How the goal of marriage has changed over time

There has been a lot of recent discussion about marriage and its place in American society. Within this, researchers present new insights into how what people expect from marriage and their partners has changed over time:

The notion that the best marriages are those that bring satisfaction to the individual may seem counterintuitive. After all, isn’t marriage supposed to be about putting the relationship first?

Not anymore. For centuries, marriage was viewed as an economic and social institution, and the emotional and intellectual needs of the spouses were secondary to the survival of the marriage itself. But in modern relationships, people are looking for a partnership, and they want partners who make their lives more interesting.

Caryl Rusbult, a researcher at Vrije University in Amsterdam who died last January, called it the “Michelangelo effect,” referring to the manner in which close partners “sculpt” each other in ways that help each of them attain valued goals.

These findings would seem to have consequences for marriage as an institution and for society as a whole. While this particular article doesn’t really discuss these consequences, it is also interesting to be reminded how the institution of marriage has changed.

I would be curious to read work by people who have linked these findings about partnerships and shared goals and reconciled this with religious perspectives on marriage. This article also reminds me of Ann Swidler’s Talk of Love and her discussion about how individuals create new strategies between the cultural poles of romantic love and committed love.

The ill effects on men of competing for a spouse

A study in the August issue of Demography found “guys who lived in areas where there was more competition for women wound up dying younger.” The findings were based on data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (a fantastic data source: “a long-term study of a random sample of 10,317 men and women who graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957“) and Medicare and Social Security records.

According to the authors, there are multiple reasons why this might occur:

Perhaps the increased competition to find a wife made them feel more stress, which can have negative consequences for long-term health.

The men might have had to wait longer to get married, which could be bad for their health. A number of studies have shown that spouses (especially wives) play a role in contributing to one another’s health and survival.

In places where men outnumbered women, the men (on average) had to settle for what the researchers described as a “lower-quality spouse,” which could translate into less coddling and pampering from the wife and thus worse health.

This study is part of a growing body of research that suggest social factors, like the weight of our friends, have a profound influence on our well-being and lifespan.

Also: will the calculators of RealAge add this to their formula?