Marriage in America
From research done, it is evident that many Americans expect their marriages to be lasting, mutually beneficial, and shared. The Americans contend that if a marriage is not beneficial, it should not last. This points to the aspects of historical digression. Tacit explanations that marriage is mutually beneficial are deeply rooted in understanding marriage as a private contract dating back to the days of the enlightenment. Despite beliefs in traditional marriage, the emergence of different social aspects like same sex marriage has raised debates on whether these issues should be integrated into what is considered an ideal definition of marriage. This study will analyze the concept of American marriage as a social issue by utilizing an anthropological viewpoint.
The American marriage can be defined in terms of the social, political, and economic contract between two people together with their families. This does not imply the concept of monogamy, for a man that has five wives is believed to have five social contracts. Many cultures around the world have come to embrace the concept of polygamy as the preferred mode of marriage. However, the traditional American marriage supports the notion of monogamy and it is rare to see a polygamist (Cherlin 16).
In its traditional form, the American marriage has served in the organizations of parents and children in the domestic groups where basic roles are given in regards to the age and gender of the child (Cherlin 16). This unique institutional pattern is immensely sanctioned in both moral and legal codes across the U.S. Variations, and changes that are taking place. For example, the same sex marriages are perceived by many people as affronts to a divine order that should be followed for years to come. However, different conjugal arrangements have cropped up suggesting that other solutions to the most basic human challenges can work in different social contexts.
The marriage rates in America have been declining over the years. In the year 2011, only fifty one percent of Americans were married compared to 72% in 1960. Research has predicted that marriage rates will continue to remain historically low in the coming years. The attributed rates can be attributed to a number of factors; this includes cultural attitudes towards marriage, cultural ethnocentrism, socialization, and other factors (Guest 75).
Despite the above statistics and cultural explanations for the declining rates of marriage in America, ethnological studies have indicated that American marriage is doing well compared to marriages in other developed nations. Ethnological studies show that compared to other western countries, for example, France, marriage is demographically stronger in the United States; it is stronger in terms of the ideal. Many Americans seem to be more attached to the institution of marriage as a norm when compared to other developed countries of the world.
The great attachment to the institution of marriage tends to have a long history. The country founders perceived the institution of marriage as the building block of the American democracy (Cherlin 43). The United States has come up with laws that support marriage and have outlined the importance of marriage in the creation of significant relations in life. The only time that marriage was prohibited in America was during the time of slavery. Many slaves married informally using rituals like jumping over a broomstick, and it is worth noting that this ritual is still observed today. Many slaves may have retained the Kinship patterns of West Africa, where marriage was regarded as a process (Guest 43).
In regard to the concept of ethnocentrism, many women in the United States are able to marry without the consent from their parents. This can happen at the age of 18 years. However, in general terms, the trend is for the woman to marry when she has a median age of 26.9 years. Few, if any, young women marry before the age of eighteen years. However, the laws prevent it. Older men who marry young girls are often ridiculed. Pressure to maintain this ideal type of culture has contributed to declining rates of marriage (Guest 54).
Through cultural transmission, knowledge concerning institutions of marriage is being passed from one generation to the next (Cherlin 43). The recent trend of cohabitation is influencing many young people, and this has resulted in a significant decline of organized marriages. Cultural transmission takes place every day without the concept of who or when. Things that people do and say create cultural transmissions in all the aspects of their lives. It is true that the most convenient way that the cultural norm are passed is within a person’s home life. Every family has a unique and distinct home culture, and this happens under the big picture of the nation and society. Cultural transmission has played a key role in communicating the transitions that are taking place in society today; one major message being communicated is that cohabitation as an alternative to marriage is ideal. Research has indicated that many people in America fear commitment, this is because of the high divorce rates in the country, and the rate of divorce is gradually turning into a cult
Cherlin, Andrew J. “American Marriage in the Early Twenty First Century.” Marriage and Child Wellbeing (2005): 15-18.
Guest, Kenneth J. Cultural Anthropology: A Toolkit for a Global Age. New York: Penguin group, 2013.