Marriage in Men's Lives

Marriage in Men's Lives

Marriage in Men's Lives

Marriage in Men's Lives


Because men and women live in worlds that are organized around gender, their marriages reflect differing realities. Marriage in Men's Lives focuses on marriage as a system of rules, customs, and expectations, and shows that marriage changes men on basic dimensions of achievement, participation in public and social life, and philanthropy because marriage reinforces such behaviours as part of adult masculinity. Using a huge database of over 6,000 interviews with men the author has studied since 1979, Nock draws some interesting and far-reaching conclusions about the nature of marriage, and predicts that marriage is definitely here to stay.


A marriage is much more than the sum of two spouses. It is also a relationship defined by legal, moral, and conventional assumptions. While one can imagine a variety of close personal affiliations uniting two adults, the variety of marriage affiliations is much narrower because marriage is an institution, culturally patterned and integrated into other basic social institutions, such as education, the economy, and politics. Marriage has rules that originate outside any particular union of two spouses and that establish soft boundaries around the relationship that influence the partners in many ways. The boundaries around marriages are the commonly understood allowable limits of behavior that distinguish marriage from all other kinds of relationships. The social norms that define the institution of marriage identify married spouses in ways that distinguish them from others. Married couples have something that other couples lack: they are heirs to a vast system of understood principles that help organize and sustain their lives.

One explanation for how marriage matters to men is that it provides structure to their lives and organizes their ambitions. This is an old argument, first suggested a century ago by Emile Durkheim, who demonstrated the protective role of marriage in preventing suicide. Durkheim observed that since basic human necessities (food, housing, clothing) are more or less available in all advanced societies, desires among modern humans are focused on well-being, comfort, luxury, and prestige. Sooner or later, however, the appetite for such rewards becomes sated. One of the central problems in modern society, therefore, is establishing legitimate boundaries around such desires. This, Durkheim believed, can be accomplished only by social institutions such as marriage (1951: 247-49).

Durkheim explained the function of marriage for men by noting how unrestrained longings and desires must be checked. Marriage benefits men, Durkheim believed, because, as an organ of society, it restrains their otherwise uncontrollable impulses. Discussing such desires and impulses, Durkheim observed:

By forcing a man to attach himself forever to the same woman, marriage assigns a strictly definite object to the need for love, and closes the horizon. This deter-

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