Monday, June 18, 2007

What American Marriage Does

This is the title of the second essay in Kay Hymowitz' Marriage and Caste in America.

The answer is "raise children." The distinctive feature of American marriage, compared to the Old World models against which we revolted, is that couples were much more supported in choosing who they would raise children with. A republic needs civic-minded, self-reliant citizens, and the best nursery for such adults is a strong democratic family. What has changed since the cultural revolution is that children are being driven out of the picture. Marriage has been redefined as being about the happiness of the couple, not the protection of their children.

The good news in Hymowitz' essay is that this redefinition of marriage may not be a permanent change, but is another idiosyncrasy of Baby Boomers. As they age out of childrearing, the generation on the front lines gets to try to restore the main task of marriage to the center of the job description. She cites a Yankelovich survey that found a bare majority of Boomers supported a return to more traditional, child-oriented standards of family life -- whereas nearly three-quarters of Gen Xers do.

It will be a hard slog to restore democratic childrearing as the first job of families. But it will be worth it, because that is what American marriage does.


Carol Howard Merritt said...

I've been thinking about marriage in my generation a lot lately (as an Xer). There are some interesting trends: we marry later (if at all) and we have a lower divorce rate. And, as you note, we raise our kids a bit differently too. My parents are appalled at my attachment parenting practices.

While reading Urban Tribes, Watters notes that gen X has been the victims of "marital carnage." The high divorce rate of our parents makes us think of things differently.

Thanks for the post. I'm glad I found your blog.

Anonymous said...

This is interesting. I have always thought something was wrong with the notion of marriage being primarily about people being happy and expressing their love to the world. That has always rubbed me the wrong way. Happiness and expression are great, but sometimes very difficult to define. When that difficulty hits, look out below!

After spending a number of years working with inner city youth I found a better primary purpose for marriage. You outlined it in this post.