The Striking Contradiction of a Sociologist Under the Spell of Feminism

The Marriage-Go-Round:The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today Andrew J. CherlinKnopf, 2009; 271 pages, $25.95 Andrew Cherlin is one of the nation’s most prominent family researchers—author of influential scholarly books and articles, professor at Johns Hopkins, one time president of the Population Association of America, and advisor to the National Institute of Health. In his new book, the social scientist ventures beyond data sets and policy prescriptions into the arena of history and American exceptionalism—with decidedly mixed results. Marriage-Go-Round grew out of the author’s observation of a striking contradiction in American cultural life. On the one hand, Americans are idealists when it comes to marriage. While residents of Western European countries increasingly describe marriage as “an outdated institution,” Americans continue to cite it as one of their highest aspirations in life. Americans marry at a higher rate than almost anywhere in the Western world, and they do so at a younger age. Elsewhere homosexuals have demanded civil unions that would give them the same legal benefits as married couples; in the United States some of them demand all of that—and even the trappings of a wedding. Like most Americans, they want to get “married.” Paradoxically, though, Americans since the 1970s have not been very successful at marriage, or for that matter, any sort of permanent union. The U.S. has an out-of-wedlock birthrate that, while lower than Sweden, France, and Britain, is completely at odds with its citizens’ stated marital preferences. By age 30, one third of American women have become lone mothers; half of those achieved that status by age 25, considerably younger than Europeans who have children on their own. By an impressive margin, we have both the highest divorce rate in the world and the shortest waiting period to dissolve a union. After divorce, Americans are more likely to “re-partner”—eit
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