Review of Marriage at the Crossroads

27 Pages Posted: 14 May 2013 Last revised: 15 May 2013

Date Written: May 13, 2013


This is a book review of Marriage at the Crossroads, edited by Marsha Garrison and Elizabeth Scott, which was published by Cambridge Press in 2012. The book contains contributions by prominent scholars from various disciplines, including Sara McLanahan, Naomi Cahn, Andrew Cherlin, Irwin Garfinkel, and Robert Emery. Apparently each contributor was asked to write something pertaining to what might constitute optimal contemporary family policy relating to marriage.

Some of the contributors address the issue of whether gay partners should be able to marry. While this issue is of course relevant today, I think the other focus of the book is even more important. These other chapters discuss how the increasing economic inequality in America is impacting U.S. family life. As I more fully discuss in the draft review, the divorce rate for college graduates is now substantially lower than for those without a college degree. For example, for women marrying in 1990-94, the divorce rate within 10 years of marriage for those women with a college degree was 16%, compared to 47% for women without a high school degree and 37% for high school graduates. This shocking comparison does not even fully reveal the magnitude of the problem. An increasing number of women without a college degree are having children while unmarried, and these relationships are even more unstable than the marriages of women without a college degree. As I detail more fully in the review, family instability in the U.S. is substantially higher that that found in Western Europe. For example, one study of a number of European countries found that the divorce rate for married couples within the first five years after the birth of their first child was between 2% and 9%. In contrast, the comparable U.S. rate was 20%. When compared to Western Europe, the U. S. divorce rate for married parents resembles the dissolution rate for unmarried parents in Europe. The dissolution rate for U.S. unmarried parents is much higher than the rate in Europe.

So, U.S. families are substantially more unstable than families in Western Europe, and American families headed by those without a college degree are particularly unstable. Family instability is bad for children for a number of reasons. This is a very important American social problem that gets too little attention. Contributors to Crossroads offer a number of possible policy responses to this problem. In the review I discuss these proposals. I also point out that, in the current political environment in the U.S., it seems very difficult to imagine that Congress would agree to a response that would involve substantial new government expenditures. So, I also discuss what short-term responses might be possible that would not require substantial new expenditures.

Keywords: Gay marriage, fragile families, unmarried parents, marriage, divorce, cohabitation

Suggested Citation

Oldham, J. Thomas, Review of Marriage at the Crossroads (May 13, 2013). Family Law Quarterly, 2013, U of Houston Law Center No. 2013-A-5, Available at SSRN:

J. Thomas Oldham (Contact Author)

University of Houston Law Center ( email )

4604 Calhoun Road
Houston, TX 77204-6060
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics