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The Marriage Problem: How Our Culture Has Weakened Families Hardcover – Bargain Price, February 28, 2002

4.2 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this study of the implications of broken marriages, conservative social scientist Wilson (The Moral Sense) posits that there is a direct connection between Americans' tolerance for no-fault divorce and unmarried cohabitation, and the country's rising rates of childhood delinquency, teenage births, abuse and single-parent families. As such, Wilson's work is poised to attract fans of Judith Wallerstein.'s important The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study (2000), which suggests that divorce has a much harsher effect on children than previously believed. But many of Wilson's points assume that divorce is de facto a bad thing ("As one popular movie made clear, there is no such thing as a happy divorce"); he refuses to acknowledge that society's attitudes may have shifted precisely because many people now believe that divorce often represents a promising solution rather than a bitter failure. Many readers will take issue with Wilson's claim that the demographics of African-American families (high instances of single motherhood; absent fathers) can be traced to the cultural practices of people in Africa and the West Indies. And in fact, the teen birth rate has fallen significantly in the past 10 years. Wilson's polemic will likely be embraced by readers who already share his traditional views on public policy and shunned by those who don't.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

While Maushart looks at what happens between husband and wife, Wilson (management, UCLA; government, Harvard) delves into the effect of "the marriage problem" on society. Wilson argues that the weakening of the family unit has been disastrous for our country and cites two reasons for this development: the individualism that arose following the Enlightenment and the consequences of slavery, which led to the emasculation of fathers and hence to single-parent households. Wilson makes his case with well-reasoned arguments and solid documentation, drawing on research that is both historical and international in scope to reinforce the important role family plays in child care. Wilson's cure: to restore the authority of marriage, for parents who are committed to each other and to their children can build a community and hence a nation that will flourish. Despite their contrasting themes, both books make a valuable contribution to the understanding of marriage in today's society and should find audience in public libraries. Deborah Bigelow, Leonia P.L., NJ
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Amazon Remainders Account (February 28, 2002)
  • ISBN-10: 0066209838
  • ASIN: B00008NRH1
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,887,707 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
A good balanced view of marriage in a modern social context and analysis of how the family unit has been affected over time.
Wilson covers a lot of ground here - and the only complaint I have is that it didn't feel very cohesive - lots of skipping around. But there is a lot of meat that will keep you thinking. Wilson is fascinated with marriage rates over time, across cultures, and among different races - but he's concerned with the plight of children. His argument of why children do much better in a marriage setting, like all of the book, is heavily documented and well written.
His analysis of the sex ratio (number of men per hundred women) I found totally interesting. The ratio has changed a lot over time because of wars that kill off men - immigration which usually means that more men than women will move to another country - prison populations which draw men out of society - etc. Wilson looks at how differing sex ratios effect family arrangements like polygyny as well as general sexual behavior between men and women and mating patterns.
The author examines the role shame & stigma played in the past in ensuring that marriages last and that families care for their children, and compares that with today's more open attitude towards personal decisions. "Our society has managed to stigmatize stigma so much so that we are reluctant to blame people for any act that does not appear to inflict an immediate and palpable harm on someone else. We wrongly suppose, I think, that shame is the enemy of personal emancipation when in fact an emancipated man or woman is one for whom inner control is sufficiently powerful to produce inner limits on actions that once were controlled by external forces.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Two nations, between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy." Benjamin Disraeli was speaking of the nations of the rich and the poor, but Wilson sees underlying causes. One nation is married, reasonably affluent, educated, and invests heavily in their children. The other nation is fatherless, poor, and does not invest in their children. On page 11 he quotes a study by William Galston, a former advisor to President Clinton. Galston shows that you only have to do three simple things to avoid being poor: finish high school, marry before having a child, and wait until age 20 to have a child. Only 8% of people who do these three things are poor, compared to 79% for those who do not.

The problems in the fatherless nation go beyond poverty. Children of single mothers are more likely to be delinquent; they are more likely drop out of school, become suspended and suffer from emotional problems. This is not from the lack of financial resources; the researchers Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur were able to show that the poverty that resulted from being a single mother only explained about half the difference in outcomes between children with single mothers and children with married parents. The results for cohabitation are not much better, particularly since cohabitating relationships typically end in less than two years, sometimes in marriage, but about as often in separation. Furthermore, the marriages that result from cohabitation are more likely to end in divorce.

Wilson develops the theory of sex ratios. When the ratio between men and women is high, men have to compete with each other for women, and women that bargaining power to secure monogamous relationships. But when the ratio is low, women have to compete for the limited supply.
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Format: Hardcover
Wilson's work is a rather impressive synthesis of the current empirical social-science research on family, children, and the social forces affecting them. He rightly notes that children are being adversely affected by the decline in the strength of marriage, and attempts to fashion why this decline has occured in the first place. (To the above reviewers, who obviously read the book from a ideological and political perspective, nearly ALL rigorous social-science research has shown that children are better off in almost every way in two-parent families. This cannot be denied.) His analysis is cogent, coherent, and, moreover compelling enough to require some reflection on the matter.
In essence he sees the decline of marriage resulting from an interplay of three variables -- the sex ratio, economic development, and the steady liberalization of Western culture.
He does not, in any way, say that economic growth or liberal culture is bad, but, rather notes that the slow death of marriage in the west is a cost we've paid for the many benefits we've derived from our particular economic and cultural arrangements.
While his synthesis is impressive, what he lacks is a sophisticated method for testing his theory. At best, he uses a loose, journalistic, comparative case study method in examining his theory. This, unfortunately, does little to provide the reader with conclusive evidence that Wilson is right.
At best, Wilson's work is a great read for the interested layman, at worst, a half-finished social-science tome that needs more rigorous methodological tools to prove his thesis. It nonetheless is an intersting analysis of why marriage has declined in our society.
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