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The Deinstitutionalization of Marriage

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The Deinstitutionalization of Marriage

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  • March 5, 2008
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Andrew Cherlin's article The Deinstitutionalization of Marriage is an analytical evaluation of the changing themes of the American approach to the relevance of marriage and its evolution over the past century. Through a method of statistical analysis of the changing ideologies and practices of Americans in regards to the institution of marriage Cherlin is able to show that marriage has now become an option rather than a necessity.

In analyzing the recent growth of cohabitation he finds that its practice began as a short term method of reducing the possibility of divorce as cohabitation was viewed as a sort of "trial marriage". However, as time has progressed this trial period has been severely lengthened and has less frequently yielded marriages as its outcome. Through cited statistics he shows that while in the 1970's sixty percent of cohabitations resulted in a marriage within three years, that number has been drastically reduced to thirty three percent in the 1990's. Cherlin shows that cohabitation has become so prevalent in the United States that the laws of the country have had to be changed to adapt to this recently developed living situation.

Cherlin then goes on to explain that the meaning of marriage has been changed by developments in the division of labor, historical events, individual perspectives, childbearing, cohabitation, and gay marriage. He states that in the 1950's wives and husbands "based their gratification on playing marital roles well: being good providers, good homemakers, and responsible parents", whereas recent evaluations showed that a persons satisfaction with their marriage was derived from "their own sense of self and the expression of their feelings". He refers to this as a move to what he calls an "individualized marriage". Cherlin then cites the work of Anthony Giddens in this area and says that Giddens and others have argued that "as traditional sources of identity such as class, religion, and community lose...