Marriage In America Today is Harder Than In 1850
A psychologist who researched marriage in America has come to the conclusion that marriages today are “harder” than marriages from Americans in the 1850’s, mainly because people expect more. Of course, women also had fewer rights in the 1850’s, which meant that marriage might simply have been an inextricable trap for women and so was “easier” to keep in place. The fact that marriage equated to slavery for women in the 1850’s is lost on most researchers:
Finkel, in an Opinion article in The New York Times summarizing their latest paper on this model, discusses the three distinct models of marriage that relationship psychologists refer to:
- institutional marriage (from the nation’s founding until 1850)
- companionate marriage (from 1851 to 1965)
- self-expressive marriage (from 1965 onward)
Before 1850, people were hardly walking down the aisle for love. In fact, American couples at this time, who wed for food production, shelter, and protection from violence, were satisfied if they felt an emotional connection with their spouse, Finkel wrote. (Of course, old-fashioned, peaceful-seeming marriages may have been especially problematic for women, and there were an “array of cruelties that this kind of marriage could entail,” Rebecca Onion wrote recently in Aeon.)
Terming a form of slavery as “an array of cruelties” downplays the fact that marriage in 1850’s America equated to owning a woman, as it still does in may countries. Owning a woman, of course, lasts longer than allowing a woman to choose her partner continuously. It’s not that marriage has changed because of expectations, but that most people don’t equate marriage anymore with slavery (except Boko Haram and other terrorist groups who use the term “marriage” to distance themselves from taking child sex slaves i.e., there is no such thing as “child marriage,” only child sexual slavery).
Speaking with absolutely no irony, Finkel, the psychologist researching marriage states that marriages where, gasp, both people choose to be together are some of the most fulfilling in history:
These changes to marital expectations have been a mixed bag, Finkel argues.
“As Americans have increasingly looked to their marriage to help them meet idiosyncratic, self-expressive needs, the proportion of marriages that fall short of their expectations has grown, which has increased rates of marital dissatisfaction,” Finkel’s team writes, in their latest paper. On the other hand, “those marriages that succeed in meeting these needs are particularly fulfilling, more so than the best marriages in earlier eras.”
You mean when people actually want to be together and then are together they are happier than those who are together but hate one another? Stunning skills of science strike once again! (Cue the “we’re not worthies…”)
Another researcher has proven that married couples spend less time together than those of the past.
Other researchers, like sociologist Jeffrey Dew, support the notion that time is a crucial factor in sustaining a successful marriage.
Dew, who is a professor at the University of Virginia, found that Americans in 1975 spent, on average, 35 hours a week alone with their spouse while couples in 2003 spent 26 hours together. Child-rearing couples in 1975 spent 13 hours a week together, alone, compared to couples in 2003 who spent 9 hours a week together. The divorce rate in America was 32.8% in 1970 and rose to 49.1% by 2000.
Equating time spent together and the divorce rate is a little bit like saying that the more time you spend around someone you dislike, the more you will learn to like them. There may be a trend that people who aren’t compatible simply choose to spend less time together. Maybe increased social options mean that couples who would divorce anyway choose not to spend time together.
Of course the researchers blame Americans’ “idiosyncratic needs” (nothing like dismissing needs of an entire population) for this trend in making marriages supposedly harder to maintain.
“As Americans have increasingly looked to their marriage to help them meet idiosyncratic, self-expressive needs, the proportion of marriages that fall short of their expectations has grown, which has increased rates of marital dissatisfaction,” Finkel’s team writes, in their latest paper.
That’s it! It has nothing to do with choice and all to do with the fact that we’re all just selfish pricks who would like one another more if we just spend more time together. Hey, so glad science cleared that up for us…