Marriage and the Middle Class

Labor's Love Lost - The Rise and Fall of the Working-Class Family in America Andrew J. CherlinRussell Sage, 2014; 272 pages, $35.00 Andrew J. Cherlin, the Benjamin H. Griswold III Professor of Sociology and Public Policy at Johns Hopkins University, has spent a career studying marriage and family in the United States. His work focuses on changes in the patterns of marriage and family formation. In his newest book, he brings his focus to the history of the working-class family and the monumental transformations that have occurred in the past several decades. And according to Cherlin, the working-class family in 2014 is in tough shape. Marriage rates among the working class are at historic lows, with most working-class couples cohabiting, having children outside of marriage, and delaying marriage for the sake of economic stability. These changes have far-reaching consequences for the adults and children of the working class. Cherlin’s work situates the flight from marriage and family in its historical context. While the nuclear family portrayed in shows like Leave it to Beaver did have a basis in reality in the 1950s and 1960s, the image of a breadwinning father and a homemaker mother was more often realized by the middle class. For most of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, working-class families relied on money earned by both parents. For women this income was most often earned within the home, either by doing piecework or taking on and caring for lodgers. Men’s work was a separate sphere. The ideal of the man as “breadwinner” predominated, forming a central part of a working-class man’s self-conception. Prior to the changes in the second half of the 20th century, men and women married first, generally young, then established a household with children. Cherlin points to several reasons for the decline of this model. The post-war period saw dramatic changes in marriage. Some, such as the greater ease of divorce and the rise
Please subscribe or log in to read the rest of this content.