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Posted June 1, 2009

Book: Alone Together
Authors: Paul R. Amato, Alan Booth, David R. Johnson, Stacy J. Rogers
Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2009. Pp. 323

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

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 women as well as men. 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.

An Excerpt from the Book:

What will marital quality be like in the near future? If the trend toward individualism continues unabated, then marital interaction will decline even more, and spouses’ friendship networks, group affiliations, and leisure pursuits will become even more disconnected.

Spouses will operate as autonomous individuals who contract to say together as long as their needs for personal growth and self-fulfillment are met. These relationships may be satisfying and even stable over long periods of time. But if the terms of the contract are not met, and if people’s psychological rewards from the relationship are less than expected, individuals will disssolve their unions relatively quickly to seek out more promising opportunities with new partners. Serial marriage punctuated by periods of being single and cohabitation, may meet the emotional needs of some adults reasonable well. Serial marriage, however, is unlikely to meet children’s seep-seated needs for stability and long-term emotional bonds with both parents.

Another possibility is that a new equilibrium will emerge in which marriage is expected to meet societal as well as personal needs. Some institutional features of marriage, such as shared attendance at religious services and support for the norm of lifelong marriage, are increasing. Correspondingly, many state and local governments view strengthening the institutional foundations of marriage as a legitimate policy goal. Of course, achieving the right balance between institutional and individualistic elements, between fulfilling obligations to others and meeting one’s own needs, will be difficult. Nevertheless, we see some hints of what these new unions might be like.

Relations between husbands and wives will be egalitarian — an arrangement that facilitates intimacy and mutual feelings of closeness. Although some spouses will prefer to remain outside the labor force (especially when young children are n the household), most couples will share breadwinning and homemaking responsibilities over the life course — an arrangement that not only maximizes economic security, but also facilitates the personal development of wives as well as husbands. Although dual-earner marriages are more likely than single-earner marriages to experience tension over household chores and a degree of work-family conflict, the sharing of breadwinner and homemaking roles also offers greater possibilities for mutual understanding between spouses. At the same time, spouses — especially those with children — will recognize that marriage implies a commitment to a cause more important than the short-term satisfaction of two individuals. In particular, they will recognize that a stable, two-parent family is the arrangement best suited for raising the next generation of youth to become healthy, competent, and well-adjusted adults. People also will recognize that stable, two-parent families make positive contributions to the communities in which they live. Compared with single individuals, married couples are less likely to move (thus lowering residential turnover), are more likely to establish ties with neighbors, schools, and civic organizations (thus increasing social capital); and are more likely to monitor public spaces and keep an eye on neighborhood children and adolescents (thus increasing public safety and lowering crime). Many spouses will prefer the stability of their unions to be grounded in shared religious convictions and participation in religious events. Our study demonstrates that the most successful marriages combine gender equality, two incomes, shared social ties, and a strong commitment to marital permanence. After being in a state of flux for half a century, contemporary marriage may be moving toward a new synthesis of institutional, companionate, and individualistic features, with generally positive consequences for women, men, and children.

Table of Contents:

1. The continuing transformation of marriage in America

2. Stability and change in marital quality

3. Rising individualism and demographic change

4. Who benefitted from the rise of dual-earner marriage

5. Changing gender relations in marriage

6. Social integration, religion, and attitudes toward lifelong marriage

7. How our most important relationships are changing

8. Implications for theory, future research, and social policy