by Paul R. Amato, Alan Booth, David R. Johnson, Stacy J. Rogers
Harvard University Press, 2007
Review by A. Ch. Weizmann, Ph.D. on Jan 26th 2010
This book is published by Paul R. Amato, Alan Booth, David R. Johnson and Stacy J. Rogers, Professors of Sociology at the Pennsylvania State University and since its publication has been greeted as a very unusual book because it would be valuably read by the scholar as well the ordinary reader interested in the subject. It is said about our book that it is the "best and most comprehensive examination available of how the institution of marriage in America has changed over the past few decades".
In fact, the "institution of marriage", with its transformations and changes in today America is the object of excellent sociological research. This book started from two studies about marriage in America twenty years ago and arrived at moderated conclusions (certainly not definitive, like any other scientific and quantitative research of this type) about the "quality of life" between the married people. The main title of this book, "Alone Together" synthesizes happily the thesis of the authors: the spouses don't live together enough time but they have adapted themselves to the cultural, social, political, religious, economical conditions and circumstances of our time. Marriage could be labeled as a flexible institution: with a reduction of interconnected relationships between the spouses and with more spaces of autonomy and freedom within the marriage life.
The seven chapters of the books are centered on the transformations and changes of marriage in America but also about its permanence. Some particular issues of great importance (like, for example, the dual earner marriage, changing gender relations, religion) are analyzed carefully with an eye to further research and theory and also future social policy.
Marriage in American history is accepted as a "social arrangement that, more than any other, provided structure and meaning in people's lives". Now in America marriage is a more unstable institution. According to Amato and the other researchers, the present time in the American society is typified by the turn down of the centrality of marriage in the life of so many people. What does this mean? Concretely and practically: marriage is losing its privileged status and is becoming a personal choice or life style option among several others.
A very important affirmation is made by the authors: "History demonstrates that once people have obtained certain rights and privileges, they are unwilling to give them up. It is impossible to undo the past, and it seems likely that alternatives to mandatory lifelong marriage are here to stay" (p.261). They are thinking about successful and valuable contraception, the right to live in somebody's company without being married, the choice to bear children, the non-fault divorce, etc.
Yet the authors present also another possibility: anew stability will come forward in which could meet societal needs as well as private desires. After being in a condition of instability for half a century , present-day marriage may be moving in the direction of a new synthesis of institutional, companionate, and personal features with in general affirmative consequences for women, men and children.
© 2010 A.Ch.F. Weizmann
A.Ch.F. Weizmann, Ph.D., Haifa University