Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

Who Are You Going to Believe -- the National Marriage Project or Your Plants?

The risk of too many nuclear families

In the latest report on the state of American marriage, University of Virginia sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox "called on society to do a better job of pointing out the advantages of marriage." Lest we forget Dan Quayle's greatest hits, Wilcox also proclaimed that "children are much more likely to thrive if they are raised in a married home with their own mother and father."

The report was produced by the National Marriage Project and the Institute of American Values. Do names like David Blankenhorn, David Popenoe, Linda Waite, and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead sound familiar? Then you will not be surprised that the Project and the Institute are groups that often take a dim view of cohabitation, single-parenting, and same-sex parenting. I don't think I'm misrepresenting their views by stating that they would like to see just about all adults get married, in the 1 man + 1 woman version, then have kids.

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In Singled Out, Single with Attitude, and in many of my posts here at Living Single, I've critiqued the tired claim that individuals and societies would be better off if we'd all just get married and stay that way. I've also analyzed studies that purport to show that the children of single parents are doomed. (There's a list of relevant posts here).

So today, I'll do something different. I'll tell you about the work of a scholar, John Scanzoni, who believes that too much uniformity in the ways we live is unhealthy. The title of one of his writings is "Household diversity: The starting point for healthy families in the new century."

Scanzoni adopts his notion of diversity from the plant and animal kingdom. There, diversity is not just tolerated, it is celebrated. In his words:

"In ecology, diversity means not only that a variety of species flourish, among which none is considered to be the ‘best,' but also that each species belongs to an ecosystem, a community of interconnected living things."

"...if uniformity reigned in a biological ecosystem, it would not be long before that dull sameness led to the system's decline."

"...household innovations are healthy because they reflect the freedom of persons to explore who they are and to be fulfilled while also contributing to others."

His policy recommendations sound very different from the ones coming out of the National Marriage Project and the Institute for American Values:

"...society would be better off developing a culture of household variety than anxiously holding onto what some call a marriage culture. In terms of interdependence, the assumption would be that it is healthier to develop a network of connectedness among households of varying compositions than to retain the current levels of household non-connectedness."

Just something to think about as the old "marriage rules" argument gets renewed attention.

[Thanks to Lisa and Christina at Onely for the heads-up about this latest marriage report.]


Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., is author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. She is a visiting professor at UCSB.


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