This was one of several books I purchased from the bibliography of Aziz Ansari’s AMAZING Modern Romance – seriously, go buy that book – in an Amazon order that made my husband very nervous upon delivery. (I’m not looking to divorce you, dear; I just find social histories fascinating). However, the book that I kept thinking of when reading this was Future Shock. This book is barely a decade old and thankfully one major component is already out of date with the legalization of gay marriage.
In any case, the book is still worth reading as its scope is much larger than one would expect, and placing marriage in a larger historical context shows how what we like to think of as “traditional” marriage was really the product of a short few decades. It’s a knee jerk response to point out that medieval marriage was mostly contractual and marrying for love only came about in the last few hundred years – and coontz of course explores this as well – but even in the years preceding the 50s the idea of a small nuclear family with a male breadwinner was not the norm.
Coontz deftly summarizes how marriage is so varied in its history and broad in options that she even acknowledges it is difficult to define – any basic definition can be presented with a counter example from another time or culture. She also elegantly shows that the changes to marriage are more indicative of changes to society rather than the institution of marriage, and how the decline of marriage is really an increase in personal freedoms; marriage isn’t really on the decline, but convenient, or abusive, or unhappy marriages might be.