[Marxism] Colloquy with Stephanie Coontz on marriage (lengthy!)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri May 6 08:11:21 MDT 2005

The Chronicle of Higher Education

The Fragility of Marriage
Thursday, May 5, at 1:30 p.m., U.S. Eastern time

The topic

Although much has been made in the last couple of decades about the decline 
of the traditional family, the historian Stephanie Coontz writes, in this 
week's issue of The Chronicle Review, that nonmarital sex, out-of-wedlock 
births, divorce, and even same-sex marriage are nothing new.

"But when it comes to the overall place of marriage in society and the 
relationship between husbands and wives," she says, "nothing in the past is 
anything like what we have today, even if it may look similar at first 
glance." When marriage started to be based more on love than on economic or 
political expediency, it became more optional, more fragile, and -- to the 
dismay of some and the indifference of others -- less predictably linked to 
child rearing than in the past.

We "can never reinstate marriage as the primary source of commitment and 
caregiving in the modern world," writes Ms. Coontz. But was something lost 
when marriages became increasingly based on love? How can we adjust our 
personal expectations and social-support systems to account for the new 
reality? Should employers and political leaders develop policies to support 
marriage, and what are the implications of such policies for other 
committed relationships?

   » The New Fragility of Marriage, for Better or for Worse (5/6/2005)

The guest

Stephanie Coontz teaches history and family studies at Evergreen State 
College and is director of research and public education for the nonprofit 
Council on Contemporary Families. She is the author, most recently, of 
Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered 
Marriage, published this month by Viking.

A transcript of the chat follows.
Karen Winkler (Moderator):
     Hello and welcome to our live chat with Stephanie Coontz. I'm Karen 
Winkler, a senior editor of The Chronicle Review. In her essay in this 
week's Review, Professor Coontz writes that many of the very changes in 
marriage that we have come to prize (for example, our current emphasis on 
marrying for love and companionship) have made it increasingly fragile. 
Today, we'll talk about that history -- and its implications. Stephanie, 
thanks for joining us.

Stephanie Coontz:
     I'm very happy to be here, and I thank The Chronicle for giving me the 
chance to exchange ideas with interested readers. For the last 15 years, 
we've been debating whether the changes in family forms, gender roles, and 
marital values are good or bad, and which ones we want to keep. What I try 
to do in my book is show that the very things we like most about modern 
marriage stem from the same historical forces that have made marriage more 
optional and more brittle. Unfortunately, we can't cherry pick through 
history, deciding which parts of historical change we'll accept and which 
we'll toss. It is time to recognize that most of the changes in marriage 
stem from massive, worldwide, and largely irreversible changes in gender 
roles and family life. There is no way that we can once more make marriage 
the exclusive way of organizing young people's introduction to sex and 
their transitions to adulthood, coordinating the division of labor between 
men and women. or channeling all caregiving to young and old. But we do 
have choices about how to deal with the challenges these changes pose, and 
I hope we can turn to a more productive discussion of those choices.

Question from Sue Greer-Pitt, SKCTC:
     Divorce has been declining steadily for the past 25 years, according 
to the National Vital Statistics Reports 

Given that, why do you think it is that mass media, politicians, and even 
many social scientists all seem to act as if we're still facing the 
dramatically increasing rates of divorce of the 1970's??

Stephanie Coontz:
     As you point out, the divorce rate has come down by about 26 percent 
since 1981. But it remains at pretty near world historic highs, and the 
rates of non-marriage and cohabitation continue to rise. During the 1990s, 
the number of female-headed families with children rose five times faster 
than the number of married couples with children. So of course people have 
some reason to be concerned about what this means for the future of family 
life and childrearing. I think an equally interesting question is why the 
mass media and politicians continue to predict total catastrophe from these 
trends, when in fact the 1990s saw a huge drop in teen violence, pregnancy, 
and other social indicators of stress. When we put our two questions 
together, the answer may be that politicians and the mass media somehow 
think that if they keep telling us how badly we are doing, Americans will 
come to their senses and start flocking back to marriage. I try to show in 
this book that even if we brought the divorce rate down further, we'd not 
be able to restore the former dominance of marriage in organizing personal 
and social life. That poses real challenges, but fortunately, as 1990s 
social trends indicate, it's not necessarily a sentence of doom.

Karen Winkler (Moderator):
     Stephanie: There's a related question.

Question from Susan Ardis, University of Texas:
     It is often stated that 50% of all marriages end in divorce. How can 
this be true--marriage is a continuum and divorce is a single act. All 
marriages end in one of two ways--divorce or death. Some people could have 
more than 2 marriages that end in death. Here's my question--maybe how can 
we strengthen something without knowing how long the average marriage lasts?

Stephanie Coontz:
     The 50 percent estimate relies on studies that show that of all the 
marriages contracted in such and such a year, a percentage have ended in 
divorce within a certain time frame. There is some controversy over these 
projections, but almost half of all marriages contracted in the late 1970s 
have ended in divorce by now, hence the figures. The divorce rate has 
fallen slightly since 1981, to the point that many demographers estimate 
that about 40 percent of marriages will end in divorce. But this is 
complicated by all sorts of factors, including the fact that the marriages 
of more highly educated Americans have been getting more stable over the 
past 15 years, while the marriages of less-educated couples have been 
getting less stable.

What psychologists and sociologists are trying to do is to figure out ways 
to help couples resolve their differences and learn how to avoid divorce. I 
think everyone is in favor of this. Political differences arise over the 
question of whether you think it's possible to get enough people married 
and to keep enough of them married so that you can construct social 
policies that favor married-couple families and can avoid having to deal 
with alternative kinds of families. My reading of history suggests that 
this is impossible, so I propose that we don't put all our eggs into one 
basket. We have to plan for how to help many different kinds of families 

Question from Steve Cohen, Barry University:
     As marriage increasingly involves two incomes, two 
occupations/professions, two mindsets, how have children been affected?

Stephanie Coontz:
     I like the way you phrase the question. Dual-provider marriages are 
nothing new. Indeed, they were the norm throughout most of history. But 
usually couples worked at the same job, so they were held together, not 
just by similar mindsets and experiences but by practical necessity. Even 
if you were really, truly miserable you might not be able to divide the job 
up, so you stayed together. ANd of course, through much of history, 
husbands and fathers had the final say, and the right to enforce it by 
violence if necessary, so there was't much to negotiate. Today, people 
marry at an older age and they bring different experiences and mindsets to 
marriage, along with independent earning power. This means that there is 
much more to negotiate, and if negotiations break down, the marriage can 
fail. All this has mixed effect on kids. If parents are not too stressed by 
their work schedules and have decent child care, kids can really benefit 
from seeing both their mothers and fathers perform a variety of roles at 
home and work, and sociologist Kathleen Gerson found that the majority of 
kids she interviewed said they benefited from growing up in two-earner 
households. Watching your parents negotiate things, instead of one 
dictating and the other submitting, helps boys become more empathetic and 
girls become more self-confident. But of course, when parents do get 
stressed and handle their conflicts in unhealthy ways, that poses lots of 
risks. I'm not a psychologist, but in my work with the Council on 
Contemporary Families I get to see a lot of the recent psychological and 
sociological studies, and the basic message I've taken away from them is 
that there are few one-size-fits-all generalizations you can make about 
marriage dynamics and family forms today. But the good news that so many 
media ignore is that we knoe a heck of a lot about how to make every 
marital (and most non-marital) arrangements function better, for adults and 
kids alike. If we'd spend more time publicizing that research rather than 
wringing our hands about things we have little power to change anyway, we'd 
be a lot better off.

Question from Ana, from online university:
     Read your article in Chronicle this week, but it didn't address things 
like infidelity as a result of people staying married in the past, due to 
agendas that did not involve happiness and personal satisfaction. So, if 
people were happy enough because other goals were being met via the 
marriage, how did they satisfy the goal of personal fulfillment, and didn't 
infidelity factor in and cause marital unhappiness?

Stephanie Coontz:
     One of the things that surprises many people about the history of 
marriage is that adultery was much more common in many historical time 
periods than it is today. In medieval courtly love, adultery was actually 
idealized as the highest from of love, on the grounds that because marriage 
was made for practical reasons, true love could only exist outside 
marriage. For most of European history,attitudes were more disapproving in 
theory, but in practice women were just expected to tolerate infidelity. In 
researching this book I was surprised at how often, when a woman did depart 
from convention and complain about her husband's behavior, her own 
relatives tried to shut her up, or even apologized to the male for her 
unseemly behavior.

Question from Jennifer K. Ruark, The Chronicle of Higher Education:
     Just to play devil's advocate: If marriage is no longer the primary 
source of commitment and caregiving, and never will regain that status, why 
should policymakers support subsidized parental leaves, flexible work 
schedules, and other pro-family policies?

Stephanie Coontz:
     This brings me to the question of why we should subsidize family 
leaves if marriage is no longer the primary source of commitment. For me, 
this is precisely WHY we should subsidize such pro-family policies, 
especially ones that make it easier to raise kids. The time is long past 
when we could assume (to the extent that we ever could) that most kids will 
be taken care of through their parents' marriage, that all workers have 
wives to take care of the children while they are at work, and that every 
woman and child can get health care just by marrying an employed man.

Question from Leslie Tuttle, University of Kansas:
     Your article mentions that state and church sanctioning of the 
marriage relationship is a relatively recent historical phenomenon. My 
question is about the relationship between state and church sanctioning. 
Would you discuss your interpretation of how these two modes of sanctioning 
-- each presumably having different interests in regulating marriage -- 
came to be intertwined and what the consequences of that have been?

Stephanie Coontz:
     That's a great question but also a really complicated one. In Europe 
the tradition was that if a man and woman acted as if they were married, 
then they were. Parents often conducted the ceremony, perhaps asking the 
priest's blessing as an after thought. The Church gradually attempted to 
wrest control from the powerful noble families, setting up its own rules 
for when people could marry or divorce. At the same time, the Church 
defended the doctrine of present consent, according to which is a man and 
women said to each other "I take thee" for my wife or husband, they were 
married, whether or not they'd ever had sex, whether or not they had 
anyone's permission. (If they used the future tense, "I will take you," 
then they were only married if they had also slept together." As nation 
states got more powerful, they began to contest with the Church over who 
had the right to say a marrige was valid. Protestants were tougher in 
supporting parental rights than the Catholics, often invalidating marriages 
made without parental consent. They also made stronger efforts to prevent 
pauper from marrying. It would take longer than I have here to trace how 
those fights played out, including the gradual development in the 20th 
century of the notion that people had a right to marry, and the state had 
to have compelling grounds for denying that.

Question from Michael Greisman, The Chronicle:
     How has the transformation of marriage's focus from property to love 
affected property ownership? It seems to me that an unmarried couple buying 
a house needs something a married couples doesn't-- a detailed contract.

Stephanie Coontz:
     When we think about how the rise of cohabitation affects property, we 
should remember that for thousands of years, husbands and wives did not 
really have joint property rights. Until the mid-19th century, any property 
a woman inherited or earned in marriage belonged to her husband. And most 
people don't realize how long such "coverture" laws lasted. In many states, 
right up until the 1970s, the man had the final say over where they lived 
and whether they disposed on assets. In some states, the husband but not 
the wife owned all rights to rental income for rooms in their house, or the 
husband but not the wife could sue for damages if their child was killed. 
There was a Supreme Court case in the 1950s that said even if a man was 
relatively affluent, he didn't have to install running water in the kitchen 
if he didn't want to and his wife could not sue to get part of the property 
diverted to that use.

But you're right, just as married couples have gotten more joint rights, 
there is a wave of unmarried persons entering into interdependent or 
co-owner relations that are not governed by marriage law. That's one reason 
a major trend in law is to apply some of the same principles of marriage 
law to unmarried couples when they part, forcing them to divide assets or 
settle custody disputes much as married couples today need to do.

Karen Winkler (Moderator):
     We have about 30 minutes to go. Keep your questions coming.

Question from Oliver Wang @ UC Berkeley:
     Why do you think there is so much handwringing over marriage at this 
point? Why is the Religious Right making this their flagship issue to defend?

Stephanie Coontz:
     Well, I think several things converge here. It's certainly 
understandable why people would worry about the future of children and 
commitments as marriage, which supposedly organized commitments and 
protected children for so long, becomes more optional and more vrittle. And 
religious conservatives are also more likely to subscribe to the supposedly 
"traditional" gender roles of male breadwinning and female homemaking. The 
democratization of marriage and the availability of divorce destabilize 
those roles, and in fact female homemakers are the women who fare worst 
when a long-time marriage ends. Another part of the problem is that we have 
developed such polarized values about marriage vs other commitments. I show 
in the book that loyalty, altruism, and caregiving were once thought to be 
necessary in many different interpersonal relationships, and they gradually 
got all loaded onto marriage, and displaced from other arenas of life. The 
logical thing, I'd think, would be to extend the norms more widely -- to 
expect that people keep commitments they incur even outside of marriage -- 
but for some people marriage is the one relationship that counterbalances 
the free for all they see, and even accept, in other areas, such as the 
economy. So having strict rules about marriage is the flip side of 
endorsing unfettered individual initiative everyehre else. Finally, there 
are some conservatives, such as those in the Heritage Foundation and 
American Enterprise Institute, who see marriage as a substitute for 
investment in social welfare policies. Get poor women married off, they 
argue, and we won't need to invest in training or educating welfare recipients.

Question from Karen Winkler:
     What do you think can be done to shore up the fragile state that you 
describe - by individuals or by policy makers?

Stephanie Coontz:
     I think there are real limits to how much we can do to shore up 
marriage. Clearly, we can and should remove disincentives to marriage in 
public policy, and there is fabulous new work being done by some 
psychologists and sociologists on how to handle conflict and improve 
marital quality in a world where women are no longer forced to accede to 
their husbands' wishes. But I don't think we could reverse the optionality 
-- I just made the word up, I fear -- of marriage without hurting some of 
the gains we have made. So I favor policies that help strengthen healthy 
relationships. Healthy relationships will often lead to marriage, but even 
if they don't, they will lead to better outcomes for children and less 
interpersonal conflict.

Question from Liz McMillen, The Chronicle:
     In your article, you say that the revolution in marriage has 
"liberated some people from restrictive, inherited roles in society, while 
stripping others of traditional support systems and rules of behavior 
without establishing new ones." Can you comment on the rise of gay marriage 
in this context?

Stephanie Coontz:
     It was, of course, the changes in heterosexual marriage that paved the 
way for the demands for gay and lesbian marriage. As marriage became less 
about property, inheritance, and legitimation and more about a gratifying 
personal relationship, and especially as marriage ceased to be organized 
around rigid gender rules about what husbands and wives could or could not 
do, gays and lesbians began to say that if marriage was about love and 
fidelity, they should be entitled to it to.

I meant this statement to apply specifically to the way that heterosexuals 
have had to struggle to come up with new norms of behavior now that divorce 
and cohabitation are common, but of course, the reverse is also true for 
gays and lesbians. As their partnerships have become more open, and 
especially as more gay and lesbian partners are raising children, many of 
them are asking to be subject to the same rules and support systems as 
married heterosexuals.

Question from Wade Luquet, Gwynedd-Mercy College:
     In 1972, the sociologis Jessie Bernard wrote in The Future of 
Marriage, "Not only does marriage have a future, it has many futures". P 
270 "It is fallacious, then, to even speak of 'the future of marriage'. We 
should rather speak of 'marriage in the future'." P.271. Has her prediction 
come true? Do we now have many marriages and many family types? Do you 
forsee more changes and variety ahead? Thank you.

Stephanie Coontz:
     Yes, I think she was right. Male breadwinner marriages are not going 
to disappear. Dual-earner families are even more common, but they are 
dividing into many different forms and arrangements. And increasingly, 
people who live together are gaining many of the rights and 
responsibilities of marriage. I think this diversity is here to stay.

Question from Karen Winkler:
     You say in your book that the changes you describe are occuring in 
many places besides the United States. Certainly we hear many comments at 
home today about particular threats to marriage here. Do you think we face 
any special challenges?

Stephanie Coontz:
     Ironically, many of the special challenges we face in the United 
States come because we hang on to a type of rigid morality that prevents us 
from meeting new challenges. For example, America is much more disapproving 
of teen sex than Germany, but we have much higher rates of teen pregnancy, 
partly because we're in denial about the fact that with the age of marriage 
at an all-time high, most young people, whether we like it or not, will 
have sex before marriage. Recently, there was a big campaign to get teens 
to pledge to remain virgins until marriage. Now a new study shows that 88% 
of them broke their pledge. And although they tended to start sex a little 
later than the teens who didn't pledge, before initiating sex, they were 
more likely than non-pledging teens to engage in risky practices such as 
oral and anal sex, to preserve their technical virginity, and much less 
likely to use contraception once they did start engaging in sex.

Here's another example. We romanticize marriage and value it more highly 
than Scandinavia, and more people marry. But kids in Scandinavia, on 
average, actually live longer with both parents than kids in America

Question from Steve Cohen, Miami:
     Is there a dark side of divorce.... unintended negative effects on 
society, children, etc?

Stephanie Coontz:
     Oh, for sure. But most sociologists see divorce as a process, not a 
single event. Sometimes the negative outcomes you see in kids of divorce 
were created by a bad marriage, not by the divorce. Sometimes divorce 
worsens things; sometimes it makes things better. There've been trade-offs. 
Two researchers recently found that the suicide rates of women fell by 20 
percent in each state that adopted no-fault divorce, within the next five 
years. But it's true that many divorces have made things worse for other 
women. I reviewed a lot of the sociological studies for this book, and 
while it's preferable to salvage a healthy marriage whenever possible, it 
is clearly not in the interests of kids to keep parents in an unhealthy one.

Question from Michelle, Wellesley:
     Marriage promotion has a good deal of traction among policy 
makers--especially as it relates to low-income women receiving TANF and in 
the context of fatherhood efforts. Given your research, why do you believe 
many policy makers are holding on to marriage promotion like a dog to a 
bone? How can policy makers be convinced to develop other, broader 
options--especially since marriage is not necessarily a panacea for poverty?

Stephanie Coontz:
     If I had the answer to that question, I'd be very happy. There's a lot 
of wishful thinking going on in the marriage promotion movement. I show in 
the book the research suggesting that marriage promotion is not going to 
raise marriage rates among the poor substantially, so it's better to invest 
in what we know are anti-poverty measure -- education, job training, 
reliable child care. And there'a slo interesting research that shows that a 
poor single mother who marries and later divorces is actually worse off 
than one who remains single. So we have to figure out how to get policy 
makers to be more realistic on this question, and I'd love to hear other 
people's ideas about how to do this.

Question from Jennifer K. Ruark:
     As women become more economically independent and cultural 
expectations of men become (at least slightly) less rigid, can you imagine 
a future in which the predominate family form might be female 

Stephanie Coontz:
     I doubt that the majority of families will ever be comprised of 
working mothers and househusbands, but I think we will surely see more such 
arrangements, at least temporary ones, now that many women earn more than 
their husbands and couples feel less bound by rigid stereotypes. There is 
certainly greater tolerance than in the past for couples rearranging 
married life to meet their own personal needs, but employers still penalize 
employees, and especially men, who try to take advantage of benefits such 
as parental leave.

Question from T.A.G.,ITS:
     Most girls are brought up with the illusion that marriage is a fairy 
tale and things are perfect. Where as boys are taught that with less 
emotion makes for a stronger man. With these ideas now wonder why marriages 
do not last along with how effortless it is to runaway and back out of 
marriage that is meant to last forever.

In your opinion what do you think is necessary to change the mindset of the 
younger generation and open their minds to realizing that marriage is not 
100% perfect and it does take work to make it last?

Do you believe that if divorce was harder to obtain couples may fight 
harder for their marriages to work?

Stephanie Coontz:
     I agree that pop culture encourages us to fantasize about marriage as 
the happy ending of alove instead of the beginning of a deepening 
relationship. And I think many young people recognize that. That's often 
why they delay marriage. The divorce rate has actually fallen since the 
late 1970s and early 1980s, partly because people are taking the work of 
marriage more seriously and partly, I think, because men have begun to 
adjust to the new work roles of women. Egalitarian ideas now predict higher 
marital quality.

But I don't think, and I explain why in the book, that making divorce 
harder would solve our problems. Interesting, in Japan and Italy, where 
divorce is hard to get, fewer people are marrying at all than here in America

Question from stephen wright, UC Davis:
     building on a previous question/response, would you speculate that as 
the diversity of living arrangements continues in the future, the roles of 
both the state and the church in legalizing and otherwise legitimizing such 
arrangements will diminish? if so, would you speculate how these 
diminishing roles will play forward ?

thank you

Stephanie Coontz:
     Yes, I think that is right. I think that the state will probably pay 
more attention to the fact of a relationship rather than its form or legal 
status. Many people blame activist judges for granting marriage-like rights 
to unmarried couples, both heterosexual and same sex, but judges are just 
responding to reality. When people live together outside of marriage they 
still incur commitments and entanglements that need regulation if they part.

I think churches will still have an important role in the marriages of 
their followers, but much less than in the past in the marriages of people 
who are not members.

Question from Michael Greisman, The Chronicle of Higher Education:
     Some science fiction stories, such as many by Larry Niven or Robert 
Heinlein, described 'marriage contracts' that bound people together for a 
limited amount of time and for specific purposes (to have children, to 
share wealth, and/or to share work). Is there currently any (real) place 
that practices that sort of contractual marriage?

Stephanie Coontz:
     I don't know of any place that practices this, but some cohabiting 
couples -- both heterosexual and gay and lesbian -- and a few married 
couples I have met in my travels, have begun to draw up agreements that 
anticipate they may part ways. Their hope is to agree on guidelines if they 
part, in an attempt to avoid bitter and destructive battles.

Question from Harald E.L. Prins, Anthropology, Kansas State University:
     Considering how you framed this discussion (using key words such as 
"the norm" and "traditional" marriage) we may ask which specific culture(s) 
are we talking about here? Or should we simply assume that it is about 
marriage as it has long existed in many European societies? Trying to avoid 
being ethnocentric in our definitions, my co-authors and I have recently 
introduced a new anthropological concept of marriage in our current edition 
of an introduction to anthropology textbook. Titled Cultural Anthropology: 
The Human Challenge, (Wadsworth 2005), we have tried to define marriage in 
a way that has comparative historical and cross-cultural significance: "a 
culturally sanctioned union between two or more people that establishes 
certain rights and obligations between the people, between them and their 
children, and between them and their in-laws. Such marriage rights and 
obligations most often include, but are not limited to, sex, labor, 
property, child rearing, exchange and status. Thus defined, marriage is 
universal" (Haviland, Prins, Walrath & McBride, 2005: 213). It may be of 
interest in this context that although I teach at a large public university 
here in the conservative heartland of the US (and well within the 
boundaries of an ever-expanding bible belt), I have found that our students 
have had no problem with this new definition at all. Indeed, considering 
this broadened definition, there is much less reason for panick, 
politically fabricated or not.

Stephanie Coontz:
     I am glad you remind us that this discussion has so far been limited 
to Western European and North American traditions. I devote two chapters of 
my book to cross-cultural variations in marriage norms and values. I agree 
that it is a well-nigh universal institution (with the possible exception 
of the Na), but that its forms and functions vary immensely. Researching 
that variability, including reading work that you have done, was one of the 
most fun parts of writing this book

Question from Oliver Wang @ UC Berkeley:
     One of the objections to gay marriage from WITHIN the queer community 
is that it's not an institution worth even supporting to begin with. I know 
many straight couples who feel similarly. Given, as you write, the increase 
in committed (but non-marriage) relationships, is there any *inherent* 
worth to the idea of marriage as it's come to be understood in contemporary 

Stephanie Coontz:
     As I researched the origins and history of marriage, I began to get 
past the debates about marriage that raged in the 1970s. I concluded that 
the institution was not really about either protecting women or exploiting 
them, but was about acquiring in-laws -- turning strangers into relatives, 
using marriage partners as "peace-weavers." In some settings, that function 
of marriage served to circulate goods and people more widely. In others, it 
served to exlude people. I now believe that marriage is neither inherently 
oppressive not inherently protective. For many people, though, it still 
represents the highest expression of commitment they can imagine making, 
and I have come to respect that immensely, while holding no illusions that 
marriage magically makes people live up to good intentions.

Question from MB, GMU:
     I'd be interested in your thoughts about how this "new fragility" of 
marriage will impact African Americans and their families in particular 
given their unique family trajectory and history (i.e., slavery/no legal 
standing to marry for hundreds of years, persistent employment/wage 
discrimination, etc).

Stephanie Coontz:
     The retreat from marriage has been particularly marked among 
AFrican-Americans, partly because of intense economic insecurity and racial 
bias in sentencing. Take a look at the new work by Kthy Edin on why 
impoverished couples don't marry, for exampe. We don't want to romanticize 
the alternative arrangements that have arisen as African-Americans have 
coped with persistent economic and cultural disadvantage, but on the other 
hand, we should recognize the long tradition in the A-A community of using 
a variety of family arrangements other than legal marriage to ensure mutual 
support and caregiving. Ron Mincy's work shows, for example, that black 
single fathers are much more likely to be involved in their children's 
lives than white single fathers.

Question from Molly Farrell, Washington D.C.:
     Given that before the industrial revolution, the home was a center of 
economic and agricultural production, are we really in that much of a 
different position today when women are back at work, instead of being 
confined to solely caretaking roles? Isn't there benefit in drawing 
parallels with roles for working women in history as we make the transition 
from breadwinning in the home versus breadwinning outside of it?

Stephanie Coontz:
     Yes, I completely agree. Dual-earner marriages are the historical 
norm. The male breadwinner marriage was the most non-traditional marriage 
ever, and had a short historical moment of dominance. However, one thing 
that's changed is that through most of history, women didn't have the right 
to control income or resources they produced, and they had to bow to their 
husbands' will. Now that men and women have much greater economic and legal 
parity, we are finding that marriages have to work differently, to be 
successful, than they ever did before. But that's a good kind of challenge, 
I think.

Karen Winkler (Moderator):
     I'm afraid that's all we the questions we have time for. I'm sorry we 
couldn't use all of them. Stephanie, thank you for joining us.

Stephanie Coontz:
     I've really enjoyed this dialogue and want to thank The Chronicle for 
making it happen, and the people who have written in about the issue. One 
of the things that really stood out in doing this research is how fast the 
field of marital history, sociology, and psychology is changing. 
Generalizations that were once true have been totally reversed. For 
example, highly-educated women used to be the least likely to marry. Now 
they are the most likely to do so. We are all scrambling to catch up with 
the rules and to adjust our own marriages -- or our single lives -- to this 
revolution. This is not the time when we should be scapegoating people for 
not "doing" marriage they way we were brought up to think it should be 
done. It's a time for all of us to learn together across our differences.



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