A union between two different people as partners in a formally recognised relationship. Formally in the sense that for a union to qualify as a marriage, it has to fall within the legal boundaries of the law. Because of this in some jurisdictions, marriage can be defined as the union between a man and a woman as partners. In most jurisdictions, the legal age for marriage is 18 years meaning that any union that involves people under the age of 18 does not qualify as a marriage. But over the years the format which these union between people occurs has constantly been changing. This paper is going to discuss the evolution of marriage specifically in the 19th and 20th century.
Evolution is the process of change that occurs in various aspect of human life, and its affected by the changes that take place in the society. Economic, Political and Religious factors are among the biggest influencers of marriage. Economic factors such as recession and economic bubbles impact the choices taken by people. An example would be the number of people getting married during periods of recessions greatly decreases compared to during an economic boom. The type of unions entered into also varies with these factors. Most men are unlikely to have multiple partners if they are financially unstable because of the burden of supporting multiple partners. Technology has also affected the type of marriages as it has allowed long distance relationships to thrive. Coincidentally it has also increased the rate of divorces. Text messages, phone calls and social media chats have all become a means through which people cheat on their partners. This is also the most common way they get caught. (Kindregan 34)
In the United States, the state laws govern civil marriage. All states defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman in the 19th century and early 20th century. The evolution has been a victim of the various historical events that were taking place in America, such as the Civil War, the industrialisation, the two world wars. One the processes through which the evolution took place was in respect of the husband and wife roles.
In the 19th century marriage in America was at its most basic component where the man was regarded as the breadwinner while the woman was the homemaker (Letourneau 46). Most men would go to work and leave their wives at home to take care of the children. During the late 19th century marriage would experience a revolution. The rapid industrialisation that was taking place and the feminism that was sweeping across the nation encouraged women to take up other responsibilities than those of housekeeping. Calls by various feminists such as Kate Choppin would say, it is better to wake up after all, even if is to suffer than remain a dupe to illusions all ones life. By this quote, she was referring to the nature of marriage in America. The role of a wife was to ensure she maintains the house to be very clean and attractive that her husband would always be attracted home by the memories of his house. She was also required to do the same to her body. That looks as attractive as possible when her husband gets home. This way their lives always seemed easier because they didnt have to deal with the issues of the outside world.
The women would also have lots of children because they would have time to attend to them. The call for more responsibilities saw a decrease in the rate of childbirths. Most women who were taking up jobs in the factories and offices were having to give birth to few children. A trend that would see president Roosevelt later encouraging women to give birth so as to ensure the longevity of the nation. His calls were heard, and women returned home to their traditional duties. The trend would continue until the occurrence of the Second World War. As many men ran to the theatre of death wives would be left home with the children. Eventually, there was the need for workers in the factories and industries, and therefore the women had to leave their homes and go to work. This stage of evolution saw one of the biggest shifts in the structure of marriage because even after return from war some of the soldiers still depended on their wives to make a living.
Then there came the baby boom and wives had to return home to take care of the children. The economy was experiencing a period of rapid growth, job creation was at its peak, and most people could afford to take care of large families. The baby boom saw the roles of the husband and wife return to their traditional structure because the economy was good and one partner could comfortably support the entire family. The baby boom also saw a sprawl in suburbs where these families were raised
Marriage was originally devoid of love until the 18th century when enlighten thinkers pushed forward for the pursuit of happiness in life. They proposed that marriage should be done because of love and not because of creating wealth or any other deal that was traditionally practised. The 19th century then saw people marrying each other for love regardless of whether the society approved it or not. This can be said to be the period that divorce formally became a concept. Initially, divorce was not common in America, and it was not easy for it to occur (Schmitz). But the marriage for happiness notion resulted in ending of the unhappy marriages because people wanted to be in a relationship that they were happy in.
With this also came the calls for equality. Prior to the 19th-century wives were regarded as their husbands property, and they would dedicate their lives to satisfy the needs and demands of their husbands. The 20th century brought about the rise of feminism and wives demanded to be treated as equals to their husbands.
Half of the marriages ended up in divorces. The rise of the concept of marriage as a contract between two equals meant that the contract was terminated if terms of the contract were not met. Marriage was now considered a relationship between two equals in search of happiness, and love. This resulted in the call for gay marriage recognition. They would argue that if happiness was the basis for marriages, then they too have the right to happiness and if same-sex marriage would guarantee them that then they should be allowed to do so. This resulted in some states to legalise same-sex marriage which eventually led spread of same-sex marriage. Although very few states had this provision, it did introduce a new form of marriage. The advent of contraceptives gave couples especially women the power to decide how many children they would want to have. For some, they would choose to have no children at all.
The late 20th century saw marriage have many adaptations where couples were allowed to set their own terms and conditions in marriage. This led to the development of open relationships where couples allowed each other to have multiple partners provided they remain married to each other. These open relationships were adopted by the baby boomers who could not stick to monogamy. The felt that the biggest cause of divorce was unfaithfulness in marriage. But one cannot be termed as being unfaithful in they are allowed to have more than one partner. The terms of the open relationship could be adjusted to a specific number of partners that one could be with. Going beyond this number would be considered cheating.
Another evolution saw the age of marriage change. It changed in that the average gap between couples has drastically reduced from when the early 20th century to the late 1990s. Previously a substantial age gap had existed between man and wife. The gap had reduced by the time of the baby boomers, and it reduced even further when the millennials entered the picture. The average age gap in millennials is 5 years. Most millennials are not comfortable with partners who are beyond this gap, unlike their parents who had an average gap of 10 years. Research also indicate millennials are increasingly getting married at a much older age. Their fathers and grandparents got married in their early 20s, but millennials prefer to get married at their 30s. This could be due to the changing economics of the country.
Letourneau, Charles Jean Marie. The Evolution of Marriage. W. Scott, 1914.
Schmitz, S-F. Hsu, Stavros Busenberg, and C. Castillo-Chavez. "On the evolution of marriage functions: It takes two to tango." Biometrics Unit Technical Report BU-1210-M, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York (1993).
Kindregan Jr, Charles P. "Religion, polygamy, and non-traditional families: disparate views on the evolution of marriage in history and in the debate over same-sex unions." Suffolk UL Rev. 41 (2007): 19.
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