Most observers agree that marriage in America has been changing. Some think it is in decline, that the growth of individualism has made it increasingly difficult to achieve satisfying and stable relationships. Others believe that changes, such as increasing gender equality, have made marriage a better arrangement for men as well as women.
Based on two studies of marital quality in America twenty years apart, this book takes a middle view, showing that while the divorce rate has leveled off, spouses are spending less time together—people may be “bowling alone” these days, but married couples are also eating alone. Indeed, the declining social capital of married couples—including the fact that couples have fewer shared friends—combined with the general erosion of community ties in American society has had pervasive, negative effects on marital quality.
At the same time, family income has increased, decision-making equality between husbands and wives is greater, marital conflict and violence have declined, and the norm of lifelong marriage enjoys greater support than ever.
The authors conclude that marriage is an adaptable institution, and in accommodating the vast changes that have occurred in society over the recent past, it has become a less cohesive, yet less confining arrangement.
Just what do we know about the current generation of young Americans? So little it seems that we have dubbed them Generation X. Coming of age in the 1980s and '90s, they hail from families in flux, from an intimate landscape changing faster and more profoundly than ever before. This book is the first to give us a clear, close-up picture of these young Americans and to show how they have been affected and formed by the tremendous domestic changes of the last three decades.
How have members of this generation fared at school and at work, as they have moved into the world and formed families of their own? Do their struggles or successes reflect the turbulence of their time? These are the questions A Generation at Risk answers in comprehensive detail. Based on a unique fifteen-year study begun in 1980, the book considers parents' socioeconomic resources, their gender roles and relations, and the quality and stability of their marriages. It then examines children's relations with their parents, their intimate and broader social affiliations, and their psychological well-being. The authors provide rare insight into how both familial and historical contexts affect young people as they make the transition to adulthood.
Perhaps surprising is the authors' finding that, in this era of shifting gender roles, children who grow up in traditional father-breadwinner, mother-homemaker families and those in more egalitarian, role-sharing families apparently turn out the same. Also striking are the beneficial influence of parental education on children and the troubling long-term impact of marital conflict and divorce--an outcome that prompts the authors to suggest policy measures that encourage marital quality and stability.