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The Big Question

Q: Is Marriage Really Dead?

Hopkins sociology professor
Andrew Cherlin
Author of Public and Private Families: An Introduction (second edition, McGraw Hill, 1999). Cherlin's research focuses on the sociology of the family, particularly in the area of divorce and remarriage.
Photo by Mark Lee

A: "Marriage isn't dead, but it's wounded and will need changes in order to heal. It needs some retooling to succeed in an era when women work outside the home and many men want to spend more time with their children.

"A half-century ago, nearly all children were born to married couples. One-quarter of marriages ended in divorce, whereas today one-half are likely to divorce. Living together outside of marriage was practically unheard of except among the poor. In these ways, marriage has been on the decline. Yet marriage is still alive. Almost nine in 10 young people are likely to marry eventually, given current rates. If anything, people seem to place marriage on a higher plane than they used to--they see a successful marriage as a goal to be attained, if possible. They may live with a partner without marrying as a kind of trial marriage, but within a couple of years, most will either marry their partners or break up.

"Until recently, marriages were often based on a bargain in which women agreed to do most of the housework and child care in exchange for men's financial contribution. That bargain is now out-of-date. Young married couples are working out a new bargain, in which both spouses work for pay and both work around the house. The new bargain requires that men do more child care and housework than they typically have done in the past. Studies suggest that men are, indeed, beginning to do more of the work at home, although women still do more than their share. The future of marriage depends on whether this new bargain takes hold. If it doesn't, and women have to do most of the housework and also work for pay, many of them are likely to forgo marriage altogether and opt for single motherhood, with maybe a cohabiting partner from time to time."

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