Summary: When teaching about social institutions, sociology instructors often aim to illustrate the ways in which, paradoxically, institutions are both rigid and changing over time. This includes the institution of marriage. The recent Supreme Court decision to federally recognize same-sex marriage offers a very clear, timely, and high-profile example of the changing nature of the institution. Students might not, however, see as readily the ways in which heterosexual marriages have also changed dramatically over time. In this video, Stephanie Coontz, professor of history and family studies, illustrates how marrying for love is a radical and very modern idea, first appearing in the late 18th century. Coontz points to two paradoxes that emerged once love played a role in marriage; both have to do with the stability of the institution. First, she shows that the very things that have made marriage as a love relationship more rewarding, have made marriage as an institution less stable. Today, marriage has the opportunity to be more loving than ever, but if it doesn't work out that way, it seems less tolerable. Second, the strongest emotions are not necessarily the ones that sustain the most satisfying relationships. She goes on to discuss research on marriage stability and marriage satisfaction. While this video, as well as the Supreme Court's decision on same-sex marriage, highlight the changing nature of the institution, viewers can be encouraged to think about the ways in which the institution of marriage remains quite rigid. How does this rigidity continue to structure behavior? Further, viewers can be encouraged to think about how increased emotional satisfaction in marriage has come at the expense of institutional stability. What are the societal costs and benefits of such an arrangement? This lecture is pulled from the arguments Coontz (2005) makes in her book, Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage.
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp