The Social Experiment that Failed

Two books disclose the unforeseen hazards of divorce, and the unexpected fruits of marriage.
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The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially
by Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher
Doubleday, 260 pages, $24.95
The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25-Year Landmark Study
by Judith S. Wallerstein, Julia M. Lewis, and Sandra Blakeslee
Hyperion, 352 pages, $24.95

A few decades past, more than a few Americans entered an experiment with the family with great hope. By releasing sex and domestic relationships from the confines of lifelong, monogamous marriage, they were going to do better for themselves and their children. They could give everyone the promise of greater happiness through hooking up, cohabitation, and divorce. This idea was powered by the rationale that a diversified portfolio of domestic and sexual experiences before marriage would enrich married life.

They further theorized that the freedom to leave an unhappy marriage would create happier, more self-actualized families. Like disco and leisure suits, it seemed like a good idea.

But the passage of three decades and the large participating population have given family scholars a massive sample to study, and they are finding that the experiment was not nearly so rosy.

Marriage is good for you


The Case for Marriage by Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher tests the fruit of marriage by drawing from demographic and sociological data collected during the past few decades. The common wisdom for many years was that marriage constricts people and harms women.

This idea got its primary momentum from Jessie Bernard and her influential 1972 book, The Future of Marriage. "To be happy in a relationship which imposes so many impediments on her, as traditional marriage does, a woman must be slightly ill mentally," Bernard wrote, using limited ...

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