Diverging family structure and “rational” behavior: The decline in marriage as a disorder of choice
The past fifty years have witnessed a growing divergence in family structure by social class, income, education, and race. The goal is to explain why significant segments of the population are moving away from the traditional patterns of family and reproduction. Most demographers acknowledge that external and material constraints fail to account for most of the present dispersion by class and race in marriage, divorce, and patterns of childbearing. Nor do these factors explain the widening of disparities over time. In attempting to improve on prior theories, this paper proposes a different explanation for these developments. It argues that demographic trends can best be explained as the product of growing differences in styles of thinking about partner choice and reproductive behavior. Drawing on the work of psychologists Richard Herrnstein and Gene Heyman, the paper presents a model that contrasts two distinct types of “rational” choice: “global” and “local.” It then demonstrates that average disparities by race and class in the adoption of local or global decisionmaking methods can account for the significant demographic variations now observed in rates of marriage, divorce, and out of wedlock childbearing. The paper then suggests that this diversity emerged in the wake of the normative deregulation of the sexual revolution. The demise of strong heuristic mores and institutional constraints, and the rise of individualism, facilitated the development of contrasting decisionmaking styles in intimate relations.
Date of Authorship for this Version
Decline of matrimony, social change and deterioration, family structure, reproductive choice and behavior, demographic change in families, childbearing out of wedlock, childrearing, rational choice, sexual norms, normative deregulation of sex, birth control, individualistic behavior, intimate relations, approaches to decisionmaking
Wax, Amy L., "Diverging family structure and “rational” behavior: The decline in marriage as a disorder of choice" (2010). Scholarship at Penn Law. 321.