The Ties That Bind: Perspectives on Marriage and Cohabitation

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The Ties That Bind: Perspectives on Marriage and Cohabitation. Linda J. Waite (Ed.). New York: Aldine de Gruyter. 2000. 404 pp. ISBN 0-202-30635-6. $51.95 cloth, $25.95 paper.

This volume is a consequence of a June 1998 National Institute of Child Health and Human Development-sponsored conference on marriage and cohabitation, and it provides an excellent summary of recent data and current thinking in the area. After a brief overview, three chapters describe trends in marriage and cohabitation in the United States and Europe; three chapters offer contrasting sociological, economic, and evolutionary psychological perspectives on union formation; six chapters examine values, attitudes, and norms about marriage; and six chapters consider issues related to economics, role specialization, and the returns to marriage. The volume is well balanced between sociological and economic approaches, and the authors provide a constructive discussion of alternative views on controversial subjects.

The Perspectives section shows striking disciplinary differences in how unions are viewed. Martin Daly and Margo I. Wilson adopt an evolutionary psychological perspective, though unfortunately a narrow one. For example, they simply assert (p. 97) that "the basic 'economic' motives of human beings exist and assumed their modern forms as means to the end of reproduction." It is disappointing that they ignored the growing number of analyses that have productively united concepts from both the biological and social sciences and applied them to family issues. Robert A. Pollak, after a rather dry treatment of two-sex marriage models, provides an excellent synthesis and critique of Gary Becker's rational actor model. In a later chapter, Robert A. Moffitt gives a particularly lucid discussion and evaluation of Becker's hypotheses when applied to contemporary American data, showing that they do fairly well in explaining behavior for Whites but rather poorly for Blacks. Andrew J. Cherlin notes two major shortcomings of current economic models: They do not explicitly incorporate cohabitation, and they do not explain why more economically successful women have a greater likelihood of marrying than less economically successful women. Cherlin outlines a "New Home Socioeconomics" of union formation, hypothesizing that women use cohabitation to search for men who will share more equitably in housework and child care. …