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The Marriage Problem

How Our Culture Has Weakened Families


James Q. Wilson (View Bio)
Hardcover: HarperCollins, 2002; Paperback: HarperPerennial, 2003.

The Marriage Problem

"The finest social scientist of his generation answers the most vexing question of the day about American culture; why has marriage, the foundation of healthy society, been so weakened? He identifies two fundamental causes. One is an American sin — slavery. The other is, up to a point, an American virtue — individualism. And on the basis of this convincing diagnosis, Wilson recommends remedial measures — the unity of theory and practices — in a slender volume." — George F. Will

"Our smartest social scientist has attacked our most important social problem." — David Blankenhorn

"One of our most distinguished social scientists...Wilson has turned his attention to [an] area in which he sees deterioration — marriage and the family. He brings the most reliable empirical evidence to bear to make his case." — Washington Post Book World

"Once again, James Q. Wilson illuminates a vexing contemporary problem with his formidable intellect and the resources of modern social science. Without hand-wringing or polemics, he shows why a society that prizes freedom and self-government cannot afford to ignore what is happening to the institution of marriage — and points the way toward its rehabilitation." — Mary Ann Glendon

"James Q. Wilson [is] one of the most influential conservative thinkers around." — The New York Times Book Review

"In THE MARRIAGE PROBLEM: How Our Culture Has Weakened Families, the eminent social scientist James Q. Wilson sets out to offer an explanation deeper than 'The Sixties' for the destabilization of marriage in recent years. The resulting short book is a fine multidisciplinary survey of the history of marriage and the forces conspiring to weaken it.... We need to find — for exactly the reasons James Q. Wilson so clearly shows — a way back from the 'illusory emancipation' that has damaged us so deeply." — The Weekly Standard

"Justly renowned for his gift for converting opaque sociology into lucid arguments, Wilson here ponders the cultural dynamics of America's remarkable retreat from wedlock. Though some have blamed the nation's epidemics of divorce and illegitimacy on the tumultuous 1960s, Wilson probes much deeper. His careful scholarship uncovers the subtle ways in which ancient African kinship patterns still affect social life in the inner city and illuminates the legal traditions that turned eighteenth-century philosophizing into twentieth-century divorce statutes. But Wilson aims to explain not only how marriage has lost strength in modern America but also why that loss matters. With a raft of recent studies, he shows that once a society loses the anchorage of wedlock, riptides begin to pull entire communities into alienation and despair. Wilson particularly laments the suffering of children exposed to poverty and emotional confusion by the disintegration of their families. And it is precisely because the toll of family dissolution has run so high that Wilson challenges his readers to join the search for ways to renew wedlock. That renewal, he makes clear, will require more than legislative finesse by shrewd lawmakers; it will require a profound shift in the entire culture. Wilson's sobering analysis will help spark the kind of discussions that often presage such a shift." — Booklist (starred review)

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