From Publishers Weekly
Johns Hopkins University sociologist Cherlin (Public and Private Families) analyzes "the profound changes" that have occurred in American family life, especially during the past half century. Although heterosexual marriage as the bedrock institution for raising children remains a strong cultural value, it is challenged by the increasing stress placed on individualism and self-fulfillment. The book presents a comprehensive historical overview of marriage and family in the U.S. and compares American behavior with that of people in other Western countries (Americans have the highest levels of moving from partner to partner). In light of relationship instability, the author suggests that children are likely to fare better in a single parent family than in a step-family, a structure that tends to be unstable. While Cherlin delineates the stress points created by the conflicting values of marriage and individualism, he offers few suggestions for dealing with the problems identified. To suggest that the "marriage merry-go-round" can be "slowed down" by not starting or ending relationships so quickly is to restate the problem, not offer insight for its resolution.
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The fact that the U.S. has the highest rate of marriage and divorce of any Western nation illustrates the tension between the American cultural ideal of commitment to marriage and the appeal of individual freedom. Cherlin, an authority on American family life, explores that tension and the differences in perceptions and value of marriage in the U.S. versus other Western nations, particularly Britain and France. Citing research on marriage and child-rearing trends, Cherlin observes that American family life is a merry-go-round characterized by the “great turbulence” of frequent marriage, frequent divorce, and more short-term cohabiting relationships than families in other Western nations. Analyzing changes in social, economic, and technological realms that account for differences in marriage trends among Western nations, Cherlin focuses on U.S. politics that uses such issues as gay marriage and covenant marriage to influence voters. He concludes that the U.S. could benefit from a culture and policies that spend less time and resources promoting marriage (pointedly between men and women) and more on promoting stable family life for children, however those families are constructed. --Vanessa Bush