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In many romantic relationships, one partner desires a Women wants marriage level of commitment—engagement or marriage—while the other is content to let the relationship stay in its current form. I suspect that, in about two-thirds of these cases, the partner seeking more commitment Women wants marriage the woman while the man drags his feet.
The fact that men are legendarily wary of marriage is stranger than it first appears. Both men and women benefit from marriage, but men seem to benefit more overall. In addition to being happier and healthier than bachelors, married men earn more money and live longer. And men can reap such benefits even from mediocre marriages, while for women, the benefits of marriage are more strongly linked to marital quality. Logically, then, men should be the ones pursuing marriage: they seem to view it as desirable, and they are more likely than women to gain major benefits from it.
So why would men hesitate to tie the knot? Three sources lend support to this theory: 1 qualitative, focus group research by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe presented in ; 2 the findings and conclusions of sociologist Steve Nock; and 3 the work of my colleagues and me on sacrifice and commitment. Young men associate marriage with increased responsibilities and with a greater possibility of financial loss. The two drew on discussions they conducted with sixty never-married, heterosexual men, who came from a variety of religious, ethnic, and family backgrounds and ranged in age from 25 to These men reported that the main reason they resist marriage is that they can enjoy Women wants marriage of its benefits without actually getting married—that is, through cohabitation.
Further, they reported experiencing almost no social pressures to marry; not from family, not from friends, and not from the families of the women they live with. They associated marriage with a of increased responsibilities and with a greater possibility of financial loss. I cannot imagine that such beliefs are any less prevalent now.
On a lighter note, men said that one benefit of Women wants marriage marrying was that, if they were to marry, their girlfriend-now-wife would tell them what to do. This could be evidence of an inner view that, after marriage—but not before—their partners have the right to tell them what to do. Second, according to the work of sociologist Steve Nock, marriage changes men in fundamental ways. These changes in identity are associated with behavioral changes. Causality can be argued, but research strategies deed to for selection effects suggest that on at least some of Women wants marriage measures, marriage does have a causal impact.
The data are more scarce on how women change when they get married; however, there seems to be less reason to believe that women have a similar sense that they or their responsibilities will change dramatically when they get married. Men begin to see themselves as fathers, providers, and protectors when they transition into marriage. Third, research on sacrifice in marriage provides another window on potential differences between men and women. My colleagues and I have found that commitment to the future is more important in explaining male attitudes about sacrifice in marriage than female attitudes about sacrifice.
There are a of possible interpretations of findings like this. For example, women may be more socialized to give to others, regardless of the commitment status of a particular relationship. But I have a hypothesis that goes further: For men to sacrifice for their partners without resenting it, they need to have decided that a particular woman is the one they plan to be with in the future.
In contrast, I believe that the average woman sacrifices more fully, starting earlier on in romantic relationships, than the average man. To summarize the main point, getting married has historically brought a large change in how men see themselves and how they behave.
Over thousands of years of history, women would have come to expect a substantial change in men from tying the knot. There may be groups where my theory simply does not hold, or it may no longer hold the way it may have at one time. A of sociologists have found that the motives to get married or Women wants marriage avoid marriage may be different for those at lower incomes than for those who are middle- or higher-income. Some working-class women, for instance, have revealed in interviews that they resist marriage because it is harder to exit than cohabitating relationships.
Further, they reported that men would expect a more traditional division of duties by gender in marriage than is expected in cohabitation. In other words, they reported that the men they knew would, indeed, change after getting married—but that the change would be negative for these women, so they resist marriage.
The motives to get married or to avoid marriage may be different for those at lower incomes. Yet there is a potent Women wants marriage to how far some things can change, and that has to do with the fundamental fact that women get pregnant and men do not. As some scholars argue, given the high personal costs of pregnancy and childbirth to women, it has Women wants marriage crucial throughout human history for women to accurately discern and if possible, increase the commitment levels of men.
The fact that females have better options and personal resources now than in past eras may well change the equation underlying my thesis, but some behavioral differences between men and women seem very likely to remain because of the biological constraint. Regardless of how much the behavior of males and females may change in the years ahead, I believe that Steve Nock had it right when, in one of the last works he wrote before his untimely passing, he predicted that marriage would become an increasingly potent al of commitment as other relationship forms become more common i.
Not all relationship transitions are transformative, but marriage is meant to be.
That means it matters. This piece was adapted from a longer scholarly paper by Scott Stanley, available herewhich contains additional background and relevant citations. Interested in learning more about the work of the Institute for Family Studies? Please feel free to by using your preferred method detailed below. For media inquiries, contact Michael Toscano michael ifstudies. We encourage members of the media interested Women wants marriage learning more about the people and projects behind the work of the Institute for Family Studies to get started by perusing our "Media Kit" materials.
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Should the age of marriage for women be raised to 21?