Americans Are Nostalgic for a Family Life That Never Existed by S. Coontz
I have blogged about this book before, back in 2013. You can read the former post (Link): here.
Here is another review of the same book:
- March 2016
- By Stephanie Coontz
- There is a tendency for many Americans to view present-day family and gender relations through the foggy lens of nostalgia for a mostly mythical past.
- …One example of how discussions of family life are still distorted by myths about the past is the question of how marriage has evolved historically.
- Both sides in the Supreme Court decision extending marriage rights to same-sex couples demonstrated confusion on this issue. In his dissent from the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “For all . . . millennia, across all . . . civilizations, ‘marriage’ referred to only one relationship: the union of a man and a woman.”
- Its primordial purpose, Roberts asserted, was to make sure that all children would be raised “in the stable conditions of a lifelong relationship.”
- These assertions are simply not true. The most culturally preferred form of marriage in the historical record—indeed, the type of marriage referred to most often in the first five books of the Old Testament—was actually of one man to several women.
- Some societies also practiced polyandry, where one woman married several men, and some even sanctioned ghost marriages, where parents married off a son or daughter to the deceased child of another family with whom they wished to establish closer connections.
- The most common purpose of marriage in history was not to ensure children had access to both their mother and father but to acquire advantageous in-laws and expand the family labor force.
- …In Anglo-American common law, a child born out of wedlock was a filius nullius, a child of nobody, entitled to nothing. Until the early 1970s, several American states denied such children the right to inherit from their biological father even if he had publicly acknowledged them or they were living with him.
- These claims are also at odds with historical reality. For thousands of years, marriage conferred nobility and dignity almost exclusively on the husband, who had a legal right to appropriate the property and earnings of his wife and children and forcibly impose his will upon them. As late as the 1970s, most states had “head and master” laws, giving special decision-making rights to husbands, while the law explicitly defined rape as a man’s forcible intercourse with a woman other than his wife.
- Today, a marriage based on mutual respect and commitment is a wonderful thing for both partners and for any children they have. But a bad marriage is often worse than singlehood for the health and well-being of most family members.
- Insisting, as Justice Kennedy does, that marriage is essential to fulfill “our most profound hopes” makes it difficult for society to respond to the needs—or recognize the contributions—of the growing number of singles and unmarried couples in America.
- …Marriage has not always been the primary route to achieving meaning in people’s lives. Early Christian theologians, for example, valued unwed celibacy much higher than the wedded state, explaining that marriage distracted men and women from their duties to God and to the larger Christian community. Recent research offers some secular justification for such concerns: Married individuals are less likely than their unmarried counterparts to provide time and assistance to aging relatives, neighbors, and friends.
- The flip side of exaggerating the historical benefits of marriage has been a persistent tendency to blame poverty and other social ills on divorce and unwed motherhood, even though poverty and material hardship were more widespread in the marriage-centric 1950s than they are today.
- People forget that women and children bore the brunt of poverty within many “traditional” two-parent families just as surely as they do in modern female-headed households.
- Researchers across the world often find two different standards of living in the same married-couple household, with the wife and children doing without in order to give the husband first call on the family’s economic resources.
- …Fewer than 6 percent of children in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden and just 7 to 9 percent of children in Austria and the Netherlands are poor. Yet all these countries have higher birthrates to unmarried women than the United States, where child poverty is over 20 percent.
- One major difference? Political leaders in those countries try to deal with present-day realities instead of blaming their citizens for abandoning a largely mythical Gold Age of family life.
(Link): How Christians Have Failed on Teaching Maturity and Morality Vis A Vis Marriage / Parenthood – Used as Markers of Maturity Or Assumed to be Sanctifiers – Also: More Hypocrisy – Christians Teach You Need A Spouse to Be Purified, But Also Teach God Won’t Send You a Spouse Until You Become Purified