By Rich Silverman
"After centuries of being the bedrock of the American family system, marriage is losing its privileged status and becoming one lifestyle choice among many." So writes Dr. Paul Amato in the opening passage of his new book "Alone Together: How Marriage in America is Changing".
Married couples are happier now than in the past, but they are spending less and less time together, according to Dr. Amato, a professor of sociology at Penn State University, who based the book on the results of two national surveys of marriage in the United States. The studies, one conducted in 1980 and the other in 2000, surveyed in detail the marriages of 2000 people. The results of the surveys, according to Dr. Amato, are a case of both good news and bad news.
The good news, according to the author, is that married people are as happy as they were 20 years ago. The bad news is that they are pending less and less time together.
Husbands and wives are increasingly developing their own networks of friends, joining different community organizations, pursuing separate hobbies and often even going on separate vacations. The number of couples that said they visit friends, go to the movies, go shopping or work on a project together dropped by 40 percent from the first study to the second.
Amato notes that when couples pursue independent lives in this way, the idea of divorce becomes more plausible, because each already has his or her own friends, interests and careers. They may decide that so much of their lives is already independent that divorce wouldn't be ll that much of an additional change.
Also on the plus side, he notes, the incidence of domestic violence has dropped by 50 percent. He noted that the drop was so dramatic that the researchers felt it necessary to crosscheck their figures with federal crime statistics. They ultimately discovered that their findings were correct. "Even 20 years ago, there was some tolerance for aggression in a marriage. Now, most people realize that it's wrong," Amato said.
Amato and co-authors Alan Booth, Stacy Rogers and David Johnson - all professors at Penn State - noted that marriage has moved away from the idea that the man is the head of the household. Couples in which both husband and wife had equal say in decision-making reported being much happier, according to Amato. They felt their relationships were "better in every way", and spent more time together, had fewer fights and shared a greater feeling of love and intimacy.
The book, available from Harvard University Press, is divided into sections, each exploring a different aspect of both the studies and marriage. Sample sections include "Rising Individualism and Demographic Change", Who Benefited from the Rise of the Dual-Earner Marriage - and Who Did Not?" and Changing Gender Relations in Marriage".