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Gender and the Culture of Heterosexual Marriage in the United States


Department of Sociology, University at Albany, Albany, NY, 12222 (


This theoretical narrative extends Andrew Cherlin's argument about the role of clashing values in high rates of marital disruption in the United States. Cherlin explains challenges to American marriages as deriving from tension between cultural ideals of marriage and individualism. Drawing on social construction and gender theory, we contend that gender differentiation affects both the institution of marriage and married people's personal dissatisfactions. We further suggest that racial/ethnic and class positions are likely to influence how people enact marriage and that accountability to gendered norms intersects with these positions. Unlike dominant cultural messages that signal that wives should accept the negative influence of gender differentiation, we argue that prevention of marital disruption requires critique of socially constructed “his and hers” marriages.