Book Review: Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy or How Love Conquered Marriage by Stephanie Coontz

I had the joy of reading this book last year and I’ve been meaning to do a review on it.  Well, the time is now.  However, I’m not going to simply spell out the book.  It’s so good that you have to read it for yourself.  However, I’m in school again and so my posts will be rare.  I’ll give a quick structure of what the books about, and then highlight some of the most interesting parts throughout the book that I found enlightening, interesting, and educational.

In short, the book talks about the institution of marriage from the beginning of time until now.  We often think that our times is the worst because morality is on the decline and no one takes marriage seriously.  However, these complaints have been the same all the way back to ancient Greece.  The Romans complained about the high divorce rates, and the European settlers stated that they saw the decline of the family.  It seems that no matter what generation you’re in, everyone is nostalgic for a simpler time when morality about marriage and family was a lot better “from history.”  The point that Coontz makes is that this never happened!  We are all nostalgic for some ideal past that never existed.  Indeed, there were many instances in the past where teenage and out-of-wedlock pregnancies were more common and accepted than that of today.  Stepfamilies were more common in the past too.  Even same-sex marriage has been sanctioned, in some areas, in the past.

Things that most people consider “traditional” are actually recent innovations such as marriage being sanctioned by the church or the state.  The Catholic Church once held that if a man and a woman privately agreed to marry, there were in fact married.  This happened up until the 1100s.

Ideas of marriages and loving relationships are tied up to politics.  In America, many politicians are worried about children being born out-of-wedlock.  But in Japan, their population is dwindling and so they’re trying to encourage more people to have children, regardless of the form of the family the child will be raised in.  So while the United States has the ubiquitous education of abstinence-only, Japan is promoting “love hotels.”  Different countries encourage raising or lowering the marriage age.  The culture contexts also puts the blame on other aspects.

With this, part of Coontz’s thesis is that the idea of marriage has changed so drastically in the past thirty years than it did during the past three thousand years.  Also, she rejects two major theses that has been popular as well: she rejects the idea that marriage was invented by men in order to exploit women, and the idea was invented by men in order to protect women.

Before you read further, I dare you to take this quiz. I could only get two right before I read this book.  Amazingly, times have changed about marriage and relationships, but not in the way we thought.

Let’s start with the idea on marriage.  What is the point?  Well, mainly in our day and age, it’s about love.  And the typical idea is that love and marriage go together instantly.  Not so.  For the first time, the major priority in marriages in the 1800s was for love.  This idea is still held today.  After all, could you imagine someone getting married without love?  The Chinese word for love originally meant some illicit disapproving relationship.  Indeed, most women would bring their sisters to their husbands as backup wives.  In other cultures around China, a woman can be married to two brothers, and they both have access to her sexually.  Ancient Rome considered loving your wife too much as adultery.  In Europe, adultery was the best form of love in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.  Indeed, many people at that time thought it was impossible for two married people to love each other.  If you look at the poetry during that time, most of them mocked marriage with love.  In Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, husbands and wives who loved each other too much was considered idolatry.  With that loyalty and marriage didn’t come together until relatively late.  Now think about that: sexual loyalty was NOT a high priority in the past.  Anthropologists today have found that out of 109 societies, only 48 frowned on adultery.

Other cultures saw marriage as marrying opposite genders and not opposite sexes.  For example, many Native American groups formed a system where a man who was doing “woman’s work” could marry a man who was doing “man’s work.”  And a woman doing “man’s work” could marry a woman doing “woman’s work.”

Indeed, some cultures today around the world still frown on the idea of love and marriage going together.

The 1950s concept was the husband was the breadwinner while the wife stayed home.  Many people lament that the women are now working and so there’s the nostalgia of going back to what we were.  In reality, the idea of only the husband working was invented in the 1950s.  Along with that, the 1950s saw a new time where everyone should be married and at a younger age.

With that as some surprising facts about marriage, let’s see how it all started:

Invention of Marriage

  • Women would sometimes convince a mate to stay exclusive by offering frequent sex in return for food and protection.  But this was rare.  Thus, many paleontologists reject the idea that early human societies organized around dominant males providing for their family.
    • The idea that prehistoric man only provided for his wife and children was a projection of 1950s norms into the past.  The whole family had to provide for the whole tribe.
  • The idea that prehistoric man coerced woman into marriage is specious.
  • It is very likely that marriage came about as some informal organization about sexual companionship, child rearing, and daily tasks of life.
    • There was nothing inherent in marriage from the very beginning that showed either protection or oppression of woman.
  • Overtime, marriages evolved as a way of consolidating resources, rather than creating a circle of reciprocal obligations and connections.
  • So why did women eventually get low status?
    • Husbands began to demand dowries, thus daughters became devalued.  It sometimes came to the point of female infanticide.  This and the combination of early statehood pushed women downward on the hierarchy scale.

The Ancient World

  • Today, how do heads of state ratify treaties?  Signatures and ceremonial stamps.  How did they do it back then?  Marriage ceremonies.
  • Men, and not women, began to “marrying up.”  Thus, the idea that “some day my princess will come” was the mantra.
  • Usually, it was kings who would marry many women because this would establish a network of alliances with other rulers.
    • But this polygamous lifestyle created many problems of who was going to be next on the throne.  Thus, many wives plotted with sons to murder husbands, rival wives, and rival children.  Fathers would kill their sons in order to elevate sons of another.
  • Thus, marriage was initially all about calculation and practicality rather than individual fulfillment and the pursuit of happiness.
  • Indeed, it was mainly for economic prosperity and social networks.  So, in a way, marriage was like a proto-Facebook.  Marriage was a like a business where one family merges with another where an investment partnership formed.
  • Deciding to marry or divorce wasn’t about love (or the lack of it).  Rather, it had more to do with politics and finances.  Switching a marital partner would be equivalent to switching a phone company.
  • Marcus Porcius Cato (234 – 149 BCE) divorced his wife and arranged fro her to marry his friend, in order to strengthen the friendship and family connections between the two men.
  • In ancient Greece, the idea of honor and temperance had high esteem.  So if a Greek male seduced another man’s wife, the punishment was death.  If a Greek male raped another man’s wife the punishment was a monetary fine.
    • Reasoning?  The rapist didn’t pose a threat to the husband’s household property, whereas the seducer does.
  • Typically, marriage was simply where a man and a woman lived together.  The state had no need to get involved (unless substantial property or political privileges were involved).
  • The idea of a soul mate was ridiculous.  The main purpose for marriage was finding a suitable working partner.
    • Thus, choosing your wife was like choosing your most important employee.
  • In the end, marriages for upper classes were mainly about forming political bonds.  Marriages for lower and middle classes was about economic functions.
  • Plato argues in his republic that the institution of the family should be abolished.
  • Aristotle stated that citizens owed the loyalty to the state, not to themselves or their families.
  • When the Romans talked about “raising a child,” it meant that the father picked up the newborn meaning that the child was allowed to live.  If the father didn’t pick up the newborn, the child was left to die of exposure or else put up for adoption.
    • Ancient Rome became very patriarchal where men were not in families; they ruled over them.  The Christian picked this idea up later on.
    • However, there was no difference between marriage and cohabitation for the Romans.
    • Divorce actually made the husband worse off financially.  However, if a woman committed adultery, divorce was compulsory.
      • From there, the state now had a say in what divorce is all about, and so the husband and people around him, which would eventually become the public, could no longer ignore the private status’ of divorce and marriage.
    • The first man to launch a family values campaign began with Caesar Augustus in order to boost the birthrate.
      • Romans were expected to marry at a certain age, if not they were penalized.

Early Christianity

  • From the get go, Jesus  insists that marriage and family matters are second priority because one needs to prepare the upcoming kingdom of God (Luke: 14:26).
  • Marriage was now undermined because one needed self-control to gain spiritual salvation.
  • Thus, Christianity had a huge contrast with those of the ancient world.
    • For the Hindus, marriage was a holy act and being celebate was considered impious or incomplete.
    • The Jews considered marriage God’s commandment and actually celebrated sex within marriage.
    • For the Christians, marriage is fine but not to be celebrated.
  • Of course, this will get changed later on.

Medieval Europe

  • Marriage was slowly becoming institutionalized monogamous relationship.  However, this did not mean monogamous sexuality.
    • A king could father sons from different mothers.
    • For the nobles, you marry for proprietary concerns, but you have sex with whomever you wanted.  So what we call “cheating,” they called it “love.”
    • These children of mistresses had no legal rights or social standing.  A man’s heir had to come about through marriage.  For a long time, the Church prohibited adoption.
  • In 1139, the Church stated that the clergy had to be celibate.  This was so that priests couldn’t hand down any property to their heirs.  This celibacy had to do with papal politics, not because of any religious precepts.
  • Polygamy was now prohibited.
  • Something interesting happened the 12th century.  Before then, a “true” marriage was where the couple consented to the marriage and engaged in sex.  Thus, if one was married but didn’t engage in sex, it wasn’t really a marriage.
  • Interestingly enough, one could get a divorce if one of the couples didn’t engage in sex.  That’s because it’s wasn’t marriage in the first place.  Peter Lombard, Bishop of Paris, changed that.
    • His argument was that if this was so, then Mary and Joseph weren’t married because they didn’t engage in sex.  Thus, a “true” marriage is defined by the couple expressing consent.  Sex is irrelevant.  This become the official church teaching.
    • This posed problems.  If one person of the couple said that they expressed consent, and the Church believed it, they were indeed married, regardless if they had sex or not.
  • If a woman has sex without being married, she had to pay a fine, and another fine for each child born out of wedlock.
  • Over time, marriage expanded man’s rights, but it restricted woman’s.  She was covered by her husband’s identity and lacked any legal standing of her own.  A law forbade wife beating at 9 PM in London, but only because the noise disturbed people’s sleep.
    • In northern Europe, the rights of wives were becoming more deteriorated.  In Russia and Eastern Europe, a wife could get a divorce if her husband raped her, went heavily into debt, or became a drunkard.  A woman in northern Europe had no such recourse.
  • Marriage was NOT, however, a coming of two people.  It was a coming of two families.  So the parents and friends collaborated to see if a couple should get married.  It was usually based on practical considerations.
  • In many places, one could not gain an apprenticeship unless one was single.  Consequently, people in northwestern Europe married much later in life.  The median age of women getting married in England between 1500 and 1700 was 26.  In America, the median age is much lower.
  • This is because the priority wasn’t to start a family, but it was to save up to start an independent business.  Start a business first, then you can have a family.
  • Still, many people never married at all.

The Modern Period

  • The Protestants proclaimed that the Catholics were wrong: marriage is not some necessary evil or a second-best existence to celibacy.
  • Marriage eventually became an important “career” move.  Men did so because they needed the financial stake of a dowry or they wanted to be seen as a respectable man, and marriage can do that.
  • Love was seen as an inconvenience to marriage.  Remember, marriage was seen as a contract, not a relationship.
  • Wives were taught to ignore their husband’s extramarital adventures.
  • The husband could force the wife to have sex with him, he could beat her, and imprison her in the family home.

The Eighteenth Century

  • By the end of the 1700s, personal choice was slowly entering the arena of potential marriage partners.
    • From there, individuals were encouraged to marry for love, and this tradition still holds currently.
    • Now, marriage can be considered a private relationship rather than a link in a larger alliance of political and economic systems.
    • So a successful marriage wasn’t measured by a big financial settlement procured, or how many children were produced, or how many useful in-laws were acquired, instead it was based on the emotional needs of the individual members of the marriage.
    • How did this come about?
      • First, the wage labor came about which made young people less reliant on their parents for help.  If you need help from you parents financially, chances are you’re not going to get married anytime soon.  A woman could also earn her own dowry.
      • At the same time, apprenticeships slowly went away.  One could get married as soon as they had an income, not when the man learned a new skill.
      • Also, new ideas of rights came through where the pursuit of happiness was a legitimate goal.  Marriage for love instead of wealth or status.
      • Thus, marriage slowly went away from the church or the state and instead became a private matter.
      • Interestingly, many people didn’t adopt to this until the twentieth century.
  • The word spinster now took on a negative connotation.  It originally was an honorific for women who spun yarn.  By the 1700s, it meant that is was a woman who wasn’t married.
  • Now, it’s the wife who is deemed with reverence instead of the single lady.
  • After the American Revolution, New Englanders changed their description of an ideal mate, adding companionship and cooperation.
  • Through the works of Jane Austin and other novels, domestic violence was slowly being rejected.
  • Through the works of Locke, de Condorcet, and Wollstonecraft, they called for complete equality within marriage.
  • There were critiques of this:
    • This would produce too much individualism.
    • If this is going to be based on personal choice, how do we know that young people will choose wisely?
    • From this, preachers condemned this new practice of choosing one’s marriage partner stating that this could lead to idolatry.
  • But it was too late.  By the late 18th century, Sweden, Prussia, France, and Denmark had legalized divorce on the grounds of incompatibility.
  • From there, bastard children went so far to be legitimized.
  • Premarital sex soared in the USA in the two decades after the American Revolution.
  • By 1754, England required a state license for proof of marriage.  This practice still holds around the world.
    • Before that, the Church declared that a marriage was valid if the couple had mutual consent, even if there were no witnesses nor a priest.
    • DID YOU READ THAT?  This is the first time the state got involved in marriages.
  • But husbands still had control over their wives, but it was for the “protection” of the woman.
    • Wives should remain at home, not because men had the right to dominate them, but because a home was a sanctuary for women and she wouldn’t get bogged down with the hustle and bustle of the economic, public, and political life.
    • At the same time, the home became a place where the man could escape the workload as well.
    • The woman is now compassionate and humanitarian.
    • The man is now rational and active.

The Nineteenth Century

  • Believe it or not, the early nineteenth century had higher rates of out-of-wedlock births than the USA and Western Europe were to have at the end of the twentieth!
  • But because the women in this era didn’t have the protection as they do now, what did these women have to do?  Many of them had to turn to prostitution in order to support themselves and their children, or else abandon their children entirely.
  • In the Middle Ages, it was understandable that woman had sexual desire, but in the 19th century, woman’s sexuality was seen as extremely pure.  Thus, woman didn’t have sexual desires at all.  Thus, they wouldn’t feel any sexual urges unless she was drugged or depraved from an early age.
  • Woman has always had this Madonna/whore dichotomy, but the “whore” aspect was just assumed.  But now, the “Madonna” came about and woman was either/or.
    • Because of this, woman were advised to avoid being with men alone, don’t show your legs, don’t walk to close.  The clothing became more and more protective.  By the late nineteenth century, the average weight of a woman’s fashionable outfit was about 37 pounds.
    • A woman who was “frigid” was seen as a virtue.  By the twentieth century, “frigidity” will be seen as a sexual disorder.
  • About 1850, the honeymoon became very popular so that couples could get away from each other.Ironically, the Sunday dinner becomes a cherished family ritual.
    • Private celebrations such as birthdays, christenings, anniversaries are starting.
    • Before this, families hardly came together even around Christmas time.
  • There was one family occasion that slowly became popular and more public: the wedding.  However, this was limited to invited guests.
    • It started when Queen Victoria broke tradition and got married in a white gown.  Slowly, this break became the new tradition.
      • Thousands of middle-class women followed suit.
      • The wedding became the glamorous event of their lives with an elaborate celebration.
  • The word “virtue” in the 18th century meant to a man’s political commitment to his community; in the 19th, it dealt with “private passions.”  Doing well for your family became more important than doing good for society.
  • With the concept of female purity, the woman had more control and could say “no” even though the husband had legal rights over them.
  • In medicine and religion, too much sex could make you a slave to your passions.
    • Sylvester Graham, inventor of the Graham cracker, suggested to have sex only 12 times a year.
  • Birth control and abortion were starting to become common and it was quite respectable.
  • Age of consent rose.  It used to be 10, 11, or 12.  In Delaware, the age of consent was 7!  By the end of the 19th century, the age of consent rose to 16 or 18.
  • If the couple separated, the husband OR wife could get the children as long as she was the innocent partner in the separation.
  • Eventually, women got the right to own property and some income.
  • In 1871, the Massachusetts Supreme Court held that wife beating was wrong.
  • During Victorian Times,
    • People started saying “white meat” or “dark meat” in order to avoid the word “breast” when they were talking about chicken.
    • One could not marry for love.  One first marries, then love follows after that.
      • People don’t fall in love; they tiptoe to it.
    • Over time, love was something that you had no control over.  It’s as if it has a mind of its own.
    • Romantic love, falling in love, wasn’t seen as dangerous, but as some self-fulfillment.
    • Now, for the first time, people were wondering if it possible, or even ethical, to enter into a loveless marriage.
    • At the same time, divorce became easier as well.
      • If love wasn’t present, that could be grounds for divorce.
      • Indeed, married love has some correlation about the rise of divorce rates!
        • SIDE NOTE: So the cause of divorce isn’t the lack of family values or cheap thrills; it’s actually love.
      • In 1891, a Cornell University professor made the prediction that if trends in the second half of the 19th century continued, then by 1980 more marriages would end by divorce than by death.  He was off by only ten years!
    • Because women were seen as the more virtuous of the sexes, perhaps they should be out in the public world to clean up the evils in the streets.
    • What about same sex relationships?  These became more intense and intimate, but not sexual.
      • Women friendships with a person of the same sex were really intense, but common.
      • Say this to a friend: “To see your face again makes me feel hot and feverish.”  Those were common things to say to friends!
      • These friends would carve initials in trees, danced together, kissed, held hands, and even had jealousies.
      • The same could be said about men, but these ended once the men married.
        • But with men, it was more intimate, more physical contact, and emotional intensity than most heterosexual men today would be comfortable with.
        • Sometimes, the men would sleep in the same bed as roommates.
        • This is even expressed in Moby Dick.
        • It wasn’t until then end of the 19th century where these expressions were interpreted as “homosexual” and not until the early 1900s did these women relationships seem off.
    • But as for marriage, the main purpose for women to get married was to survive.  It’s either be poor or be married.
      • More than that, it was be poor, be a prostitute, get support from relatives, or get married.
      • If a women wasn’t married by her 30s, she would generally move in with relatives.
    • The notion of the “bachelor” came out because these men didn’t want to feel constrained and tied town.
    • The “normal” should lack sexual passion.  Having sexual passion was considered a moral vice.  Most women felt guilt or shame if they experienced sexual pleasure.
    • Men also considered it unnatural if the women enjoyed sex “too much.”
    • The laws of patriarchy stayed the same: husbands make the family decisions without consulting their wives up until the 1970s.

The Twentieth Century

If a woman in Western Europe or the USA didn’t get married by her early 20s, chances are she wouldn’t get married at all.  Contrast this to women in 16th and 17th century Europe where they didn’t get married until their 30s or 40s.

  • Sexuality and Marriage in the 1920s
    • Popular culture had sex everywhere.
    • The advertising agencies picked up on this and realized that a woman was posed in a certain position, it would sell their products.
    • Silent movies had sexual innuendo that governments started banning films in 1910.
    • Dance halls and cabarets were everywhere in Europe and the Americas and people wanted to learn the sexual moves of the tango.
    • A new form of courtship came about:
      • The man would be invited to “call” at a woman’s home and the two would develop a relationship on the girl’s front porch, supervised by the girl’s family.
      • Indeed, the word “date” wasn’t used until the 1890s, and it was only a working-class slang.  By 1914, the middle-class started to use it.
      • These dates took place in the public sphere, away from home.  It involved money: you couldn’t sip drinks on mom’s porch anymore, you had to buy Cokes at the restaurant.  It was the boy who payed because the girl was still considered a second-class gender.  The girl couldn’t ask the boy out.
      • Thus, the initiative shifted from the girl and her family to the boy.
    • And then something happened that really got the sexual wheels rolling during the 1920s: the mass production of the car.  One called it “a house of prostitution on wheels.”
      • All of the sudden, you could leave and set up your own private place and then quickly leave.
    • Remember that in Victorian times, marriage without love was unsatisfactory.  By the 1920s, people were saying that bad sex in a marriage was unsatisfactory.
    • People were starting to call for trial marriages.
    • Patriarchy was losing its force.  Unsatisfactory sex could be grounds for divorce.
    • Thus, there was a mini sexual revolution in the 1920s, and this was seen as a route to improve marriages.
      • With trial marriages, one needed to date as many people as possible to explore the depth of possible attractions.
      • Women had to discard the idea of sexual purity because that idea actually lead to the idea of frigidity.
      • If you want to keep a husband, you don’t have “quiet goodness,” you activate sexuality.
      • Psychologists even said that to avoid lesbianism, you should let your daughters experiment with the boys.
    • Priority to your own family instead of your mother and father.  Indeed, psychologists suggested that an heavy attachment to parents is a sign of a serious maladjustment.
    • Slowly, the married children were moving away from their family and starting to live on their own.
    • Victorian times said that one should repress their sexual desires; in the 1920s, repressing your sexual desires were unhealthy, especially for men.
      • However, if a man goes too far, it’s the woman’s fault.
    • The 20th Century is starting to concentrate on the importance of the female orgasm.
    • If a woman could not achieve this, she was consider not “fully adult” in their sexuality.
    • The home had more importance: the woman was encouraged to spend more time shopping and doing laundry.  This was seen as a woman’s self-fulfillment rather than self-sacrifice.  If she didn’t feel any fulfillment, she was suffering from “personal maladjustment.”
    • Slowly, eugenics came onto the scene.
      • California had the most extensive eugenics program in the world before the Nazis came into power.  They performed more sterilizations than all other countries combined.
      • Most of them were men because they couldn’t be the breadwinner of the family.
      • Thee-fourths of the sterilized women were “sex delinquents.”
    • The preacher or the priest wasn’t the first person to go to for family advisers on marriage and family life.  That role went to counselors and psychoanalysts.
    • By the Great Depression, no one had time for sex and love anymore.
  • The 1930s
    • Now people had to survive.
    • The divorce rate fell.
      • Those who wanted to divorce couldn’t afford to live separately.
      • By 1940, more than 1.5 million wives in the USA were living apart from their husbands.
    • Birth control wasn’t seen as female autonomy, but more as a form of population control.
    • Women were starting to pick up jobs that were unthinkable for their sex because of WWII: pipe fitters, mechanics, welders, carpenters, shipfitterrs.  They even earned “men’s wages” for doing so.
      • This helped out many African-American as well: they could now get real jobs instead of menial and domestic work.
      • At first, women saw this as a temporary fix.  Most expected to leave work as soon as the war was over.
      • However, most women started to enjoy their work and wanted to continue working after the war.
      • Thus, WWII left a positive image for women.  At the same time, this brought a renewed enthusiasm for marriage, female homemaking, and the male breadwinner family.
  • The 1940s
    • In 1948, the government changed the federal income tax to favor married couples who had one primary earner.  Married couples could now file jointly and split their income.
    • This allowed the higher earner (usually the male) to attribute half of his income to the wife even if she earned little or nothing, which moved the family into a lower tax bracket.
    • America was now starting to embrace “individual” values not “family” values.
  • The 1950s
    • Women were starting to marry earlier and earlier.  In fact, it reached an all-time low throughout the whole century!  By 1959, almost half of the women were married by age 19, and 70% were married by 24.
    • With the advancement of technology, married couples could celebrate past their 30th wedding anniversary on average.
    • To catch a man, women had to “play dumb”.  This will slowly change over time.
    • Ironically, the more educated the woman was, the more likely she will marry.  Before the 1950s, it was the opposite.
    • Marriage was seen as a “stage” in life that one must go through in order to complete your successful life.  It was expected for you to marry.
    • As opposed to the past (where you married to gain a women who can help around the farm and can produce children, or postponing marriage until one was economically independent, nor was it for some business enterprise, nor was it simply a living arrangement), marriage was now the be-all and end-all of life.
    • If a woman wasn’t married in the 1950s by the age of 21, she could be considered an “old maid.”
    • Men who wanted to remain a bachelor was seen as “narcissistic,” “deviant,” “infantile,” or “pathological.”  Everyone ought to marry.
    • 80% average Americans considered singledom as “sick,” “neurotic,” or “immoral.”
    • A larger proportion agreed that the women should stay home and the man be the breadwinner for the household.
    • By the mid-1950s, nearly 60% of the population had “middle class” income levels.  More and more people could own more things.
      • Purchases of appliances jumped by 240%.
    • Divorce was seen as a failure of individuals rather than of marriage.
    • If women did enter the workforce, she was generally older than 45.
    • Two-thirds of women who started college dropped out, usually to get married.
    • Popular culture encouraged women to not be productive members of society, to stay at home.
    • High school girls initiating dates became unpopular or even sharing expenses.
    • However, it wasn’t all Ozzie and Harriet.
      • About 47% of US married couples described themselves as “very happy.”
    • States still had “head and master” laws where the husband has the final say.  For example, if the family should move or not.
    • Married women still could not take out loans or credit cards in their own names.
    • The pay gap was legal.
    • A man can force his wife to have sex.
    • If the children were born out of wedlock, they would have “illegitimate” stamped on their birth certificate and school records.
    • Men didn’t see their status as a breadwinner, but as a burden because of heavy responsibility for their families.
    • If a woman claimed incest was happening, psychiatrists claimed that it was the woman expressing their own oedipal fantasies.
    • Nonvirgins could not bring a charge of rape in many states.
    • A man raping his wife was absurd.
    • Wife beating wasn’t treated seriously.
    • Slowly, the world was starting to accept monogamy as the norm.
    • Many social scientists were expecting that this would be the culmination of all marriages throughout the world…then came the 60s.
  • The 1960s
    • Women are starting to become more “career-minded.”
    • It took 150 years to establish marriage based on love and the male as the breadwinner.  It took 25 years to dismantle it.
    • People started to marry later.
    • Premarital sex became the norm.
      • Men saw it acceptable; women saw it acceptable but only if one is in love.
      • With the invention of the pill, expectations to get married were disintegrated.
    • Division of labor between the genders fell apart.
    • Mothers had claimed that they wanted a different life for their daughters.
      • Gallup poll showed wives were very satisfied, but only 10% wanted the same life for their daughters.  Mothers wanted their daughters to wait longer for marriage and get an education first.
    • Before Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, many men were finding the idea of a male breadwinner as a trap.  They called it “conformity.”
    • Women were starting to say that marriage was insurance for the worst years of your life.”  If you’re happy, why get married?
    • College-educated wives were more likely to be employed than wives with only a high school degree.
    • If the males could earn enough where the wife could stay home, the wife was more likely to reject full-time homemaking.
    • Marriage was starting to become a private matter, where the government shouldn’t get involved.
      • 1967: Supreme Court ruled that marriage was “one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival.”  Thus, one could marry prisoners, marry people of different races, and one could not fire on the basis that one was married.
      • Gays and lesbians argued for these same rights.  Richard Nixon said that the country isn’t ready for that yet.  Maybe in the year 2000, it will be.
    • Illegitimate children could be taken away for adoption.  Children could not sue on their mothers’ behalf.  Nor could a mother sue for the wrongful death of her nonmarital child.  It wasn’t until 1968 when the Supreme Court extended the 14th Amendment to children of unwed parents.
    • Out of all professions, female attorneys are less likely to marry or have children.  However, the same is true for male attorneys as well.
  • The 1970s
    • Only 25% of Americans believed that single people were “sick, neurotic, or immoral” if they remained single.
    • Women’s wages started to rise.
    • Women’s wages actually helped fight against inflation and the increasing insecurity of traditional “male” jobs.  Thus, most women needed to work to make ends meet.
    • Most families now needed two income earners simply to buy a home in a middle-class neighborhood.
    • Women were less likely to quit their job after giving birth.
    • As more women worked, they started to see their jobs as part of their identity.
      • Many women who worked to help out their husband’s economic downturn reported that their jobs gave them a sense of importance that they had never gotten from full-time homemaking.
    • Male breadwinners had to work longer hours just to get by.
    • More couples described themselves as “very happy” in 1976 than in 1957, but they were much more likely to say there were problems in their marriage than they had been in the 1950s.
    • Divorce rate more than doubled.
    • More women postponed marriage and motherhood.
    • More children were being born out of wedlock.
    • Because of job security, the pill, decent jobs, legal rights, and an education, a divorce was much easier to get.
  • The 1980s
    • By 1980, the divorce rate stood at 50%.
    • Nearly 40% of people were single.
    • Cohabitation increased sevenfold.
      • Couples usually got married if the woman got pregnant.
      • By the 1990s, marriage was no longer seen as the obvious response to pregnancy or childbirth.
    • 30% of mothers were in the workforce.
    • Because of AIDS, committed relationships were becoming trendy again.
    • Men view marriage more highly than in previous decades.
  • The 1990s
    • In the 1960s, one American child in twenty was born to an unmarried women.  By the end of the 1990s, it was one child in three.
    • By 1998, the divorce rate was 26% lower than in the 70s.
    • Birthrates for unmarried women stabilized.
    • Children born outside of marriage were now born to cohabitating couples than to single women.
    • Attitudes toward adultery and promiscuity were starting to be seen as disapproving.
    • Elders joined the trend of cohabiting.
    • 80% children were glad their mothers had worked.
      • Young girls were more likely to say that they appreciated having a working mother as a role model.
    • In the past, it was assumed the wife should take time off after giving birth.  In the 1990s, it was assumed that whoever made the most money should go back to work.
    • More than 50% of mothers are in the workforce.
    • Only 1/3 of wives said they would quit their job if their husband had enough money to provide them both.
    • Women who work have more say in their marriages than those who are full-time housewives.
      • The more the women earns, the more likely she gets help around the house from her husband.
    • More than 40% of child born out of wedlock were planned.
    • Men are now more likely to start romantic relationships rather than sexual exploits.
    • Girls have more influence than boys on the timing of sexual initiation and contraception.
      • This reflects young women having a more sexual independence than ever before.
      • However, oral sex was on the rise because girls delay genital intercourse.
    • The only place that has rolled back in terms of women’s rights is Afghanistan.
    • Men now view marriage as their ideal lifestyle more so than women.

    The Twenty-First Century

    • In 2001, 30% of the working wife earned more than her husband.
    • Stay-at-home dads is small but slowly becoming more acceptable.
      • In 2002, more than 2 million dads are the primary child caretaker.
    • 80% of women considered a man who can talk about his feelings is more important than having a man who makes a good living.
    • Men tend to want mates who are on a similar level of education or earnings potential.
    • Smart women used to be a liability, now it’s a huge asset.
      • Women can now support themselves after a divorce.
      • Women who marry at an older age are less likely to divorce later.  They are more likely to have accumulated economic, emotional, and educational advantages that benefit their children.
      • In 2003, Canada legalized gay and lesbian marriage in two of its popular provinces.  Massachusetts followed suit.
      • In 2004, the APA endorsed same-sex marriage.
      • A child could potentially have five different parents: a sperm donor, an egg donor, a birth mother, the social father, the social mother.
      • Rates of singlehood have been the highest than any other time.
      • Singles are starting to get the same rights as married people.
      • Married people now represent 51% of the USA.
      • Married people are still the majority of home buyers and the workforce, but single people are quickly gaining.
      • Marriage is now considered optional.
        • Back then, it was done as proof that one was a responsible adult.  Now, it’s no longer the case.
      • Japan has the highest percentage of unmarried women between the ages of 20-40.
      • Same-sex marriage was legalized in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Canada.
      • Spain, Iceland, Germany, Hungary, South Africa, Portugal, Taiwan, and Argentina gave same-sex couples many of the same legal rights as married heterosexuals.
      • Americans still marry at a higher rate than any other industrialized nation.
      • Nearly half of America’s major companies in America extend benefits to unmarried partners who live together.
      • In France and Canada, you can choose to extend your resources and caregiving to any other person: your sister, an army buddy, your priest, your housekeeper.  The USA hasn’t extended marriage’s legal benefits that far.
      • Low-income women are more likely to have children out of wedlock than any other group and less likely to marry.
        • This has given the government to create incentives to marry.
        • President G. W. Bush had an earmark of $1.5 billion in federal funds to promote marriage.
        • The more educated one is, the more likely one views cohabitation as acceptable.
        • The less educated one is, the more likely they view marriage as a stable state.
      • The Bible Belt has a higher divorce rate than anywhere else in the country.
      • Low-income women who later get divorced are more likely to end up in poverty.  Marriage can be risky!
      • Most people wait until one is economically ready before they marry.
      • Without an education, one is more likely to get divorced.
      • Women are more eager to get married, but they are also more likely to be discontented once married.
        • Majority of divorced women wanted out of the marriage.
      • Equality is associated with greater marital satisfaction for both genders.
      • Children from divorced families are twice as likely to developed behavioral and emotional problems.
        • However, children are better to be with divorced parents than with parents in a high-conflict marriage.
      • Stay-at-home mothers are generally concentrated in the poorest and richest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder.
      • Couples who adopt a “traditional” division of labor after their first child increases stress.
      • The most dissatisfied wife: those who work but the husband has retired.
      • Cohabitating couples are more likely to experience infidelity or domestic violence.  Note: Coontz states that this may confuse cause and effect.
      • Cohabitation actually increases divorce later on in America and England.  Not so for France or Germany.
      • Cohabitating couples generally divide housework evenly than married couples.
      • A woman who holds on to traditional values is less likely to divorce than a woman who is less traditional.  However, a woman with traditional views has a lower change of getting married in the first place.
        • A woman who slowly gains egalitarian views during her marriage finds her marriage less satisfying over time.
      • For men, the patterns are reversed: men who have traditional views of gender are more likely to marry, but also more likely to end up divorced, than with men who have egalitarian views.  Husbands who gain more egalitarian views over their marriage find the marriage more satisfying over time.
      • Marriage decreases free time for women, but not for men.
      • A man responds positively for a woman’s request for change.  That’s usually a good indicator that the marriage will last.
        • Stonewalling a partner’s request for change poses a big risk for marriage.


      • As of now, the USA is one of the most sexually conservative countries in the industrialized world.
        • In 2002, 42% of Americans said homosexuality was wrong.  Only 16% Italians, 13% French, and 5% Spaniards felt that way.
      • Over time, children born out of wedlock will outnumber children born in wedlock.
      • 50% of children in the USA will spend part of their lives in a household that does not contain both biological parents.
      • Cohabitation and marriage are indistinguishable both legally and socially.
      • Couples may have several children without getting married.  Sweden is already at this stage.  Note: Coontz is skeptical that America is headed this direction because of America’s cultural roots on marriage.  However, the status of marriage has lost its privilege in the legal and cultural position.
      • Gay marriage will be more acceptable and legal.
      • Polygamy will become less so.
      • Overtime, women still say they are “desperate” to find a man, but not so much to marry.
      • Because marriage and love is an evolving institution, we must adjust our personal expectations and social support systems to new realities that come our way.

      As you can see, I loved this book.  I plan on getting Coontz next book about Friedan.  I hope you enjoy it.

      About shaunmiller

      I have just completed a visiting position as an assistant professor at Dalhousie University. My ideas are not associated with my employer; they are expressions of my own thoughts and ideas. Some of them are just musings while others could be serious discussions that could turn into a bigger project. Besides philosophy, I enjoy martial arts (Kuk Sool Won), playing my violin, enjoying coffee around town, and experimenting with new food.
      This entry was posted in Book Review, Culture, Love, Marriage, Monogamy, Relationships, Sexuality, Values and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

      9 Responses to Book Review: Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy or How Love Conquered Marriage by Stephanie Coontz

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