Throughout history women’s reasoning and intentions for marriage have evolved. When humans traveled in hunter-gatherer groups monogamy was not the predominant practice; children, women, food, and other means of survival were shared communally. As the human race industrialized and became more civilized men and women began claiming children, and training them in specialized tasks or skills so that the offspring would further the family name, expand trade relations, and increase the family’s wealth. A woman’s claim to her children was that she bore them, while a man claimed his children by marrying their mother. Spar defines marriages of this sort,
“Marriage, an efficient bundle of legal, sexual, and economic ties, struck a deal that worked. Sex was an explicit part of this package. Love and romance were not.” (110)
The commencement of the Renaissance brought a new meaning to matrimony. As wealth grew, life spans increased, the population mobilized, and leisure time increased, couples remained married longer and spent more time together. Therefore, it became important that spouses liked and enjoyed each other. Love became vital to marriage.
“…Romance was simply integrated into the marriage contract, becoming one of those things—like sex and money, fidelity and inheritance—that husbands and wives brought into their bargain.” (111)
Today, societal norms enable women to have sex, men, and babies without the confines of marriage. The feminist movement paved the path for women’s economic success and the sexual revolution awarded women the opportunity to control sexual pleasure and reproduction.
Spar then ponders women’s freedom in relation to marriage in the modern world,
“Why in a world of independent women and sexually active girls does marriage still exist?…Sexually, marriage is obsolete. Reproductively, it is no longer necessary. Economically, its value is small and variable. And yet men and women across the United States continue not only to move to the altar, but to embrace it with a particular fervor.” (111)
While the wedding industry in America is booming and most young women fantasize about their perfect day, Spar concludes that there is something deeper about a woman’s desire for marriage that goes beyond her big day. Research shows that married men and women are generally healthier and are less likely to suffer from depression in comparison to single adults. Additionally, married couples are generally wealthier than single adults. However, these two reasons present problems:
- Causality: Does marriage result in couples being healthier or wealthier? Or are healthier and wealthier people more likely to marry?
- Credibility: Do men and women pursue marriage hoping to become healthier and wealthier? Is the search for a mate a quest to become healthier as a result? If marriage is a means to increased wealth, why do couples spend so much tying the knot?
Spar asserts that the desire for children and a family may be a more legitimate answer to our culture’s reasoning for marriage. Couples hope to raise their children in a protected and prosperous environment and most children benefit from having the influence of both a mother and father.
Spar concludes with the idea that modern marriage is about choices. It is about sacrificing a lifetime of infinite possibilities to join in union with a single mate.
“Once upon a time, women married because someone forced them to, or because marriage was the only route to prosperity, children and sex…Now…It’s about fireworks and co-parenting; about lifelong romance, ecstatic sex, and partners who will truly be everything for those lucky enough to snare them…We want our marriages to be about more than sex or children, which is good. We want our husbands to be partners rather than just providers. But by embracing these multiple goals—by aiming and expecting to have it all again—we have also turned marriage into a romantic ideal, a fairy-tale version in which princes stay charming forever and unions are perpetually blessed.” (121)
1) Consider this: Our society accepts and sometimes promotes cohabitation and pregnancies outside of marriage. Why then do you think marriage is a thriving and sought after practice for many young men and women today?
2) What influences (societal, cultural, religious, family , etc.) have helped develop your views about marriage in the modern day?
3) Do you plan to be married someday? If so, what are you intensions for doing so? Do you agree with Spar that most women seek marriage as a route to children and a family?