Academic journal article Demographic Research

Attitudes on Marriage and New Relationships: Cross-National Evidence on the Deinstitutionalization of Marriage

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Attitudes on Marriage and New Relationships: Cross-National Evidence on the Deinstitutionalization of Marriage

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

While they are not without precedent, a host of 'new' relationships offer couples options for achieving sexual and emotional intimacy outside heterosexual marriage. From same-sex couples to unmarried cohabiters to committed partners who live apart, these forms of dyadic relationships have invited inevitable comparisons to heterosexual marriages. Researchers studying cohabitation, for example, have asked whether the arrangement is a genuine, long-term substitute for marriage or simply a new courtship stage on the path to the altar (Heuveline and Timberlake 2004; Raymo, Iwasawa, and Bumpass 2009; Smock 2000). Unmarried cohabiters have often been compared to their married counterparts. Studies report that cohabiters are characterized by lower relationship quality (Skinner et al. 2002), equivalent domestic outsourcing expenditures (Treas and de Ruijter 2008), similar economic benefits (Light 2004), comparable health and well-being (Soons and Kalmijn 2009; Wu et al. 2003), higher sexual frequency (Forste and Tanfer 1996; Yabiku and Gager 2009), and higher risk of relationship dissolution (Hohmann-Marriott 2006; Poortman and Lyngstad 2007). Same-sex couples have been measured against heterosexual marriages on children's academic success (Rosenfeld 2010), the division of housework (Solomon, Rothblum, and Balsam 2005), and relationship outcomes (Kurdek 1998).

If 'new relationships' are benchmarked against marriage, marriage has also been judged in the context of other relationship options. According to Cherlin (2004:888), the growing acceptance of relationship alternatives is one indicator that marriage is undergoing a "deinstitutionalization", described as "a weakening of the social norms that define partners' behavior." This theme is also seen in the Second Demographic Transition's emphasis on individualism (Lesthaeghe and Surkyn 1988), the post- material valuation of self-actualization over conformity (Inglehart 1997), the second modernity's "institutionalization of individualization" and "normalization of diversity" (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 2004), and the insistence in "pure relationships" on satisfying emotional needs (Giddens 1992). Whether contemporary marriage is viewed as a casualty of social changes or a resilient institution evolving with the times, the study of relationships cannot ignore questions about the ways in which marriage itself is changing.

To understand marital change we evaluate shifts over time in attitudes toward marriage and its alternatives in 21 countries. We situate this analysis in the theoretical framework of the deinstitutionalization marriage (Cherlin 2004), distinguishing empirically between two conceptions of deinstitutionalization. Framing marriage as a hegemonic ideal, the first conception assumes that deviations from the conventional model of marriage, such as acceptance of non-marital cohabitation, are evidence of the deinstitutionalization of marriage. The second definition describes the marriage institution as a set of rules governing the behavior of spouses and rejects the notion that it makes sense to evaluate marriage in terms of other relationship options (Lauer and Yodanis 2010). This perspective views deinstitutionalization more narrowly in terms of changes in the core normative expectations held for married people.

This paper expands on previous research to make two important contributions. First, building on these conceptual distinctions in the definition of the marital institution, this analysis is the first to marshal a wide battery of attitude items to gauge whether the deinstitutionalization-of-marriage thesis is supported by changes in attitudes toward both marital and non-marital behavior. Second, moving beyond single- country studies, our cross-national analysis considers whether the changes in attitudes about marriage and relationship alternatives indicate that the deinstitutionalization of marriage is broadly characteristic of advanced industrial societies. …

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