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INTRODUCTION TO SOCIOLOGY

STUDENT GUIDE

59

Marriage as an Institution

Marriage is an excellent example of an institution. We are born into a society that regards marriage as an important groove to follow. Although people can find personal happiness and meaning without marriage, much of how other people act toward us tells us that we “just have to get married” to live productive lives, and if we do not marry, there is something wrong with us.

In the early history of the United States, marriage was strongly socialized in society. Colonial American communities had bachelor taxes, and single women who inherited land were often required to marry soon after or lose that land.

Benjamin Franklin expressed the wisdom of his day: A single man “is an incomplete animal. He resembles the odd half of a pair of scissors.”

In modern America, there is less pressure to marry than in Colonial America—however, the institution of marriage is not likely to disappear anytime soon.

The changing structure of marriage

Owner-property

Before the age of industrialization (prior to the mid-nineteenth century), the woman was considered to be the property of the man.

Head-complement

By the mid-nineteenth century the status of the woman gradually changed from property to an individual with some rights.

Senior-junior partners

Since World War II, the marriage relationship has become increasingly equal in the United States.

Marital Satisfaction

By emphasizing the expressive side of marriage, the twentieth century has significantly altered the family in society. The family is no longer held together simply by satisfying economic and socialization needs. Instead, the emotional needs of each partner are added; marriage is held together because it now provides opportunities for each partner to have a friend, a listener, and a lover. This added function in marriage produces a new set of stresses on the marriage relationship. And now because individual happiness becomes increasingly important to us, if marriage does not meet these expectations, people will fill them elsewhere, either outside the marriage or by divorce and remarriage. In a very basic sense, the problem with modern marriage is that we expect too much from it.

The major historical change in family values has been one from a collective view of the family to one of individualization and sentiment. Over the past several decades American families have been experiencing an increasing emphasis on individual priorities and preferences over collective family needs. This individualization of family relations has also fed to an exaggerated emphasis on emotional nurture, intimacy, and

Copyright © 2005 Mount Vernon Nazarene University Adult and Graduate Studies

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