For Better & for Worse

The Marriage-Go-Round
The State of Marriage and Family in America Today
Andrew J. Cherlin
Alfred A. Knopf, $25.95, 288 pp.

Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University, is one of America’s leading experts on the family. After closely tracking developments for the past three decades, he’s decided to pull American marriage over and subject it to a close inspection. His book delivers a stern warning to this fast-paced conjugal culture: “Slow down—watch out for the children.”

Cherlin recognizes that if you want to get Americans’ attention it’s best to begin by telling them how “exceptional” they are compared to the rest of the West. Republicans tell Americans they are exceptional because of their staunch conservative commitments to faith, family, and the free market. Democrats tell Americans that they are exceptional because of their dedication to change, renewal, and reform.

Cherlin attempts to speak to both sides of this conversation by arguing that what’s exceptional about American marriage is its paradoxical mix of both conservative and liberal commitments. One side of the paradox is America’s fervor for marriage. Americans are public and passionate about marriage. Compared to other Western societies, Americans marry more, they invest more public money in marriage promotion and education, and they engage in more politically charged debates over marriage-related issues in their legislatures and courts, and from their pulpits.

On the other hand, American marriage culture...

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About the Author

Daniel Cere is professor of religion, ethics, and law at McGill University, and an affiliate scholar at the Institute for American Values.