ISABEL R. ARNOLD
SO 326: FAMILY IN CONTEMPORARY SOCIETY
American matrimony has experienced radical shifts within the last decade due to social and economic transformations. Rather than argue that marriage is dying, this study addresses marriage as a metamorphic dynamic promoted by various factors unique to this modern age. These shifts affecting marriage dynamics end up affecting the children as well, thus altering the family dynamic. The notion of marriage is a cultural ideal that is promoted here in the United States, but this notion has become a political and social battlefield. In this study, I argue that different patterns of childrearing are the key to understanding class differences in marriage and parenthood, not an unintended by-product of it. Marriage is the commitment mechanism that supports high levels of investment in children and is hence more valuable for parents adopting a high-investment strategy for their children.
Since the 1950s, the sources of the gains from marriage have changed radically. As the educational attainment of women overtook and surpassed that of men and the ratio of men's to women's wage rates fell, traditional patterns of gender specialization and division in work weakened. The primary source of the gains to marriage shifted from the production of household services and commodities to investment in children. For some, these changes meant that marriage was no longer worth the costs of limited independence and potential mismatch. In 1960, more than 70 percent of all adults were married; half a century later, just 20 percent of 18-29-year olds were married in 2010 (Amato, Passel, Wang & Livingston, 2011). Marriage was the norm for young America – now it's the exception. Marriage is undergoing a metamorphosis, prompted by a transformation in the economic and social status of women and the virtual disappearance of low-skilled male jobs. The old form of marriage, based on antiquated social codes and gender roles, is disappearing. A new version is emerging—this version is egalitarian, committed, and focused on children. There was a time when college-educated women were the least likely to be married. Today, they are the most important drivers of the new marriage model. Unlike their European counterparts, increasingly ambivalent about marriage, college graduates in the United States are reinventing marriage as a child-rearing machine for a post-feminist society and a knowledge economy (Murray, 2013). It’s working, too: their marriages offer more satisfaction, last longer, and produce more successful children. The glue for these marriages is not sex, religion, or money, but a joint commitment to high-investment parenting (HIP) marriages. Right now, these marriages are concentrated at the top of the social ladder, but they offer the most promising hope for saving the institution of marriage in America.
Matrimony is thriving among the wealthy, but dissipating among the poor – creating a marriage gap. Today, educated women are more likely to marry in their early 40s than high-school dropouts (Amato, Passel, Wang, & Livingston, 2011). In 2007, American marriage trends reached a crucial benchmark – this was the first year that rates of marriage by age 30 were higher for college graduates than non-graduates. Young professionals, both men and women are now more likely to delay marriage as they focus on their careers or furthering their education, yet these individuals are the main purveyors of the new model of marriage we see today. Marriage today is difficult to analyze because it has multiple structures. The legalization of same sex marriages, divorce and remarriage, cohabitation, step families and even delayed childbearing renders the typical monolithic institution almost obsolete. Even among these mixed marital shapes, three models can be identified: traditional...
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