In his new book, The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of
Marriage and the Family in America
Today, just published by Alfred A. Knopf, Andrew
Cherlin suggests that a two-adult household doesn't
always add up to the best situation for the children
Frequent marriage, frequent divorce and an increase in
short-term cohabitating relationships
are creating great turbulence in American family life on a
scale seen nowhere else, he said, and more
thought should be given to the children caught up in the
changes their parents make in the quest for
personally satisfying romantic relationships.
After a divorce or breakup, he said, parents need to
be very cautious about bringing new love
interests into their homes because a transition can be
difficult for children to cope with.
"The merry-go-round property of American families is
more than a statistical curiosity," said
Cherlin, a professor in the Department of Sociology
at Johns Hopkins. "We should be concerned about
it, both as parents and as a nation, because it may
increase children's behavioral and emotional
problems. Simply put, some children seem to have difficulty
adjusting to a series of parents and
parents' partners moving in and out of their home."
Because Americans see marriage as the most prestigious
way to live, it remains the goal for
many people, Cherlin said. But the stable home a single
parent can provide may be more beneficial than
a quick repartnering or remarriage. For instance, if a
mother and her child move in with the mother's
boyfriend, but they break up soon after the move, the child
may be worse off than if her mother had
kept their home life as it was; the same principle applies
to remarriage, he said.
"The well-being of the children of lone parents may be
improved not by urging their parents to
quickly bring a stepparent into the household but rather by
urging them to search longer and more
carefully for a partner, or to remain single if they
choose," Cherlin said.
Cherlin's research found that whether an American
parent is married, cohabitating or raising
children without a partner, that parent is more likely to
change living arrangements in the near future
than parents in the rest of the Western world. Instead of
encouraging people with children to marry,
we should make stable families a policy priority regardless
of how many parents are present in the
home, Cherlin said.
"To the current chorus of 'Get married,' I would sound
a counterpoint: 'Slow down,'" Cherlin said.
"If you are a lone parent, take your time finding a new
live-in partner. See the traffic light of
singlehood as yellow rather than green. Don't move in with
someone, and don't remarry, until you are
sure the relationship will be a lasting one that will
benefit your children."
The impact of family flux on the lives of children is
one of several topics Andrew Cherlin
discusses in The Marriage-Go-Round. The book also
includes the history of American marriage dating
back to Colonial times, the rise of the companionate
marriage as the American ideal and how the
changing world economy is affecting the marriageability of
American men and women.