societies were arranged by parents and older relatives with the goal not being love but legacy and "economic stability and political alliances", according to anthropologists.
Dating as an institution is a relatively recent phenomenon which has mainly emerged in the last few centuries.
From the standpoint of anthropology and sociology, dating is linked with other institutions such as marriage and the family which have also been changing rapidly and which have been subject to many forces, including advances in technology and medicine.
Women eventually won the right to vote in many countries and own property and receive equal treatment by the law, and these changes had profound impacts on the relationships between men and women. In many societies, individuals could decide—on their own—whether they should marry, whom they should marry, and when they should marry.
A few centuries ago, dating was sometimes described as a "courtship ritual where young women entertained gentleman callers, usually in the home, under the watchful eye of a chaperone," but increasingly, in many Western countries, it became a self-initiated activity with two young people going out as a couple in public together.
From about 1700 a worldwide movement perhaps described as the "empowerment of the individual" took hold, leading towards greater emancipation of women and equality of individuals.
Men and women became more equal politically, financially, and socially in many nations.
Dating may also involve two or more people who have already decided that they share romantic or sexual feelings toward each other.
These people will have dates on a regular basis, and they may or may not be having sexual relations.
This period of courtship is sometimes seen as a precursor to engagement.
Communities exerted pressure on people to form pair-bonds in places such as Europe; in China, society "demanded people get married before having a sexual relationship" and many societies found that some formally recognized bond between a man and a woman was the best way of rearing and educating children as well as helping to avoid conflicts and misunderstandings regarding competition for mates.
Generally, during much of recorded history of humans in civilization, and into the Middle Ages in Europe, weddings were seen as business arrangements between families, while romance was something that happened outside of marriage discreetly, such as covert meetings.
In the twentieth century, dating was sometimes seen as a precursor to marriage but it could also be considered as an end-in-itself, that is, an informal social activity akin to friendship.