Today, when fifty percent of couples who marry eventually get divorced, it's clear that we have moved from a culture in which "marriage is forever" to one in which "marriage is contingent." Author Karla Hackstaff looks at intact marriages to examine the impact of new expectations in a culture of divorce.Marriage in a Culture of Divorceexamines the shifting meanings of divorce and gender for two generations of middle-class, married couples. Hackstaff finds that new social and economic conditions both support and undermine the efforts of spouses to redefine the meaning of marriage in a culture of divorce. The definitions of marriage, divorce, and gender have changed for all, but more for the young than the old, and more for women than for men. While some spouses in both generations believe that marriage is for life and that men should dominate in marriage, the younger generation of spouses increasingly construct marriage as contingent rather than forever.Hackstaff presents this evidence in archival case studies of couples married in the 1950s, which she then contrasts with her own case studies of people married during the 1970s, finding evidence of a significant shift in who does the emotional work of maintaining the relationship. It is primarily the woman in the '50s couples who "monitors" the marriage, whereas in the '70s couples both husband and wife support a "marital work ethic," including couples therapy in some cases.The words and actions of the couples Hackstaff follows in depth - the '50s Stones, Dominicks, Hamptons, and McIntyres, and the '70s Turners, Clement-Leonettis, Greens, Kason-Morrises, and Nakatos -- reveal the changes and contradictory tendencies of married life in the U.S. There are traditional relationships characterized by male dominance, there are couples striving for gender equality, there are partners pulling together, and partners pulling apart.Those debating "family values" should not forget, Hackstaff contends, that there are costs associated with marriage culture as well as divorce culture, and they should view divorce as a transitional means for defining marriage in an egalitarian direction. She convincingly illustrates her controversial position, that although divorce has its cost to society, the divorce culture empowers wives and challenges the legacy of male dominance that previously set the conditions for marriage endurance.
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