Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

What Does Your Wife Do? Gender and the Transformation of Family Life

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

What Does Your Wife Do? Gender and the Transformation of Family Life

Article excerpt

What Does Your Wife Do? Gender and the Transformation of Family Life. Leonard Beeghley. Boulder: Westview Press. 1996. 199 pp. ISBN 0-8133-2634-6. $49.95, $15.95 paper.

As a responsible social scientist, Leonard Beeghley makes his values clear when he enters the roiling waters of family change: It is good that women can earn money and seek social equality with men. The book explains how current rates of premarital sex, abortion, divorce, and women's employment affect family life. Although many people see increasing rates of divorce and abortion as signs of social breakdown, Beeghley argues that they are the unintended consequences of structural changes that most people approve of and want and that are seen as progress. He aims to demystify a century of rapid social change by explaining why individuals behave as they do and why aggregate rates of behavior change.

The basic problem, Beeghley thinks, is how to choose policies that reduce the unwanted consequences of change. For premarital sex, neither the urging of abstinence nor the limiting of birth control devices will work. European experience indicates that contraceptive use, access to health clinics, and sex education reduce unwanted births. For abortion, comparative data indicate that U.S. rates would decline were contraception more widely available.

The long-term rise in divorce reflects industrialization, urbanization, increasing participation in the labor force by females, declining fertility, and the rise of feminism. Beeghley is less certain about how to reduce the main negative effect, loss of male earnings in households with children. He suggests that divorce should be more "childcentered": Marriages with children present would be harder to dissolve. …

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