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Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Jane Lewis, The End of Marriage: Individualism and Intimate Relations (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2001)

Useful study of marriage (mostly in the UK) at the turn of the millennium, though I do rather wish it had come out just a little later and included the advent of civil partnership and how that is involved in marriage paradigms. Contests the notion that we are now in an age of selfish individualism and career-driven women, suggesting that connections and relationships remain important, and that broad brush characterisations overlook enormous amounts of complexity (e.g. women who do have a commitment to a career, and women who are economically obliged to work but don't make it their first priority).

However, marriage rates are falling, people are marrying at a later age and not necessarily having children: ' In one generation, the numbers marrying have halved, the numbers divorcing have trebled and the proportion of children born outside marriage has quadrupled.' But, (as in earlier periods) a significant number of those children born outside wedlock are actually being parented within stable cohabiting relationships.

Very helpful general background of statistics,  legal changes, changing attitudes etc framing a small qualitative study of stable married and cohabiting couples with children and why they chose that. Marriage usually the outcome of a cohabiting relationship - time to get married, often associated with desire to begin a family, but couples who do not marry and have children tend to wait until the relationship has reached a certain point of stability. Moving in together and investing in property as a sign of commitment. Extent to which couples' families come to accept them as as good as married. A certain amount of generational shift from outside validation of relationships to an inward individual commitment. What people think is important in relationships and how they balance up perceptions about e.g. unpaid labour within them. Negotation and communication rather than wife 'getting round' husband.

While cohabitees would like some recognition of their status, there's also a resistance to creating actual explicit contracts between the couple.

The ever-persisting class/poverty dimension - single mothers are likely to be poorer, if they cohabit it is often more of a drift than a specific choice, context of lives already somewhat chaotic, but there may be rational choice element in the context of what options are available to them.

Lots of useful points. Though in the light of several articles I've been reading about earlier periods and the ways in which people's lives did not match up to hegemonic contemporary paradigms of marriage , how far is this just certain relationship patterns becoming more visible, and perhaps more openly accepted (rather than the convention of e.g. women changing their names to the man's if they couldn't marry).

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