Alone Together: How Marriage in America Is Changing
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Most observers agree that marriage in America has been changing. Some think it is in decline, that the growth of individualism has made it increasingly difficult to achieve satisfying and stable relationships. Others believe that changes, such as increasing gender equality, have made marriage a better arrangement for men as well as women.
Based on two studies of marital quality in America twenty years apart, this book takes a middle view, showing that while the divorce rate has leveled off, spouses are spending less time together―people may be “bowling alone” these days, but married couples are also eating alone. Indeed, the declining social capital of married couples―including the fact that couples have fewer shared friends―combined with the general erosion of community ties in American society has had pervasive, negative effects on marital quality.
At the same time, family income has increased, decision-making equality between husbands and wives is greater, marital conflict and violence have declined, and the norm of lifelong marriage enjoys greater support than ever.
The authors conclude that marriage is an adaptable institution, and in accommodating the vast changes that have occurred in society over the recent past, it has become a less cohesive, yet less confining arrangement.
children less than six years of age and 62% of married mothers with children between the ages of six and 17 were employed. By 2000 these ﬁgures had increased to 63% and 77%, respec- The Continuing Transformation of Marriage in America 25 tively (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001, Table 577). Today most married women demonstrate a pattern of consistent attachment to the labor force: wives no longer leave the labor force during the prime years of childbearing (Spain and Bianchi, 1996). In contrast,
better than average. 54 Stability and Change in Marital Quality 80 70 Percentage 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Eat main meal Go out for leisure 1980 Visit friends Work around home 2000 Figure 2.3 Percentage of respondents who “almost always” shared activities with their spouses, 1980 and 2000 Marital interaction. Reports of interaction declined between 1980 and 2000 across all ﬁve items on the marital interaction scale. Figure 2.3 illustrates these differences by focusing on the percentage of
differences were apparent, however. Between 1980 and 2000 spouses of both genders became happier with the extent to which they agreed with their spouses, reported increased feelings of love, reported being less happy with their sexual relationships, and were less likely to believe that their marriages were better than most. Gender differences appeared for only two items. Between 1980 and 2000 wives—but not husbands—became happier with the amount of understanding received from their spouses. Wives
following questions: “How much does your job interfere with your family life?” and “How much does your spouse’s job interfere with your family life?” For both questions, response options were (1) not at all, (2) a little bit, (3) somewhat, or (4) a lot. Figure 4.2 shows the percentage of husbands and wives who reported “somewhat” or “a lot” by the year of the survey. Who Beneﬁted from the Rise of Dual-Earner Marriage? 107 50 Percentage 40 30 20 10 0 1980 2000 Ratings of job interference
is illustrated in the top half of Figure 1.1. Marital quality takes the form of an approximately normal distribution, with a small proportion of marriages (on the left) being of poor quality, a small proportion of marriages (on the right) being of high quality, and a large proportion of marriages (in the middle) being of moderate quality. Model 1 assumes that the distribution of marital quality in the population has been stable, but the threshold of low marital quality sufﬁcient to trigger a