Universal Marriage: Commitment to Responsibility, Cooperation, & Equal Delegation of Status

This was written for SOC-351 at Washington State University; post-submission edits have been made for greater readability.

Having now been informed by Smock and Manning’s (2015) analysis of cohabitation, Avishai et al.’s (2015) analysis of a “marriage movement”, and Cohen’s (2021) coverage on marriage and cohabitation it seems that “the real problem with marriage” confounds marriage with what marriage simultaneously represents and confers at different socioecological levels. Marriage is a socially constructed symbol/status laden with emotional value, and legal status offering privileged benefits and protections (Cohen, 2015, p. 273). Prevalence of state recognized marriage had been decreasing since the 1950s to the 2010s, following a post-World War II boom (Cohen, 2015, pp. 276–277). A marriage movement emerged after the 1960s sexual revolution and its accelerating civil rights era. Yet, divorce increased, and in the 1990s this marriage movement was born which sought to “encourage marriage, discourage divorce, and improve the relationships of American couples” (Avishai et al., 2015, pp. 307–308). Yet marriage, short of a problem, is better suited as an indicator of symbolic interactions dependent on attempts to manipulate its prevalence, incidence, and distribution amongst divisions of humanity.

A Problem of Aligning Actions

A refrain in sociology is the Thomas theorem, “if men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences” (Thomas & Thomas, 1928, p. 572)—marriage is not a force, it is not tangible, but its situational consequences are very real. Marriage is a situationally socially constructed structure of attitudes (i.e., affects, cognitions, and behaviors), beliefs, norms, rules, laws, policies, etc. This structure addresses both problem- and emotion-solving of strains and stresses crosscutting life courses. It has already been stated that marriage as a symbol/status is laden with emotional value, and it can be argued that legal status confers problem-solving value. As values are subject of belief and assent to motivation, affixing or suffixing “problem” on “marriage” evidences another sociological concept—aligning actions (Stokes & Hewitt, 1976). To tackle a “problem of marriage” is therefore to attend to the aligning actions around it.

Aligning actions are “largely verbal efforts to restore or assure meaningful interaction in the face of problematic situations of one kind or another” (p. 838). These actions may be evidenced as “disclaiming, requesting and giving accounts, constructing quasi-theoretical explanations of problematic situations, offering apologies, formulating the definition of a situation, and talking about motives” (p. 838). Of these actions is a dual process whereby joint attention is created inter-individually, along with alignment between culture and conduct (p. 838). It is therefore evident that marriage itself is subject to aligning actions of “speciating” cultures and conducts which provide naturally and artificially selective effects.

To apply aligning actions to marriage, aligning actions seek to alter patterns of narratives defining marriage’s prevalence (x), incidence (x′), and changes to incidence (x″) either naturally (due to speciation and biologically predispositioned cognitive biases) or artificially (e.g., stereotype, prejudice, and discrimination and sociolinguistic structures of language and culture) to arrive at anticipated structures of prevalence, incidence, and incidence mediation crosscut by idealized social structures.

Sparing the discussion board an extensive foundation in aligning actions and earlier works related to it in symbolic interactionism, it seems fit write here that I do not, at present, see a problem with marriage—I see it as structurally and functionally resolving needs. Marriage may resolve needs/problems through its habitations and expectancies that individuals in a larger socioeconomic context are inured to. I see it as a multi-factor strain adaptation (see Merton’s [1938] strain theory). I see marriage as an interchangeable indicator of cultural capital privileging both individuals and groups which solve for various challenges in emotion and problem spaces within and between sociological ecologies. The problem of marriage is a problem of what marriage promises in the future, solves for in the present, and protects from historically. That cohabitation has grown quickly and now precedes marriage (Smock & Manning, 2015) makes sense when considering that cohabitation’s functional utility is simultaneously present as an element of marriage conferring utilitarian problem-solving benefits while setting aside marriage’s greater expectancies reliant on as greater sense of security (e.g., financial, situational).

“Lack” and “Excess” as Indicators of Aligning Actions

The mere verbalizing of a “lack of” marriage (i.e., lack of x) is an aligning action bringing attention to emotion/problem needs (defined as real) of individuals and groups seeking to increase that which is economically controlled, psychologically perceived, and sociologically constructed to be lacking (i.e., Δx). On the flipside, the verbalizing of “excess of” marriage is an aligning action bringing attention to emotion/problem needs (defined as real) of individuals and groups seeking to decrease that which is economically controlled, psychologically perceived, and sociologically constructed. Substituting x for cohabitation is much the same, as any other social/legal status similar to either. In this regard marriage is merely a variable, a measure, of this thing that marriage is ascribed to represent (i.e., status of x) and do (i.e., function of x) both through positivistic and constructionist perspectives. This is reminiscent of arguments supporting the sociological construct of “doing gender”, but in this case, it is “doing marriage”.

Central and Peripheral Routes of Appeals

To just argue a “problem of marriage” for the sake of increasing marriages is often driven by emotional appeals. To argue the same for the sake of marriage’s utility to solve poverty is driven by intellectual appeals. Peripheral (i.e., emotional) and central (i.e., intellectual) channels of communication are well known (see elaboration likelihood model of persuasion; Petty & Cacioppo, 1981, 1986). The former is driven by stress and is solved by emotion focused strategies, while the latter is driven by strain and is solved by problem focused strategies (Endler & Parker, 1990). An emotional appeal (i.e., peripheral route) for marriage uses emotion solving aligning actions (e.g., religious or progressive ideologies inducing arousal through making salient [i.e., bringing attention to] threats to free expression of prejudices and discriminations in cognizing what individuals can/cannot benefit from in exchange of cultural capital of status conferred by marriage and legal privileges of marriage). An intellectual (i.e. central route) appeal for marriage uses problem solving aligning actions (e.g., Katherine Boo’s comment on marriage being “the most cost-efficient antipoverty instrument a society possesses” [as cited in Avishai et al., 2015]).

A Better Reframing: A Problem of Responsibility, Cooperation, & Status

What would aligning actions for marriage be without salient talking points? Marriage is correlated to benefits in happiness, health, and wealth (Cohen, 2021, pp. 303–306), though selection effects call into doubt said studies (p. 305). What of directionality? Some studies control for directionality and still find that marriage has a statistically significant effect size on happiness (p. 305), therefore marriage effects on happiness are validly and reliably evidenced. In addition, that responsibility, cooperation, and status are potentially affected by marriage (pp. 305–306) means that the problem of marriage is better reframed as a problem of responsibility, cooperation, and status. The straw person of marriage used for other means and ends may be excised in favor of what marriage “actually does”. In this better reframing are the thorniest of stereotypes, prejudices, and discriminations—who to be responsible for, who to cooperate with, and who to delegate status? Are these not the very topics one considers in thinking whom to marry and commit oneself to while continually employing familial, social and market display rules of responsibility, cooperation, and delegation of status?

Therefore, the “problem of marriage” is more aligned to the problem of marriage effects (i.e., y)—an aligning action between marriage and scientific enterprise. Aligning actions are at play in locutionary references to marriage (e.g., “I love you”) which illoquitionarily relate to an individual’s drives to satisfy their needs across and between groups of socioecological topologies (e.g., “I feel good with you”). To this end, it seems more prudent to consider tackling that which marriage confounds in its directionally evidenced effects mentioned prior, namely happiness, responsibility, cooperation, and status. Yet, amongst these, sociological conflict theory resounds, along with ritual bound strain adaptations of religious affiliations associated with ideologies stewed in its own stereotypes, prejudices, and discriminations—affiliations which are evidenced to be greater in those married than not (Cohen, 2021, p. 306).


I cannot help but think that the problem of marriage is therefore a problem of efforts to manipulate prevalence, incidence, and accelerations/decelerations between Merton’s strain adaptations—of marriage. Ritual and conformity for some, and rebellion for others. Realizing that what/who one commits to is whatever you really want it/who to be seems to be quite rebellious—such is queering marriage—and science queers marriage.

Toward a close, commitment itself is a persistent re-attention, signed in the etymology of religion (i.e., “to re-read” [Harper, 2022]). To go straight at problems of happiness, responsibility, cooperation, and status, perhaps one may arrive at a greater marriage, not to the chosen few of one’s like group (e.g., endogenous marriage), nor to individual(s), but to these very qualities. Idealized? Yes. But supported by evidence. The problem of marriage is therefore a problem of committed attention. A committed attention nowhere more salient than the long echo of a most salient social fact parapraxically employed in loqutionary speech acts throughout life—“pay attention”—repeatedly—this is commitment. In this the problem is addressed by its flank rather than its front. The biggest issue with ultra-modern marriage, rather than modern marriage (those days are gone), is the greater damage that aligning actions cause society, its peoples, and ecologies, and the great waste of these efforts resources and time utilized. Had they only looked to their own hearts and committed to responsibility, cooperation, and a more equal delegation of status, and remained committed to these, they might have discovered something greater—universal marriage.


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