Marriage is now all-or-nothing

As the expectations of marriage have ascended Maslow’s hierarchy, the potential psychological payoffs have increased — but achieving those results has become more demanding.

HERE lie both the great successes and great disappointments of modern marriage. Those individuals who can invest enough time and energy in their partnership are seeing unprecedented benefits. The sociologists Jeffrey Dew and W. Bradford Wilcox have demonstrated that spouses who spent “time alone with each other, talking, or sharing an activity” at least once per week were 3.5 times more likely to be very happy in their marriage than spouses who did so less frequently. The sociologist Paul R. Amato and colleagues have shown that spouses with a larger percentage of shared friends spent more time together and had better marriages.

But on average Americans are investing less in their marriages — to the detriment of those relationships. Professor Dew has shown that relative to Americans in 1975, Americans in 2003 spent much less time alone with their spouses. Among spouses without children, weekly spousal time declined to 26 hours per week from 35 hours, and much of this decline resulted from an increase in hours spent at work. Among spouses with children at home, spousal time declined to 9 hours per week from 13, and much of this decline resulted from an increase in time-intensive parenting.

Eli Finkel in the NYTimes on the third age of marriage we're living now, one he calls the self-expressive marriage, the first two being institutional and companionate.

What caught my eye was the distribution of marriage quality as measured by divorce rates.

One of the most disturbing facts about American marriage today is that while divorce increased at similar rates for the wealthy and the poor in the 1960s and ’70s, those rates diverged sharply starting around 1980. According to the sociologist Steven P. Martin, among Americans who married between 1975 and 1979, the 10-year divorce rate was 28 percent among people without a high school education and 18 percent among people with at least a college degree: a 10 percentage point difference. But among Americans who married between 1990 and 1994, the parallel divorce rates were 46 percent and 16 percent: an astonishing 30 percentage point difference.

It's not just household income or venture capital returns that show this signature barbell distribution anymore, it has extended to marriage.

Fascinating read, and not surprisingly, the most emailed article on the NYTimes right now.