The History of Marriage

Last night I saw the play Pride and Prejudice at Wright State University.  That got me to thinking about marriage.

As part of my training to become a teacher, I read the book Marriage, a History for a Sociology course. It was a real eye-opener and one of the more interesting books I’ve ever read.

Marrying for love is actually a pretty recent innovation. An instructive quote: “Until the late eighteenth century, most societies around the world saw marriage as far too vital an economic and political institution to be left entirely to the free choice of the two individuals involved, especially if they were going to base their decision on something as unreasoning and transitory as love.” (page 5)

This means if you lived in a small village from harvest to harvest like most of humanity for thousands of years, there were some very practical factors to consider. You needed a mate to give you the best chance of survival.   In those pre-Wal-Mart days, skills like hunting, preserving food and making clothes were essential.

From the man’s standpoint (since I’m one of those), if you were a merchant, you needed a wife who could do all the domestic chores and help with the business, like keeping your finances in order. If you were a farmer and your mule got sick, you might need your wife to pull the plow. It was a completely different calculation.

Fortunately, civilization has progressed a long way since then.

Marriage, a History by Stephanie Coontz, Viking Penguin, 2005


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