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The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today [Paperback]

Andrew J. Cherlin

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Book Description

April 6 2010 Vintage
The Marriage-Go-Round illuminates the shifting nature of America's most cherished social institution and explains its striking differences from marriage in other Western countries.

Andrew J. Cherlin's three decades of study have shown him that marriage in America is a social and political battlefield in a way that it isn’t in other developed countries. Americans marry and divorce more often and have more live-in partners than Europeans, and gay Americans have more interest in legalizing same-sex marriage. The difference comes from Americans’ embrace of two contradictory cultural ideals: marriage, a formal commitment to share one's life with another; and individualism, which emphasizes personal choice and self-development. Religion and law in America reinforce both of these behavioral poles, fueling turmoil in our family life and heated debate in our public life. Cherlin’s incisive diagnosis is an important contribution to the debate and points the way to slowing down the partnership merry-go-round.

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Review

“A landmark new book.” —Time

“Intriguing. . . . Provocative. . . . Cherlin has come up with an original thesis [to explain] this peculiar paradox—we idealize marriage and yet we’re so bad at it.” —The New York Times
 
“A masterful comparative analysis. . . . Cherlin argues that Americans have a distinctive pattern . . . which stems from our simultaneous commitments to marriage and to self-expression and personal growth.” —The American Prospect

“Cherlin is one of America's leading experts on the family. . . . His book delivers a stern warning to this fast-paced conjugal culture: ‘Slow down—watch out for the children.’” —Commonweal

About the Author

Andrew J. Cherlin is the Benjamin H. Griswold III Professor of Sociology and Public Policy at Johns Hopkins University and is the author of Public and Private Families. His articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Nation, and on the op-ed pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other publications. He has been a recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship and the Distinguished Career Award from the Family Section of the American Sociological Association. He lives in Baltimore.

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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bottom line: great read. May 26 2009
By Adam - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The Marriage Go Round will shift the way you think about America's most hotly debated institution. Unlike so many treatments of the subject in the popular press, which often seem to be little more than political pamphleteering, Professor Cherlin's book does not easily yield a liberal or conservative label.

Its main ideas are big and non-intuitive -- the way I like 'em. It's got the "wow on every page" factor that Malcolm Gladwell's books offer. But unlike Gladwell, who's a journalist who summarizes other people's research, Professor Cherlin's the real deal: an academic who's spent decades in the trenches studying this stuff.

So what does Marriage Go Round tell us? First of all, Americans marry and divorce way more than people from other countries do. And our high rate of "relationship turnover" causes extreme agita. In other words, it may not be great to get divorced, but it's even worse to cycle in and out of relationships, particularly when children are involved. Instability is worse than stability, even the "stability" of being alone.

The book also talks about the schizophrenic attitude Americans have towards marriage. On the one hand, we idealize it. (It's crucial to marry in order to live a full life.) On the other hand, we idealize our freedom and independence. (If a marriage isn't giving us what we need, it should be abandoned.) We embrace both ideals without realizing they contradict each other. But they do. And when they collide, it drives us over the bend.

So what should we do? How do we "get off" the Marriage Go Round? Here, Cherlin's advice seems apropos for our time: we need to slow down! Stop hopping in and out of relationships. Take the time to figure yourself out first. (If you've ever listened to Loveline, this is what Adam Carolla tells basically every caller!)

Also, for what it's worth, I like the rough pages as well. Maybe if the reviewer below had actually read what's on the pages instead of grousing about their consistency (or whatever), he would have gotten more out of the book. :)
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars top notch July 6 2009
By C. P. Anderson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The author focuses on 2 themes here - the high value Americans place on marriage and the high value we place on independence. His main point is that these values are rather contradictory. He sees that as explaining our rather unique approach to marriage in the industrialized world - i.e., the marriage churn, or merry go-round, of cohabit-marry-divorce-repeat.

The big issue here, of course, is the effect on the kids. In fact, Cherlin goes so far as to claim that a single-parent family is healthier than one where the kids are exposed to multiple parental partners and the lack of stability that involves.

Cherlin covers the topic from all angles, touching on history, class, race, religion, mobility, globalization - all the important pieces of the puzzle. He also has an incredibly clear and lucid style. In fact, it's almost impossible to misunderstand what he's trying to get across. He really takes his time to make sure you hear and understand his argument.

He also really knows his stuff. As another reviewer pointed out, we're not just dealing with another Malcolm Gladwell here. At the same time, his mastery of the details doesn't keep him from putting the pieces together and coming up with some very insightful and thought-provoking explanations and connections.

One of the editorial reviews slighted the book for not really providing a solution. Cherlin does mention a few ideas but, no, he really doesn't offer the magic, all-encompassing fix that a lot of people expect for issue books like this these days.

I actually admire him for this. This topic is way too complex to admit of any silver bullet. I think it's enough that he points out the problem and analyzes it so incisively. That's the first step. I'm not even sure that we, as a culture, have even really gotten our minds around the idea that, yes, there really is a problem here.

P.S. Please take a minute and flag the 1-star review as inappropriate. My guess is this is a hoax, and it's a shame to see the rating for this great book dragged down - even a little bit - by it. Thx
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bringing a much-needed light to bear on American marriages May 25 2009
By Susannah Merrill - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I just picked this book up because I was curious about what the author might have to say about "The State of Marriage and Family in America Today". After reading the back and the flaps, I bought it straight up. I had never heard of Andrew Cherlin before, but I looked him up and was favorably impressed by his credentials. More importantly, I appreciate his reasonable examination of marriage and family, two very high-emotion topics. He discusses marriage from many different angles, all comparing the pulls of two pillars of American society: individualism and traditional marriage. It seems that every page has fascinating tidbits and thoughts on it!

And let me just say that I for one very much like the old-fashioned rough pages, and that they didn't present any difficulty at all for me in reading this excellent book.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Careful sociological study of marriages in flux July 8 2009
By Thomas W. Sulcer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Andrew Cherlin's "The Marriage-Go-Round" is a careful and well-researched sociological study examining how Americans keep shuffling partners. Why do we seem to marry, divorce, and re-marry with such frequency? The merry-go-round metaphor is apt -- "frequent marriage, frequent divorce, more short-term cohabiting relationships ... Americans step on and off the carousel of intimate partnerships" he writes. He examines how attitudes towards marriage have changed drastically since the 1950s: "That people could skip from one live-in relationship to another, not because their partners were abusive or unfaithful but merely because that's what they wanted, would have horrified many people."

I had not realized the 1950s generation was somewhat atypical of longer term trends. The husband-breadwinner wife-at-home combination of marrying early, having many children, with a fairly stable home life was a result of pent-up demand for families created during the Depression and World War II years. It produced an unprecedented baby boom generation of which both the author and myself are members.

Mr. Cherlin's plausible conclusion is that two sets of conflicting values are at play -- one valuing commitment, another valuing personal choice. "... this distinctive pattern of multiple partnerships is related to the central place in America culture of both marriage and a kind of individualism that emphasizes self-expression and personal growth." And I think he's basically right.

He examines historical patterns, legal considerations such as divorce laws, gender relations, the impact of religion. He contrasts patterns in the United States with Western Europe, particularly Britain and France. He writes: "...the United States has one of the highest levels of both marriage and divorce of any Western nation, and these rates appear to have been higher than in most other Western countries since the early days of the nation." The disappearance of factory jobs in America had a negative impact for the marriage prospects of men without college educations. Birth control had huge ramifications, allowing people to cohabit in long term sexual relationships without fear of pregnancy. Of particular concern, in his view, is how the turnover of partners affects children emotionally, and he's sees greater incidences of behavior problems as children try to adjust to step-parents moving in and out of the house.

His solution, like his analysis, is careful and studied. "Slow down", he writes, advising couples to be more careful before jettisoning their relationship as well as starting new ones. And this seems reasonable. Generally, the author thinks like a market researcher, a demographer, a numbers guy, and this has its strengths (reasonable and well-argued conclusions) as well as weaknesses (somewhat dry writing style). There isn't much emphasis on the whole aspect of dating. It's like seeing romance as a product of statistical crosstabulations. I was surprised, however, that he omitted the subject of how television and media images have impacted marriage and divorce. If churchgoers attend church for perhaps an hour a week, but watch several hours of television each day, then wouldn't media exposure be a logical and important variable to study? Never before in history have people been exposed to such powerful images of idealized lifestyles, of beautiful models both male and female. What impact has this had upon dating and mating? I think it's astonishing how Americans seem to be closer to celebrities on television rather than spouses or real neighbors next door, and the whole issue of vicarious involvement with media images is, in my view, an important variable which he should have considered.

Overall, an important, well-researched and thought-provoking look at the changing institution of marriage.

Thomas W. Sulcer
Author of "The Second Constitution of the United States"
(free on web; google title + Sulcer)
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very topical. Sept. 14 2009
By R. S. Arthur - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I purchased this book after reading the article on infidelity in Time Magazine where it was cited. I guess I am not accustomed to reading books written by social scientists because he keeps reciting his thesis (and therefore, his conclusions) over and over again, like a mantra. That is my only complaint. Otherwise, well-reasoned, backed by research, with a lot of interesting conclusions, and it explains why so many disparate groups place such value in the institution of marriage in our globalized society. I am glad I read it, and I have recommended it to others.
ARRAY(0xb9a6f738)

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