A few weeks ago I had a good conversation with Jessica Bennett, who was working on a story for Newsweek about “changing views on marriage.” After we talked, I sent her a chapter from my book-in-progress (The Family: Diversity Inequality and Social Change, available from W. W. Norton about 2013…) and a handful of articles.
The story came out yesterday, and my carefully parsed commentary was boiled down to this:
“The bottom line is that men, not women, are much happier when they’re married,” says Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina who studies marriage and family.
That’s the way it goes. I can’t deny saying it, but I also can’t remember exactly why I would have. Is it true? I don’t know. I did report, for example, that marriage seems to protect men more than women from committing suicide, so maybe that’s what we were talking about.
Bennett and her co-author, Jesse Ellison, write well and cover a lot. It’s an interesting read and good for getting a discussion going — though they take substantial liberties in expressing their perspective. Their bottom line:
Once upon a time, marriage made sense. It was how women ensured their financial security, got the fathers of their children to stick around, and gained access to a host of legal rights. But 40 years after the feminist movement established our rights in the workplace, a generation after the divorce rate peaked, and a decade after Sex and the City made singledom chic, marriage is—from a legal and practical standpoint, anyway—no longer necessary. … Which means that when we do tie the knot, we do it for love.
Andy Cherlin came up with a much better quote than me: “The question is not why fewer people are getting married, but why are so many still getting married?”