Historical Perspectives on Marriage
This study of marriage and cohabitation begins with the understanding that the institutions of marriage and family have their roots in the ancient unrecorded histories of numerous cultures and societies. Perhaps the dominant source of family and marriage culture in the United States today lies in the historic patterns of marriage, living arrangements, childbearing, childrearing, and economic production of northwestern Europe. Merging with the family and marriage systems of northwestern Europe were the traditions of Judaism and early Christianity as popularized and evangelized by the Roman Catholic Church. Also relevant were the institutional roots of marriage and family life in the cultures of Greece and Rome. All of these systems blended into an amalgam in northwestern European societies—with considerable variance across these societies—that was ultimately exported when people from this region began migrating to North America in the 1600s. In addition to these influxes from northwestern Europe, America's population grew and changed via forced slave migrations from Africa and later migrations from Asia, Latin America, and eastern and southern Europe. Also, of course, some Americans trace their roots back to the cultures and histories of the native people of America.
This chapter is based on the premise that understanding the forces underlying marriage and cohabitation in the United States today is facilitated by knowledge of the historical roots of family life. Many features of the institutions of marriage and family in America today can be traced