The End of Marriage?
Individualism and Intimate Relations
The modern day sees fewer marriages than before, and cohabitation is a major driver of family change. Jane Lewis questions whether this is - as many commentators argue and fear - a sign of ever-increasing individualism.
Just as the order in which sex, marriage, cohabitation and childbirth occur can no longer be assumed, nor can the pattern of contributions that men and women make to the household. The End of Marriage? explores both the way in which the old rules have been eroded and what happens as a result. While there may certainly be something of a vacuum, Jane Lewis suggests that in some quarters at least this is being filled by increased negotiation at the household level. This questions the idea that individualism is necessarily selfish and destructive, which in turn raises issues regarding the regulation of the family, an increasingly delicate task for policymakers.
The book reviews the debate surrounding the causes of family change, and suggests that the `cultural variable' has been neglected, and that it is important to look at changes in normative expectations as well as in behaviour. Historical analysis is used to track changes in the major prescriptive frameworks of family law and the male breadwinner model. Contemporary qualitative research is also drawn upon in order to explore relationships in married and cohabiting households.
This outstanding volume will fascinate a wide audience, including those interested in sociology and social policy, socio-legal studies and social history
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What Reviewers Are Saying
`Sociologist Jane Lewis in The End of Marriage? approaches modern marriage from the standpoint of individualism (economists would say individual utility maximization). Lewis includes both marriage and cohabitation in her analyses and offers and intergenerational twist in assessing the success of unions, marital or cohabitational. While her focus is British, the novelty of her approach to marriage and her generational context makes this a must read.' -- Darius Conger, `Economics and the American Family: A Review of Recent Literature', Choice `This is a very worthwhile book that offers two important things: first, an intellectual history of notions of intimacy between two heterosexual adults and how empirical forms of interaction are informed by a larger cultural context of shifting forms of morality. Second, and equally important, it adds to the scarce literature on cohabiting couples with an intriguing intergenerational component. The discussion is always complex, subtle and illuminating . . . a most welcome addition to the sociology of the family.' -- Margrit Eichler, Labour / Le Travail `Lewis's book is a useful survey of the literature about marriage and divorce in the twentieth century, and the interviews are quite interesting.' -- Ginger S. Frost, Albion `Lewis's subtle and richly documented study demonstrates convincingly that, in Britain at any rate, marriage has not ended, but merely adapted to the zeitgeist, emerging at the end of the twentieth century revitalized and reconfigured.' -- Sonya Michel, Contemporary Sociology `The End of Marriage? goes to the heart of contemporary debates on individualisation, commitment and the significance of marriage in modern society. Jane Lewis applies her encyclopaedic knowledge of the field to produce a book that is both immensely scholarly and also accessible to every potential reader from policymakers to undergraduates.' -- Carol Smart, University of Leeds, UK `In this meticulously argued book, Jane Lewis tackles one of the most fraught and contested issues of our time: the contemporary meanings of marriage. The separation of marriage and sex, she argues, has now been followed by the separation of marriage and parenthood. But that is only part of a great transition in intimate life. Against the cultural pessimists, she clearly shows that while traditional marriage may be in decline, strong relationships of various types are thriving. Against the optimists she demonstrates that while a new norm of partnership equality, both within and outside marriage, is emerging, there is still a long way to go before full equality between men and women is achieved. But her strongest evidence is the most hopeful. Far from individual selfishness corrupting any sense of mutual responsibility, most people seek to balance individuality and commitment, governed by a search for fairness, respect for privacy and above all concern for the welfare of children. This is an important book that clarifies the policy choices we face: either to seek to restore a past that has irretrievably disappeared, or to go with the grain of change, to understand its complexities, and to welcome the creativity of vast numbers of people in working towards honest and open forms of commitment and mutual responsibility.' -- Jeffrey Weeks, South Bank University London, UK `The argument that marriage has been undermined by a growing individualism is widely accepted by both pessimists and optimists. In this much needed book, Jane Lewis combines a formidable range of historical and sociological evidence to challenge this assumption. The longer term historical analysis shows that modern concerns are by no means new while also indicating some of the real changes that have taken place in the erosion of the idea of the male breadwinner and of externally imposed moral codes. Her own qualitative research reinforces these arguments, discovering considerable overlaps between the views of married couples and of co-habitees. She finds a widespread recognition of the importance of commitment in relationships combined with a realistic acknowledgement of the increasing complexities of personal life in modern society. This is a fluent, well-informed and constantly stimulating contribution to recent debates. It will, I predict, be much used across a wide range of disciplines.' -- David H.J. Morgan, University of Manchester, UK