The main hypothesis of their article is that marriage and community are competing for resources and that marriage reduces community involvement. There are a few theories of family and kinship out there that suggest this competition but
research on the costs and benefits of contemporary marriages largely ignores these theoretical suggestions.
So, Gerstel and Sarkisian start to take a look at the data gathered in a couple of surveys (sorry, I had to sneak stats back in…). What did they learn?
- Involvement with parents and siblings is lower for married men and women. This is independent of socio-economic factors, presence of children, and race. Marital status has a negative impact.
- Involvement with friends and neighbors is lower for married men and women. Again, this holds true across socio-economic factors but not race. For White married folks marital status has a negative impact. Presence of children counteracts this somewhat but married people with children still have less connections.
So, in two crucial areas, marriage has a negative impact on connections.
The authors propose material, emotional, and cultural reasons for these findings. A marriage takes time and energy to maintain, leaving less for other relationships. Married people might have more money, thus are able to buy other services rather than relying on a network of reciprocal help. The idea of a “soul mate” imply that the marital partner is the primary confidant and main source of support. This ties directly into the “cultural expectations of self-sufficiency.” Married people are expected to be able to support each other financially and emotionally.
It does not have to be this way, though, suggesting to me that the cultural expectations are the primary driver here. Sarkisian and Grestel point out that
The greed of marriage is hardly universal – it is primarily a contemporary phenomenon. Anthropologists of so-called primitive societies – those hardly touched by industrialization or globalization – find that marriage is often used to expand rather than limit community ties.
Marriage is a community event and not a private adventure, which is unlike modern marriage with its emphasis on the couple and on privacy – disappearing on a honeymoon and then into the privacy of their own home.
The authors end their article with a caution about marriage promotion: Promoting marriage produces a reduction in community involvement, which is detrimental to society at large.