From the New York Times bestselling author Andrew M. Greely comes an astute study on love and relationships
Based on surveys conducted by "Psychology Today" and the National Opinion Research Center, Faithful Attraction: Discovering Intimacy, Love, and Fidelity in American Marriage challenges conventional wisdom that marriage is in trouble and reveals the key ingredients of marital happiness.
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About the Author
Priest, sociologist, author and journalist, Father Andrew M. Greeley built an international assemblage of devout fans over a career spanning five decades. His books include the Bishop Blackie Ryan novels, including The Archbishop in Andalusia, the Nuala Anne McGrail novels, including Irish Tweed, and The Cardinal Virtues. He was the author of over 50 best-selling novels and more than 100 works of non-fiction, and his writing has been translated into 12 languages.
Father Greeley was a Professor of Sociology at the University of Arizona and a Research Associate with the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago. In addition to scholarly studies and popular fiction, for many years he penned a weekly column appearing in the Chicago Sun-Times and other newspapers. He was also a frequent contributor to The New York Times, the National Catholic Reporter, America and Commonweal, and was interviewed regularly on national radio and television. He authored hundreds of articles on sociological topics, ranging from school desegregation to elder sex to politics and the environment.
Throughout his priesthood, Father Greeley unflinchingly urged his beloved Church to become more responsive to evolving concerns of Catholics everywhere. His clear writing style, consistent themes and celebrity stature made him a leading spokesperson for generations of Catholics. He chronicled his service to the Church in two autobiographies, Confessions of a Parish Priest and Furthermore!
In 1986, Father Greeley established a $1 million Catholic Inner-City School Fund, providing scholarships and financial support to schools in the Chicago Archdiocese with a minority student body of more than 50 percent. In 1984, he contributed a $1 million endowment to establish a chair in Roman Catholic Studies at the University of Chicago. He also funded an annual lecture series, “The Church in Society,” at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary, Mundelein, Illinois, from which he received his S.T.L. in 1954.
Father Greeley received many honors and awards, including honorary degrees from the National University of Ireland at Galway, the University of Arizona and Bard College. A Chicago native, he earned his M.A. in 1961 and his Ph.D. in 1962 from the University of Chicago.
Father Greeley was a penetrating student of popular culture, deeply engaged with the world around him, and a lifelong Chicago sports fan, cheering for the Bulls, Bears and the Cubs. Born in 1928, he died in May 2013 at the age of 85.
Read an Excerpt
How the Study Came to Be
This chapter describes the background and the history of the project on which the book is based. It argues that even before the data analyzed in this study were collected, there was some reason to doubt that marriage was in as unsatisfactory a condition as the mass media Conventional Wisdom would have led one to believe. Moreover, it considers the possibility that women might be the victims of the social changes celebrated as a "Sexual Revolution." The chapter may be skipped by the reader who wishes to dig into the findings which are reported in subsequent chapters. On the other hand, those who wish to know more about how and why the study was done and the predispositions with which the author began it will demand such a chapter (not unreasonably). So here it is.
The Decline of Marriage?
We social scientists often engage in the (harmless) posture of pretending that we sit in our isolated think tanks, play with ideas and theories, derive hypotheses from our theories, and then seek data to test the hypotheses — either from original data collection or from existing data sets.
This posture is required for publication of our articles (which in turn wins us promotion and tenure) and is generally an innocent fiction. In fact, the quest for truth is a much more complicated and spontaneous affair. We follow hunches, instincts, guesses, sudden ideas, preconscious insights, and occasionally voices in the night (in our dreams). The theories are always there, usually in background mode, shaping our preconscious romps through social reality and gently pointing the direction in which our creativity rushes.
Occasionally it is helpful to try to trace the origins of a project and its development as a spontaneous surge of the preconscious (or the creative intuition if you will). In this study of marital intimacy and fidelity, it may even be necessary, so that the reader will understand the direction from which I'm coming.
The project started with my reading a Newsweek cover story in August 1987 about the decline and alleged revival of marriage in America. It was a more sophisticated essay than many others on the same subject. Contemporary marriage, it was argued, is caught in the counter-pressures of two-job families, the decline of the extended family, geographic and occupational mobility, greater demands on emotional intimacy, the weakening of old community ties, and the erosion of old moral values. Divorces are increasing; cohabitation without marriage is increasing; the age at marriage is increasing; the number of never-married people is increasing; approval of premarital sex is increasing; half the marriages in the country will eventually end in divorce; half the young people in America will not grow up in the traditional family of husband, wife, and children. Etc. Etc. Etc.
I had read this sort of article often before and had not taken it too seriously, for reasons I'll outline in the next section. However, a quote from my fellow sociologist Norval Glenn stopped me cold. The proportion of married people who said they were very happy had declined from the early years of the General Social Survey (GSS) to its later years. Marriage, Glenn observed, seemed to be responding less effectively to human needs in our hedonistic culture than it once had (Glenn and Weaver 1988).
Since I have great respect for Glenn as a scholar and a friend, I did not begrudge him his purple prose — which sounded more like the enthusiasm of Robert Bellah than the sober conclusion of a survey researcher. Quite apart, however, from my own suspicion about judgments concerning "hedonism," I was impressed by the apparent decline of the happiness of married people. What, I wondered, was going on?
Fallacies About Change
Through thirty years of sociological work, I have learned to be skeptical of the rapid-social-change scenarios which the mass media present and which many of my sociological colleagues seem ready to accept in fields other than their own specialties. This skepticism is neither principled nor dogmatic, but empirical. I believe that serious social change is happening only when I see convincing evidence of it. Much of the heralded social change is supported only by private opinions and guesses and dubious data. Until someone shows me solid data, I don't believe that anything has changed very much.
Much of the babble about social change in the popular media suffers from one or a combination of three fallacies: The first is the Future Shock fallacy. Based on the work of Toffler (1971), this approach argues that the enormous changes in the speed of transportation and communication (jets, TV, computers) have so changed the ambience in which we humans live that all our old norms and communities and anchors have been called into question. Generally, this approach begs the question: it assumes what is to be proven, namely that norms and communities and stabilities are indeed affected by dramatic changes in technologies. One must prove that, for example, jet travel does weaken the bonds between husband and wife instead of assuming as inevitable such a weakening.
I derive from this the following rule: no social change is to be considered inevitable as a consequence of other social changes unless it is proven in fact to be such a consequence.
The second fallacy about social change is the "rise and fall" fallacy. The mass media require paradigms to interpret social reality "on the fly"; that is, to prepare news stories on deadline. The "secularization" paradigm assumes the decline of religion. Its flip side, the "resacralization" (or return to religion) paradigm, assumes that there can be a "surge" or rise of religion. Thus for the last twenty years journalists have hassled me as a sociologist of religion about evidence they find for a "return to religion." For the last ten years they have also desperately sought evidence or opinion on the "rise of the religious (or Fundamentalist) right."
The week before I wrote this chapter I received calls about "a religious return among Baby Boomers" and the possible increase of "Fundamentalists" in the nineties.
Both paradigms assume a cycle. I routinely (and routinely in vain) point out that just as there is no evidence for a decline of religion in America, there is no evidence of a "religious revival." Religious behavior correlates with age: it declines from the middle teens to the middle twenties and then increases to the middle forties when it is not significantly different from the behavior of previous cohorts. Baby Boomers are no more likely on the average, and no less likely, to drift back to that from which they drifted away earlier in life.
Moreover, I say to those who are concerned with the "rise of the Moral Majority" that Fundamentalism has always been part of American life. The "First Great Awakening" was in 1744. For as long as we have survey data, the Fundamentalist component of American religion has been about 22% of the population. There is no evidence that it has increased in size during the last twenty years. The "rise" of Fundamentalism is merely the discovery by the New York–based national media of something that has always been there.
I confess that this experience with journalists on the aspect of sociology I know best has made me dubious about all their scenarios. Even before I read the Newsweek article in the summer of 1987, I assumed that the parallel scenario of "Sexual Revolution" and "new sexual conservatisms because of AIDS" was equally dubious — though I could hardly deny the increase in the divorce rate.
This brings us to the third fallacy, the "rate" fallacy. Rates are measures of human behavior — how many teenagers per hundred, for example, have experimented with drugs. They are not causes of behavior. They do not have an energy or a reality of their own which affects behavior. Yet often they are used in journalistic reports as though they were independent forces which cause social change instead of measures of change. The teenage drug usage rate is not a force which will inevitably and invariably cause younger men and women to use drugs when they become teens. Media articles or commentary about rates often seems to imply that the only thing rates can do is increase. If 15% of adolescents experiment with drugs this year as opposed to 10% last year, then surely 20% or maybe even 27.5% will experiment with drugs next year.
There is, however, no inherent reason why rates cannot go down as well as up. A younger generation of teenagers may use drugs less than their predecessors (which is in fact what has happened), thus depressing the rate.
If divorce rates, cohabitation rates, never-married rates, number-of-children rates, and age-at-marriage rates all continue to change, then eventually no one will be married and there won't be any more children — suggestions which seem to be implied by much of the mass media commentary on marriage.
Yet any reading of the literature on the history of the family shows that demographic rates can vary remarkably over time. Thus in Ireland before the Great Famine, age at marriage was low, birth rates were high, and illegitimacy was high. After the Famine, all the rates changed. With the first sign of prosperity in modern Ireland in the 1960s, the rates all changed again. In more remote eras, these crucial demographic rates bounce up and down, usually in response to economic conditions. Andrew Cherlin's work (1981) demonstrated that age at marriage and number of children have been relatively constant in the United States in this century, save for the years during and after the Second World War. The larger families and the younger age at marriage in the forties and fifties are the exception, and not the long-range trend from which the present rates are a deviation.
Thus my predispositions are to assume that a change in patterns of marital and premarital behaviors are the result of technological and economic factors which enable men and women to do what they would have rather liked to do anyway.
Research by Robert Michael, then director of the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) and now dean of the School of Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago, seemed to confirm this predisposition. In the late 1970s, Michael (1988) constructed an elaborate econometric model which assumed that the increase in divorces was a result of the development of the birth control pill and the resultant freedom of women to take advantage of employment opportunities. This model predicted a leveling off of the divorce rate in the 1980s, once the impact of the Pill had worked its way through the "system." Reality fit the curve of Michael's projection: divorce rates did indeed level off precisely when he predicted they would. A conclusion from this ingenious research exercise was that more effective fertility control enabled women to escape from marriages in which they had previously been trapped or in which they would have been trapped if they had not gained some economic independence.
Culture had changed because technology had made the culture change possible. It seemed to me that the new technology of the Pill could account for everything else that has been labeled "Sexual Revolution." It was easier — and safer — to engage in behavior which had never been unattractive.
Moreover, speculating on Michael's research, I reflected that an increase in the divorce rate need not mean that there was more frustration and less satisfaction in marriage. It might just as plausibly mean that it was now easier for those who were unhappy to leave their marriage, with the result that the average level of happiness inside marriage had gone up — or at least had remained the same.
Let us assume a hypothetical population of marriages in which half are relatively satisfactory and the other half not and which the divorce rate is 10%. A survey would reveal that 55% of the respondents report that their marriage was very happy. Then let us say that divorce becomes easier, and that more of the other 45% choose to divorce, so that the divorce rate rises to 20%. Assuming no change in the level of marital happiness in the population, one would discover in the second survey that 63% of the married population said that they were very happy. The divorce rate would have gone up and so would the proportion of those remaining married who said that they were very happy — and the level of marital dissatisfaction would not have changed in the population.
I'm not saying that this is what in fact has happened. I'm saying, rather, that one cannot assume in the absence of proof that this has not happened.
Let's take another scenario into consideration. Let us suppose that in the first example the actual level of satisfaction among the ever married increases at the same time, for reasons that are unrelated to the changes which make divorce easier. Thus the proportion ever married who are very happy rises from 55% to 60%. If the divorce rate is 20%, the proportion of those currently married who are "very happy" will be 75% — half again as high as it was before the two orthogonal changes took place. Again, I don't say that this is what has happened in the United States. I don't know, and neither does anyone else. I am saying that such a possibility cannot be ruled out in the absence of any evidence other than the fact of the increasing divorce rate.
The satisfaction of those who remain married is a matter for empirical investigation, not for a priori assumptions based on the divorce rate. That is, in the absence of data about those who remained married, there is no a priori reason to conclude that an increase in divorce indicates an increase in frustration and unhappiness among those who remain married.
Not only did the divorce rate level off in the early and middle eighties, so too did the rate of those who had never married, the average age at marriage, and even approval of premarital sex. As I argue later, this leveling off does not seem to fit the scenario of a reaction to AIDS. Rather, the stabilization of rates seems more readily explicable according to the same model as that which Michael had developed for the rise in divorce rates: the effect of safe and easy fertility control working its way through the social "system."
Michael in other research (Willis and Michael 1988) also established that most cohabitation is not an escape from marriage but a preparation for marriage.
Thus my assumptions in the summer of 1987: I was not disposed to be convinced that there had been a "decline" or a "revival" in marriage. Rather I suspected that improved methods of fertility control would account for most if not all the changes which had occurred in sexual and marital behavior. Marriage was in a lot less trouble, I assumed, then the popular media analyses suggested that it was.
I suspected that the usual proclivities to view with alarm or to celebrate social change revealed more about those who took such positions than they did about the actual condition of marriages in America. "Conservatives" warned of the end of marriage and the family unless there was a return to the old morality. "Liberals" celebrated the new freedom and enthusiastically announced that half the marriages would end in divorce and that more than half of the children in the country would not grow up in "traditional" family environments. "Reactionary" church persons denounced materialism and consumerism and selfishness (and narcissism, if they knew the word). "Progressive" church persons warned that the churches would have to keep up with changing patterns of morality and intimacy.
Most such posturing, it seemed to me at the time, was a replay of positions taken repeatedly before by the same observers and their ancestors. There was nothing new under the sun. The more things changed, the more they remained the same. Certainly, a change in technology had made possible some changes in behavior, but the "New Permissiveness" and the "Sexual Revolution," as moral philosophies, sounded much like the old "Playboy Philosophy" in new garb. They were, I suspected, often nothing more than a new excuse which enabled men to justify attempts to "score" with women without any sense of responsibility for their victims.
Obviously I am attempting more here than to describe my state of mind in the summer of 1987 on the alleged decline of marriage. I am also trying to persuade the reader to concede for the sake of the argument, if nothing else, that the evidence to support the thesis of a dramatic decline in marriage was less than conclusive. Most people married. Most people were still married to their first spouse. Most divorced people remarried. Most cohabitations were a preparation for marriage. The decline of marriage — almost a dogma in the paradigms of mass media Conventional Wisdom — was arguably an artifact of the three fallacies I have listed in previous paragraphs.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Faithful Attraction"
Copyright © 1991 Andrew M. Greeley.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. How the Study Came to Be,
2. Ground Rules,
3. Americans Describe Their Marriages,
4. The Divorce Option,
5. Reconciliation Within Marriage,
6. Sexual Pleasure in Marriage,
7. Sex over Sixty,
8. Forced Sex,
9. Fear and Loathing in the Sexual Encounter,
10. Happy Marriages,
12. Marriages in Trouble,
13. Working Mothers and Marital Satisfaction,
14. The Fidelity Syndrome,
15. The Gender and Generation Gaps,
16. Social Class, Region, and Religion,
17. Cohabitation, Divorce, and Premarital Sex,
18. An Inhibited Society?,
19. What Happened to the Sexual Revolution?,
20. Winners and Losers,
21. Can Marriage Survive?,
Other Tor books by Andrew M. Greeley,
About the Author,