The Deinstitutionalization of Marriage

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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 influence, one's intimate relationships become central to self-identity", and Giddens has asserted that marriage has now become just one lifestyle option to choose from. The article then goes on to explain that as societal expectations become less imposing and an individuals options increase, this changes the manner in which marriage is approached. The results, as he says, of increased option and a lessening of cooperative marital rewards have led to the deinstitutionalization of marriage.

The next area that is assessed by this article is the reasons that people would continue to get married. Cherlin develops the ideas that people continue to get married because of symbolism or to display social status. The latter point is extremely well evidenced in the statistics that he shows that support a rise in the peripheral events that accompany a wedding of high social significance, notably that the wedding reception has increased by twenty four percent since 1925.

Lastly, Cherlin shows that while it is likely that the current state of affairs regarding marriage will continue, the major changes that have occurred in the past were not predictable. Taking that into account he estimates that marriage practices could do one of three things. Marriage practices could regress to more traditional standards, continue on their current path, or evolve further into just another sort of romantic relationship on par with the rest of the lot. In his estimation, the second option is the most likely as he says that marriage, even though it has been deinstitutionalized, will remain distinctive and recognizable.

While reading this article I was reminded on several occasions of what I had read in On Human Nature. The areas that were especially evoked were his views on sex and altruism. The amount of questions that the coupling of the content of these two texts raised were vast and varied in range of content.

When considering Cherlin's discussion on the "deinstitutionalization of...
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