Modern Marriage: The Ultimate Test

Have the roles of men and women in marriage changed in modern society? There are many theories hoping to answer this controversial question. One theory comes from David Popenoe, a Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University. Popenoe’s theory of roles in marriage is that a modern marriage needs to be reestablished to a more traditional way of living, or to “restore the traditional nuclear family of bread-winning husband and full-time housewife that flourished in the 1950’s” (Page 186). Another theory comes from Karen Zittleman (Ph. D), an education author and teacher; who takes her theory of modern marriage and brings it to a younger generation. Zittleman’s theory of marriage roles is “in more ways than one, especially biologically, boys and girls are more similar than different and that gendered stereotypes and expectations have a developmental history that starts with learned notions of femininity and masculinity” (Page 236). Both Popenoe’s and Zittleman’s theories are factually effective. Popenoe opens his reading with a firm questioning on the role shift in modern marriage, and he manages to effectively back his claims throughout the essay.

Zittleman also opens her reading strongly, jumping right to the point of her thesis and study. Zittleman uses studies conducted by other psychologists, statistics, and many factual statements. Popenoe uses studies conducted by other psychologists and many facts to support his thesis. However, Popenoe’s theory on such a controversial topic leaves very little or no room for ambiguity or interpretation while Zittleman leaves her theory open to her readers. Popenoe justifies his theory by first establishing the so-called confusion in today’s marital roles.

He explains how the right family life of having “ a legally and culturally dominant bread-winning husband and an economically dependent full-time housewife” (Page 186) has drastically changed to “much confusion over family expectations and marital gender roles” (Page 187). Throughout his study, he explained how there were three major downfalls for the shift in martial roles: broken families, women failing to juggle family and work life, and negative repercussions for men. After noting studies and works done by Bronfenbrenner and Bowlby, Popenoe discusses the biological attributions with the shift of family martial roles.

Popenoe explains that “a stronger case should be presented at this time, one of declining family stability and personal well-being” (Page 193). With this, Popenoe reveals his “Seven Tenents for Establishing New Marital Norms,” which is a remedy for society’s confusion over marital gender-role expectations. Step one in his “Seven Tenents” explains how both girls and boys should be trained according to their abilities. Step two explains that young people should grow up with the expectation that they will marry once, and they will wait for marriage until they are in their late 20’s.

Step three includes specific ages that are proper for men and women to marry. Step four explains that single men and women should start saving for their married lives. Step five infers that women are encouraged to leave the labor market once children are born. Step six explains that the father should take primary responsibility for the children after time with their mothers. Step seven infers the balancing of domestic and paid work. However, Zittleman would mostly disagree with Popenoe’s theory. In Zittleman’s study, she first justifies her theory by presenting two studies done by other psychologist on middle school children: “… iddle school is a critical time for gender identity development” (Page 238). The first set of charts displays the sex and race of the students in 5 public middle schools. Zittleman reveals that “gender plays a significant role in the lives of middle school students, expanding some options, but more often limiting the academic and social development of females and males” (Page 241). Zittleman then reveals charts that convey answers that display “The best thing about being a boy and the best thing about being a girl. ” “Both sexes had more positive things to say about being a boy than being a girl” (Page 241).

Zittleman then proceeds to pose the questions, “What is the worst thing about being a boy and what is the worst thing about being a girl? ” For boys, “they listed fighting, discipline, poor grades, fear of homophobia, and difficulty with friendships and emotions” (Page 241). For girls, “relational aggression” was the top answer for most, and that included gossip, spreading rumors and the trust in friends. Zittleman jumps to her main point of importance in educating schools about gender equity. Like many theories, there is always room for critique, especially a theory about such a controversial topic.

One of the main downfalls of Popenoe’s essay was the overall structure and organization. For example, Popenoe opens his essay with an introduction that was not well fitted for a reader. Another organizational flaw in Popenoe’s essay is the lack of charts. Popenoe brings a lot of studies and facts to his piece, but there were too many studies placed together which could confuse some of his readers. Popenoe says that although decline in population is not an imminent problem, this trend displays the sentiment among many adults that they do not value having a family as a lifestyle that will “fulfill their major values. In addition to this trend, he correlates the increase in divorces as an indication of a decline in the value of family. He points to the fact that women are increasingly economically independent and therefore able to divorce. He points out that regardless of the fact that this decline is seen in the eyes of feminists as a gain in equality for women, it does not change the fact that it could be seen as the main cause of the breaking up of the nuclear family unit. Popenoe’s thesis and argument on the whole appear to be extremely obtuse.

It seemed that he came at the issue through a very narrow track of research that did not take into account other societal problems that contribute to divorce and other reasons he cites for the shift in martial roles. Popenoe did a wonderful job when it came to finding facts and studies that proved his theory. Nevertheless, there were too many facts to register which depleted the essay’s effectiveness. Zittleman however faced a few challenges herself in her study of “Being a Girl and Being a Boy. ” Like Popenoe, one of Zittleman’s main downfalls in her essay was the organization.

Unlike Popenoe, Zittleman opened her essay with a personal study. Zittleman, also took advantage of using charts, but there were an overwhelming amount. Some studies in Zittleman’s essay really didn’t need to be represented in chart form; a simple written explanation would have been better for the readers. There were a few charts that were sometimes unclear to the readers. At times throughout their essays, both Popenoe and Zittleman became unaware of their audience, which could have explained the distorted views in Popenoe’s essay.

It can be argued that Zittleman’s target audience could be students, but it mostly pertains to the professors and teachers. When it came to Popenoe, his target audience was rather confusing at times; I really couldn’t place a proper target audience for his essay. Both Popenoe’s and Zittleman’s essays try to answer the question of the shift of roles in modern marriage. Though Zittleman uses charts and Popenoe doesn’t, the styles in both works are best understood by an audience of pre-educated readers in this topic. After re-reading both studies done by both authors, heir area of study is similar, but the way they approached it was completely different. All in all, both Zittleman and Popenoe do a great job when it came to supporting their thesis. Zittleman achieved her goal as a writer when it came to appeasing for a wide range of audiences. Popenoe, however, focuses so much on proving his theory with facts that he fails to remember he has a wide variety of readers. Although I personally disagree with Popenoe’s theory, he still did a great job in supporting his work factually.

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