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The Institutionalization and Deinstitutionalization of Marriage
Advanced Psychology
Family Form: Section 1

Amato (2004) - Introduction
Historical trends
    NCFR has not had a conference theme refer to marriage since 1958.
    Change in marriage
    Decline in marriage rate
    Commonplace of nonmarital cohabitation
    Rise in extramarital births
    Increase in divorce rate

Marriage as focus of social policy
    Implementation of covenant marriage (LA, AZ, & AR)
    Oklahoma Marriage Initiative
    Federal funding to support healthy marriages
    Opening door in some states to gay and lesbian marriage

What role should government play?

The Marriage Debate
Marital Decline Perspective
    Increasingly individualistic society
    Decline in marriage and single-parent homes contributes to social problems
    Cure for problems is create a culture more supportive of marriage

Marital Resilience Perspective
    Argue that many marriages were/are unhappy; divorce provides second chance
    Changes in family life (freedom of choice and opportunities for equality) have strengthened intimacy
    Social problems are more serious threats than decline in married two-parent families

From Institutional to Companionate Marriage
    According to Burgess, industrialization and urbanization weaken the institutional basis of marriage.
    19th century: family farm marriages characterized by patriarchy
    1900: two-parent breadwinner/homemaker families

Movement toward companionate marriage, characterized by egalitarian rather than patriarchal relationships.
Self-expression and personal development
Shift to no-fault divorce

Currently, spouses = soulmates; this emphasis on marriage as a vehicle of self-development represents an even more individualistic form of marriage that has replaced companionate marriage as the cultural ideal

Revisiting the Marriage Debate
Marriage decline: we need to reinstitutionalize marriage

Marriage resilience: value enhanced freedom and self-development

Fundamental difference lies in whether one looks at the world from an institutional or individual point of view.

When unhappy couples wrestle with divorce, they are caught between their desire to further their own personal happiness and their sense of obligation to others.

Should Marriage be a Focus of Social Policy?
Children with two happily married parents have a statistical advantage over others.

Is it realistic to try to increase the proportion of children raised by married parents with satisfying and stable marriages?

It makes no moral or legal sense to deny children the right to be raised by married parents on the basis of their parents’ sexual orientation.

What is the Future of Marriage?
Alternatives to hierarchical, monogamous, lifelong marriage will become more common.

Social policy will play a growing role in improving marital happiness.
Society has an interest in promoting positive long-term development for children.
States will need to provide a variety of resources to enable couples with children to marry and have healthy, stable unions.
State-funded services should include marital education, relationship skills training, and parenting programs


To make marriages with children work effectively, it is necessary for spouses to find the right balance between institutional and individual elements, between obligations to others and obligations to self.

Cherlin (2004) - Introduction
Deinstitutionalization = weakening of social norms that define people’s behavior in a social institution such as marriage.

    New ways of acting must be established
    Engenders disagreement
    Breakdown of old rules could lead to creation of a more egalitarian relationship between spouses

The Deinstitutionalization of Marriage
    Changing division of labor in the home
    Increase in child-bearing outside marriage
    Growth of acceptance of cohabitation, creating greater complexity in families
    Fringe or avant garde phenomenon
    Accepted as testing ground for marriage
    Accepted as alternative to marriage
    Becomes indistinguishable from marriage

Emergence of same-sex marriage

Two transitions in the meaning of marriage
    Emphasis on emotional satisfaction and romantic love (early in 20th century) = companionate marriage
    Ethic of expressive individualism (last half of 20th century) = individualized marriage

The current context of marriage
    Individuals experience a vast latitude for choice in their personal lives.
    Individuals aim for personal growth and deeper intimacy through more open communication and mutually shared disclosures about feelings.

Why do people still marry?
Gains to marriage: Enforceable trust – public commitment, less likely to break

Symbolic significance: marriage is less dominant and more distinctive

Low-income: lowest rate of all SES groups; importance of finances

Young adults: search for soulmate; private, spiritual union

Wedding as status symbol: statement that they had passed a milestone in self-identity development

Marriage at Present
No longer as dominant as it once was

Remains important on symbolic level

Transformed from familial and community institution to individualized, choice-based achievement

Marker of prestige and still somewhat useful in creating enforceable trust

Alternative Futures
Reinstitutionalization of marriage

Continuation of individualized marriage

The fading away of marriage

Discussion Questions
What do you think is the appropriate balance between institutional values, such as society’s perspective of marriage, and individual values, such as self-development?

Is it realistic to try to increase the proportion of children raised by married parents with satisfying and stable marriages? Why or why not?

Do you believe same-sex couples should be given the right to marry? Why or why not?

Do you agree with Cherlin’s (2004) evaluation of the current “state” of coupling? Why or why not?

Critique the proposed individualistic view of current marriage. Discuss positives and negatives based on your experience and opinions.

Which of Cherlin’s three options in the future of marriage do you believe is the most likely? Why?

Think of an example of a happy couple. What are the components that most strongly contribute to the couple’s happiness?