Sunday, June 28, 2009

New York Time Book Review of Marriage-Go-Round

I think this may be worth noting and for some to read.

Books of The Times - Slippery Hitching Posts - Andrew J. Cherlin’s ‘Marriage-Go-Round’ - Review -
Marriage is nevertheless an American ideal. We are the only Western nation that actually spends government money to support it. The 2005 federal Healthy Marriage Initiative now allocates $100 million a year to promote marriage. It doesn’t seem to be working; marriage rates are declining precipitously, though most Americans are still expected to marry.

Marriage is our battleground. Only in America, Mr. Cherlin says, are gay people campaigning so determinedly for the right to marry. Most gay men and lesbians in Europe, he maintains, view marriage as another oppressive heterosexual institution.

How to explain this peculiar paradox — we idealize marriage and yet we’re so bad at it. Mr. Cherlin, who is also the author of “Public and Private Families,” has taken upon himself the task of explaining and has come up with an original thesis: There are two powerful forces at war in America, a historic belief in marriage grounded in our religious heritage on the one hand and a foundational principle of individual freedom and a post-modern sense of the right to self-fulfillment on the other. When these values clash, breakup and divorce follow.

Instead of spending money to promote marriage, we should use it to encourage security for our children, he says. Divorce and breakup can affect children badly. But parents shouldn’t rush into another relationship just to provide a stable home. In one study by Mr. Cherlin and a colleague, the two found that every time a partner entered or left a household, the odds of an adolescent stealing, skipping school or getting drunk increased by 12 percent, though he points out that the majority of adolescents with broken homes don’t exhibit delinquent behavior.

One way to ensure children’s stability is to give single mothers resources so they aren’t pressured to find partners to support them. He points to a Wisconsin welfare experiment with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, in which the state government normally attempted to collect child support from delinquent fathers and then shared it with the federal government as reimbursement for welfare, giving the mother $50 at most. In a 1997 study the state gave the entire amount to a group of randomly selected mothers. The result: mothers who received the full child support payments were less likely to cohabit with men other than their children’s fathers — presumably causing less turmoil for the children — and were just as likely to marry. The book’s last chapter is titled “Slow Down.” Think before you rush into new relationships, Mr. Cherlin writes. That’s the least we can do.

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