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Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy or How Love Conquered Marriage

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  3,050 ratings  ·  416 reviews
Marriage has never been more fragile. But the same things that have made it so have also made a good marriage more fulfilling than ever before. In this enlightening and hugely entertaining book, historian and marriage expert Stephanie Coontz takes readers from the marital intrigues of ancient Babylon to the sexual torments of Victorian couples to demonstrate how recent the ...more
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published June 1st 2005 by Viking Books (first published May 19th 2005)
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Average rating 3.97  · 
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 ·  3,050 ratings  ·  416 reviews

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Aug 12, 2007 rated it it was ok
Reminds me of just how culturally marginal intellectuals are in general--not just queer ones. The traits that probably make this book accessible and engaging for a mass audience drive me wild on a scholarly level. I want citations!! And really, I'm not solicited by the cuteness of chapter titles like "Soap Operas of the Ancient World."

I suppose the first two sections, which offer a sort of cross-cultural & historical context for white bourgeois Western marriage norms, are well-intentioned. It's
Jul 14, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
And to think I could have taken a course with Stephanie Coontz back in the day when I was a student at The Evergreen State College... Alas, I was not interested in the history of the family then.

Now as a Lit prof., how I wish I had. Teaching works like 'Trifles,' 'A Doll House,' 'The Yellow Wallpaper,' stories by Kate Chopin and others which center on marriage, I find myself constantly trying to correct students' notions of marriage in history. Many of them really do believe that marriage as we
Jun 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I borrowed this book from our local library. It wasn't recommended or out on display, and I honestly am not sure why I picked it up, but I'm glad I did.

Jammed packed with interesting tidbits, Coontz has put together a tremendous history of marriage, which in the process examines not only the evolution of marriage and its role in society but also the changing ideas about men and women and their relationship to each other.

She starts by talking about how people have this tendency to believe things
Feb 09, 2016 rated it it was ok
Recommended to El by: The F-Word
Marriage is one of those things that doesn't appeal to me on a personal level. I think it's fine and dandy that people choose to get married, but in my own little world it's never really been something I consider an important task to complete. This doesn't mean I don't believe in monogamy or commitment. I've been with the same man for 11 years now, we've lived together pretty much as long, and marriage is just not a road we will be taking. We are also not having children. We may be that "small" ...more
Jan 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
If you don't have time to read this amazing academic history of marriage, here is the Cliffnotes version:

"traditional marriage" lol

Her treatment of Victorian-era sexuality and marriage was absolutely riveting. You can skip ahead to that part, I won't judge you.

My only complaint (and it's a small, nitpicky polypoint) is that while she presents a lot of disparate pieces of information about monogamy, multiple marriages, as well as more fluid arrangements, she neglects to weave them together to
Kimba Tichenor
This book may be of interest to those who have not studied the history of marriage in the western world. Certainly, it offers a good overview of how the institution of marriage has changed and adapted over the centuries in response to larger cultural, political, and socioeconomic changes. However, the book suffers from several flaws. First it is too ambitious and ultimately bites off more than it can chew. The result is important topics such as Christianity's responses to changing attitudes abou ...more
I picked this book up because of my interest in anthropological roots of marriage. When humans are not biologically coded for monogamy, how did this come into existence? How has something so consequential like marriage is based on loosely-defined terms like love and such? This and many more were answered when marriage was shown through the lens of history.

The first part of the book which tries to give a basic understanding on the beginnings of marriage was fun to read and had a great deal of ant
Nov 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I am not sure I agree or disagree with this authors take on the original purpose of marriage -- whether it was to gain alliances with in-laws, to suppress and exploit women, to enter into a partnership of resources, etc -- but the history she provided was outstanding!
Jun 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
In general I have a very conservative opinion on marriage, and though this well-researched and convincingly written book enlarged my perspective, it did not change my view that "traditional" marriage is the ideal. I don't know that Coontz so much intended to dismiss that view, as to help readers realize that my traditional ideal is not "how it's always been," and certainly isn't how it always will be.

The bulk of the book traces the gradual change in marriage, from its long existence as the econo
Jan 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-for-school
This is one of my favorite books on the history of marriage, though it's not without its flaws. Coontz does an excellent job of taking a wide range of scholarly work and summing it up for a public audience. Through a discussion of marriage dating back to the ancient times, Coontz demonstrates that our current conception of marriage-for-love is a recent invention. Rather, marriage for the majority of history was an institution that was entered into for practical and pragmatic reasons, an institut ...more
Jan 11, 2011 rated it liked it
As a history book, this is pretty decent, although the title should really be "A History of Marriage in the Western World," since she mostly focuses on marriage in Europe and America. I read the whole book, which wasn't the easiest thing to do, since it is a history book and I was compelled to take notes on everything. Throughout the book, Coontz kept mentioning how marriage was hard in the modern world, and I kept waiting for some practical advice about this. When it finally came, I was infuria ...more
Jun 04, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, history
This is a fascinating, compelling, well-written, and lucid history of marriage. It's the fun kind of history book - the kind with enough anecdotes to make the individual pages fun and enough meat to give your brain something to chew. (Eeek, that metaphor needs to be put out of its misery. I promise I won't do that again this review.)

This book is a must-read for everyone who is concerned with the current status of marriage - the divorce rate, gay marriage, traditional family values, whatever. An
Aug 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
A history of marriage and also womens rights. Great storytelling and research. It could have been so much better--there was too little analysis and too much detail and history.
Apr 16, 2010 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, author-f
Not a hint or anything, dudes; just an interest.
James Steele
Oct 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A trip through the history of marriage, from its earliest beginnings in prehistory to the present day. What is "traditional marriage?" It takes an entire volume to do justice to the complete answer.

Marriage started as a way for families, tribes, and villages to form alliances and secure aid during hard times. Who is more likely to help you in times of need: a stranger, or family? Marriage made family out of strangers, and in the days before government, individual tribes and villages had to look
Aug 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Stephanie Coontz makes the case that the current condition of marriage in our culture is an inevitable destination from the confluence of social forces at work since the Middle Ages (Western culture).

Although sampling Eastern culture and tribes (mostly as proof of the great diversity of partnership contracts possible), it is primarily focused on the Western marriage and transformation of the marriage contract socially and politically. The list of expectations we have of our partnerships grows,
Feb 27, 2022 rated it liked it
thanks Stuti for bringing this one into my life!

this was fine, even good, but i just felt like it was missing something, and i still hold the ironclad belief that: when the match is right between two people, there’s no crisis or worldly circumstances (whether illness, pandemic, or anything else) that can stand a chance at breaking their deeper bond. The biggest stress tests will only draw those two closer together.

it’s real; it’s not a myth; i’ve seen examples of these partnerships multiple ti
Apr 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
What a stimulating and worthwhile read. It took me a while, but I'm glad I stayed with it. The writing, though dense and detailed, is accessible and engaging. And I think this is a great topic.

In this ambitious book, Stephanie Coontz takes us through the history of marriage from early days until today. In early times marriage was an entirely practical decision. It was a necessary way to organize the sharing of labor, since survival necessitated more than one person's efforts. As societies became
Mar 07, 2022 added it
Read the intro to get the gist. There was a time in my life I probably would have enjoyed investing in this. (Skipped/DNF)
Yolani Fernando
Jan 24, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2022
This book explores the contradictions of modern marriage by taking you back the origins of the institution and debunking the myth of there being one 'true' definition of marriage. It also invariably becomes a history of cohabitation and of divorce, both of which were far more common than people think. The most fascinating themes were that of marriage's role in economics, on how centralization of first the church and then the state codified marriage, taking power away from individuals. And what w ...more
Jonna Higgins-Freese
Mar 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Reading Coontz's work is always a breath of fresh air. She's grounded in thorough historical and sociological research, and she scrupulously avoids any inflammatory rhetoric -- she's the antidote to moral panic around family, marriage, etc.

She points out that that, while people have always fallen in love, only recently, and in Western culture, has this been seen as necessary or even a desirable basis for a marriage (15).

Coontz demonstrates convincingly that what some on the right call "traditio
Apr 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013, non-fiction
This is probably my favorite non-fiction book that I've ever read. I want to shove this book into the hands of everyone who clutches their pearls and laments the death of the "traditional" family. The author slowly and meticulously details the history of (mostly Western) marriage.

Of note for the pearl clutchers, the marriage of the 1950s is noted to be an "unprecedented marriage system" that "was the climax of almost two hundred years of continuous tinkering with the male protector love-based m
Stuart Woolf
Jan 17, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5 stars.

This book is of the type that takes one idea and expands on it, for over 300 pages. The basic thesis goes like this:

For most of human history, marriages were entered into for strictly economic (or, in some cases, political) reasons. Marriages on the basis of spousal love were considered tenuous, naive, and even idolatrous (i.e. offensive to God); their ubiquity today is a relatively recent development, a product of sexual egalitarianism and enhanced economic prospects for women. Love h
Jan 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
I wish this book on everyone whether married, unmarried, anxious about the state of your relationships or perfectly content. A compelling lens to explore ancient and medieval history - and how Victorian ideals and the Industrial Revolution shaped everything from our romantic notions to our white wedding dresses.

If I could sum up this book in a single sentence it would be Coontz' own line as the thesis:

"It took more than 150 years to establish the love-based, male breadwinner marriage as the dom
Mar 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"The historical transformation in marriage over the ages has created a similar paradox for society as a whole. Marriage has become more joyful, more loving, and more satisfying for many couples than ever before in history. At the same time it has become optional and more brittle. These two strands of change cannot be disentangled."

Marriage is an institution, but it is also a construct. And while many would claim the "traditional" construct of marriage as we know it today as lasting bedrock to cu
Jul 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
Stephanie Coontz does an excellent job of explaining that all the stereotypes about marriage today are largely the products of long and gradual social and economic factors over time. Now, instead of arguing about marriage in a bar based on my instincts, I have Coontz's data to back me up.

Although the book is largely history, some of the most interesting stuff comes at the end, when she demonstrates with data that a lot of stereotypes about highly educated women either never get married or experi
Aug 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, history, women
I was actually reading this book when my husband and I decided to run off and elope. Which is funny, because the history of marriage is something your average modern woman wants nothing to do with!

But what is so great about this book is the way that it contextualizes our current obsession with a 1950s marriage and "family values" in a much larger history. Turns out (surprise surprise) that marriage meant something very different in Medieval times, and something very different again in the 18th C
This book made me stop at nearly every paragraph to ponder everything I ever thought I knew about the institution of marriage. (And with quite a lot of varied personal experience in and out of that arena, I had the silly notion that I was beginning to comprehend a good bit.)

Coontz traces the best understandings of the origins of marriage beginning way back in prehistory and describes the amazing variety of forms marriage has taken all around the world. As the narrative moves from prehistory to t
I initially picked this up because I recently went through a breakup and I’m in my mid-30’s. Based on “traditional” expectations, I’m now an old maid (what BS), and I wanted to learn more about how marriage came to be and what long-range cultural trends look like now.

Well. Let me tell you, marriage has had MANY other forms than the “male-breadwinner” paradigm that our culture (for some reason) still perpetuates. No one even thought marriage should involve love until the early 19th century.

Kristin Holt
As an amateur historian, and one intensely fascinated with history, I found this title by Stephanie Coontz to be a perfect combination of accurate history--and why attitudes prevailed during various eras of the world's history. Why marriage was never about love, until a certain point in history, makes complete sense to me now. I listened to the audible edition and can't help but give the narrator, Callie Beaulieu, 5-stars on her own. The content is a 5-star read, whether in print or audible edit ...more
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Stephanie Coontz teaches history and family studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and is Director of Research and Public Education for the Council on Contemporary Families, which she chaired from 2001-04. Her writings have been translated into French, Arabic, Spanish, Russian, Czech, German, Norwegian, Turkish, Greek, Chinese, Ukrainian, and Japanese.

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  Mateo Askaripour is a Brooklyn-based writer whose first novel, Black Buck—which Colson Whitehead calls a “mesmerizing novel, executing a...
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“College graduates and women with higher earnings are now more likely to marry than women with less education and lower wages, although they generally marry at an older age. The legal profession is one big exception to this generalization. Female attorneys are less likely to ever marry, to have children, or to remarry after divorce than women in other professions. But an even higher proportion of male attorneys are childless, suggesting there might be something about this career that is unfriendly to everyone’s family life, not just women’s.” 7 likes
“Like it or not, today we are all pioneers, picking our way through uncharted and unstable territory. The old rules are no longer reliable guides to work out modern gender roles and build a secure foundation for marriage. Wherever it is that people want to end up in their family relations today, even if they are totally committed to creating a so-called traditional marrige, they have to get there by a different route from the past.” 5 likes
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