Generation X and Men’s Perception of Marriage

The following is a comprehensive literature review of peer-reviewed studies in the topic of men’s perception of marriage among members of the Generation X. The study will be focused mainly on general areas related to marriage and relationships, such as marriage history, intimacy issues for men, cohabitation, divorce, as well as multi-cultural issues, for men from the Generation X time period.

The History of Marriage

In order to better understand men’s perceptions of marriage within the Generation X, it is important to briefly addresses some of the shifts in traditions within the marriage ritual throughout the years, less from the standpoint of men’s perceptions, and more from a general literature review of specialized study in the area. Traditionally, it was common for men and women to get married directly after high school or in college in their early to late twenties.  Currently among Generation X men and women, it is becoming more and more common to delay marriage into the thirties, with more and more couples choosing to live together, rather than commit to marriage.

Amato (2004) studied non-traditional marriage practices between the years 1964 and 1980. In this study of the correlations between premarital cohabitation and marital dysfunction, it was demonstrated that cohabitation prior to marriage created greater marital instability later on.  The study was able to collect amassed data from national surveys that showed that, over time,  marital satisfaction and the tendency for divorce changed little from 1980-2000.

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The study also looked into trends that may have affected martial quality over the same time periods, and found that increases in heterogamy, premarital cohabitation, women’s additional hours dedicated to the workplace, as well as the increasing job demands on women, were correlated to sharp declines in many areas of marital quality. Similarly, better economic resources, equal decision-making roles between the genders, and the addition of positive,  nontraditional attitudes towards marriage, lead to overall improvements in marital quality.

Men were reported as perceiving additional house-hold chores as a decreasing factor in their perception of overall marital quality according to this study, whereas women reported that the help from men with house-hold duties increased martial satisfaction. This is one example of differing perspectives between men and women of Generation X.

Rosenfeld (2008) also offers a theory on changes in marriage and family composition over the past few decades. He argues that a change has shifted in the history of martial practices, as well as perception of marital roles, in which he calls the “independent life stage.” This shift from the group to the individual mentality, in the author’s opinion, came about in the 1960’s. During this pivotal time of life, men (as well as women) may experience a shift from the freedom of leaving the parents home, but before they settle down into the process of creating their own families. This independence shift involves studies, travel, and social independence.

Rosenfeld shows that the more a relationship defies conventional social acceptance, the more likely that couples will live further away from their place of origin and family ties.

Intimacy Issues for Men

Men and intimacy has often sparked great debate amongst students of sociology. A recent 2006 study by Knobloch and Solomon reported that men have more difficulty with relationship talk than do women. This study defines “relationship talk” as a series of messages that make reference to the nature of the relationship amongst two people. The authors attempted to not only conceptualize the way that men talk and communicate in relationships, but also to evaluate how men’s ability to be intimate  predicts their perceptions of relationship talk. This study, which observed the conversations of 120 dating couples, found that the length of time spent in the relationship, more than intimacy, was a better predictor for relationship talk for men.

Sanderson (2001), in her seminal study on relationships and intimacy, Seeing Ones Partner Through Intimacy-Colored Glasses: An Examination of the Processes Underlying the Intimacy Goals-Relationship Satisfaction Link, found that men with the desire to express intimacy as a goal of the relationship, experienced higher levels of relationship satisfaction overall. The study also concluded that these individuals with intimacy goals chose to interact with others who desired intimacy, although no specific outlining of these goals needed to be highlighted in order for the relationship to be successful.  The study also found that women tended to be more acutely aware of their own perceptions regarding their partners’ intimacy goals than men.

In this sense, women, more than men, reported a higher level of satisfaction from the relationship when their was a link between intimacy and relationship goals.

Acitelli (1999) found that, in regards to intimacy and men’s thinking about the relationship as an indicator of relationship satisfaction, men consistently reported that this was less of a linking quality. In other words, women have a stronger link between thinking about the intimate relationship and relationship satisfaction than do men. The goal of this particular study attempted to observe to what extent identity, not gender, moderated the link between the “talking and intimacy” variables. In a study of 238 couples, it was reported that identity is more important than gender for understanding associations between thinking and relationship satisfaction. That said, a more comprehensive, pee-reviewed longitudinal finding (within this same review) stated that the more long-term outcome from thinking positively about a relationship is stronger in women than in men.

Generation X and Cohabitation

One of the most prominent features of how men perceive marriage comes from the fact that for many men of the Generation X, cohabitation is becoming more common than marriage. Seltzer (2004) states that cohabitation is one of the predominant factors of change in how Generation X individuals respond to family life in the United States. This study states that the trend for this generation will lead to a continual increase in the rates of cohabitation. The study also reflects on the fact that, some people choose cohabitation because it does not require the commitment of sexual fidelity, particularly among men’s perceptions of cohabitation.

In this sense, men perceive cohabitation as an easier commitment than that of a long-term marriage, and often times believe that cohabitation will allow a trial period for later marriage. (Clarkberg et al., 1996)

There is some evidence that shows that as more and more Generation Xers use cohabitation to shape patterns for eventual marital behavior (Dush et al., 2003). Smock and Gupta (2002) state that some couples find that after living together, that they are better able to accept the temporary nature of relationships, instead of the more traditional “til death do us part.” This creates a less structured vision of marriage, in which some studies actually indicate that married couples who previously cohabited before their marriage were less sexually exclusive before and after marriage (Forste and Tanfer, 1996). According the Ambert (2005), a lack of sexual exclusivity has a direct correlation to increased marital dissolution amongst Generation X members.

In a study done by Blumstein and Schwartz (1990), cohabitating men are less faithful to their partners sexually, and the same men reported at least one instance of sexual activity outside of their their marriage or cohabitation. In this study, 25% of male cheated on their partners, in comparison to 22% of female cohabitators. In the Laumann et al. study (1994), 75% of the cohabitators were faithful to their partners.

Similarly, Treas and Giesen (2000) also found that cohabitators are less sexually exclusive than married individuals. Forste and Tanfer (1996) found that cohabiting men were often less committed to their exclusive partner than are married men, as many of these men, particularly those from the Generation X, state that the men fear commitment and have a “wait-and-see attitude.” For older adults (from prior generations) there are less deleterious effects to cohabitation, as it becomes more of a substitute, rather than a precursor to marriage. At least one study found that older cohabitators report higher levels of happiness than those from younger generations (King and Scott, 2005).


Bumpass (2003) states that the probability for divorce has changed little in the last two decades. Statistics show that ‘half of all marriages’ will end in divorce, although no estimates of differences in the probability of lifetime divorce were available from the study. Using statistical data, researchers were able to document probability of divorce using differentials such as race, age, and education. Results show that on average cohabitating couples divorce more.  Wu (2000) found that even being married to a someone who had previously cohabited raised the risk of later divorce. Some literature suggests evidence that men perceive relationships that are cohabitating to be less secure, committed, and even faithful.

Studies have also looked into the link between childhood family structures and the effect on an adult child’s intimate relationships. Research indicates that experiencing a parental divorce may not effect a marital relationship, but that experiencing a high level of parental conflict may influence the quality of the romantic relationship. This study from Christensen (2003) also suggests that lower levels of parental involvement may influence attachment style amongst men. That is, if men did not have a positive influence and example through a father being intimate with a mother, they may be less likely to express romantic relationship intimacy. Amongst the 174 participants, it was found that parental conflict,  involvement, and maternal involvement were highly related to attachment style, which ran as an indicator to romantic relationship quality. The 2003 study found no no differences between relationship quality and intimacy abilities from adult children from divorced homes as compared to adult children from non-divorced homes. Surprisingly, what the study did find , was that men from non-divorced homes had lower relationship quality abilities that men from divorced families. In contrast, women from divorced homes had lower relationship quality when compared to women from non-divorced homes.

Mutilcultural Issues in Marriage and Dating

More and more, and particularly amongst members of the Generation X, multicultural relationships are more accepted in society than ever before. Research suggests that this is partially due the an overall acceptance and awareness of a multitude of peoples and cultures in the world, as well as a greater understanding of over systems of cultural belief and practices. Technology and transportation has created a global world that connects people on a global skill. According to the US Census Board, in the U.S. interracial marriages grew from 310,000 in 1970 to 651,000 in 1980, and 1,161,000 in 1992 to 2,980,000 in 2002. A 2000 census showed that interracial marriage growing rapidly with around 2,669,558 interracial marriages recorded in that year, or around 5% of all marriages. [1] These statistics also show that Caucasian Americans are the least likely to marry outside of their cultural group.

Researchers assessed patterns in multi-cultural relationships for men, showing that because of their perceived superior position on the racial and gender hierarchies, Caucasian men are much less likely than white women to enter into relationships with African Americans. The study shows that only 6/10ths of 1 of cohabiting Caucasian men live with African American women. In contrast, approximately 12.5 % of cohabiting African American men live with a Caucasian partner, compared to 4 %of cohabiting African American women.

In general, research studies show that Caucasian, African American, Asian and Latino men and women normally elect to date people who are different from the people they will eventually choose to marry. For all of these ethnic and cultural groups, cohabiting relationships are more likely to be interracial ones than marriages. This shows a trend towards dating or living with a partner of another cultural or racial group, and marrying one within the group. The authors suggest that there is more intimate contact between multi–cultural groups than marriage statistics show. In this sense,  the social distance between ethnic and racial groups is less than what many studies suggest. (Childs, 2004)

Childs (2004) also found that many issues surrounding marriage and dating for multi-cultural couples still do exist, despite the belief that racial inequalities have lowered. In a study of multi-faceted issues between black-white interracial couples, it was shown that couples find themselves stuck between issues of contemporary racist practices. Within the field of social scientific research, multi-cultural relationships have been seen as an outcome of assimilation and a betterment within the scheme of race relations. Childs (2004) suggests that prior social research on interracial couples has been unsuccessful in understanding the community response to multicultural unions, and moreover, have been pivotal in the lingering opposition to those unions that still exists.

The author also maintains that interracial couples face a plethora of issues involving more internalized racist attitudes and practices. This study used nine focus groups to survey attitudes about interracial unions, as well as the implications that these unions had on community and race relations. The study found that there was still an overwhelming opposition to multicultural marriage, dating and  interracial relationships, especially from the family and friends of the couples interviewed. In this sense, while Generation X members may seem to be more accepting of interracial dating and marriage on a surface level, most still report feelings of opposition to these unions on a personal level.


Acitelli, et. al. (1999). The Role of Identity in the Link between Relationship Thinking and Relationship Satisfaction. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.16(5): 591 – 618.

Amato, Paul R. (2004). Continuity and Change in Marital Quality Between 1980 and 2000. Department of Sociology, The Pennsylvania State University.

Ambert, A.-M. 2005b. Same-sex couples and same-sex parent families. Relationships, parenting, and issues of marriage, 2nd ed. .

Ambert, A.-M. 2005c. Divorce: Facts, causes, and consequences (3rd ed.). Ottawa: Vanier Institute of the Family.

Bumpass. K.(2003). The topography of the divorce plateau: Levels and trends in union stability in the UnitedStates Journal of Marriage and Family. Volume 62 Issue 4, Pages 1269 – 1287.

Christensen, Conway. T. M. ; Herlihy B.  (2003). Adult children of divorce and intimate relationships: Implications for counseling. The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families, 11, 364-373. Published Online: 2 Mar 2004 National Council on Family Relations, 2008

Chito Childs, E. , 2004-08-14 “The Racial Politics of Interracial Couples: Sites of Racism and Anti-Racism” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, Hilton San Francisco ; Renaissance Parc 55 Hotel, San Francisco, CA, Online ;.PDF;. 2008-09-14 from

Clarkberg, M., Stolzenberg, R.M., and Waite, L.J. 1996. Attitudes, values, and entrance into cohabitational versus marital unions. Social Forces, 75, 609-633.

Dush, C.M.K., Cohan, C.L., and Amato, P.R. 2003. The relationship between cohabitation and marital quality and stability: Change across cohorts? Journal of Marriage and Family, 65, 539-549.

Forste, R., and Tanfer, K. 1996. Sexual exclusivity among dating, cohabiting, and married women. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 58, 33-47.

Knobloch, L. Solomon, K. (2006).  The Role of Intimacy in the Production and Perception of Relationship Talk Within Courtship. Department of Speech Communication, University of Illinois.

Laumann, E.O., Gagnon, G.H., Michael, R.T., and Michaels, S. 1994. The social organization of sexuality: Sexual practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Rosenfeld, Michael. Chananie-Hill, Ruth. (2008). The Age of Independence: Interracial Unions, Same-Sex Unions, and the Changing American Family.

Sanderson, Catherine. Seeing Ones Partner Through Intimacy-Colored Glasses: An Examination of the Processes Underlying the Intimacy Goals-Relationship Satisfaction Link. Pers Soc Psychol Bull, April 1, 2001; 27(4): 463 – 473.

Seltzer, Judith. (2004). Cohabitation in the United States and Britain: Demography, kinship, and the future. University of California—Los Angeles

Smock, P.J. ; Gupta, S., (2002), Cohabitation in contemporary North America. A. Booth ; A.C. Crouter.

Treas, J., and Giesen, D. 2000. Sexual infidelity among married and cohabiting Americans. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 48-60.

[1] Census 2000 PHC-T-19. Hispanic Origin and Race of Coupled Households: 2000″. U. S. Census Bureau.


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