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The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today Paperback – April 6, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Vintage edition (April 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307386384
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307386380
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #508,342 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I'm a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University, and I write about the great changes that have transformed the American family in the past half-century, such as divorce, childbearing outside of marriage, single-parent families, cohabitation, and delayed marriage. In THE MARRIAGE-GO-ROUND I show how and why American family life differs from family life in other wealthy countries and what the consequences are for American parents and children.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Adam on May 26, 2009
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.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By C. P. Anderson on July 6, 2009
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.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Susannah Merrill on May 25, 2009
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.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Thomas W. Sulcer on July 8, 2009
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: "...
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