Journal Article

Debates and issues regarding marriage and cohabitation in the British and American literature

J Lewis

in International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family

Volume 15, issue 1, pages 159-184
Published in print April 2001 | ISSN: 1360-9939
Published online April 2001 | e-ISSN: 1464-3707 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/lawfam/15.1.159
Debates and issues regarding marriage and cohabitation in the British and American literature

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The issue of family change has aroused considerable fear in the English-speaking countries, among both academic commentators and politicians. The most pervasive explanation of the changes has focused on an increase in an individualism that is selfish. Many have tended to read off a growth in individualism from the dramatic changes in the statistics of family change, and then to link it either to changes in individual behaviour, such as women's increased attachment to the labour market, or to changes in mentalities, such as prioritizing personal growth. In particular, it is assumed that cohabitation, a major driver of family change, involves the spread of an individualistic outlook on intimate relations. However, the meaning of both marriage and cohabitation are far from clear. Finally, the article considers some of the implications of the debate for family law and family policy, in terms of self-regulation (by the couple) and the possibility of further contractualism. It concludes that there is evidence that people want to make commitments as well as pursue their own projects, and the role of family policies in reconciling these desires is particularly important.

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Subjects: Family Law ; Marriage and the Family

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