article discussion: the suffocation model by finkel et al.
This month’s topic for discussion is an article called “The Suffocation Model: Why Marriage is Becoming an All or Nothing Institution” by Eli J. Finkel, Elaine O. Cheung, Lydia F. Emery, Kathleen L. Carswell, and Grace M. Larson. It’s a short article and is more of a summary of a research program than a self-contained argument.
Basically, it goes something like this. As societies get wealthier, marriages fundamentally change from being institutions for physical survival to institutions for personal fulfillment. Another article by Finkel and collaborators call it “climbing Mount Maslow,” to suggest the contemporary people don’t have the resources to make the current version of marriage work. The main point made by these researchers is that modern people are investing less time at home so it makes it harder for modern marriages to succeed in being satisfying.
I am not a sociologist of the family, so I tread lightly here because I know there is a huge literature that deals with these issues. I won’t evaluate the evidence because this article is a summary of other work and thus doesn’t present much.For example, how do we know that earlier marriages were more “satisfying?” Maybe people just stuck with them because divorce was insanely expensive. I.e., if a women left her marriage, it might be nearly impossible to find employment that would provide a desirable level of income and material comfort. This argument is presented without a systematic discussion of opportunity costs nor do we have a discussion of how certain ideas (e.g., “fulfillment”) are measured over the centuries. Like I said, this could all be answered in the related literature, but it is not presented in this brief article.
So I’ll offer this as a discussion point: Let’s take Finkel at al.’s argument as essentially correct. Maybe modern marriage is a contradiction. It’s about fulfillment, but that is made possible by a wealthier society that draws people away from marriage. But so what? Why is that suffocating or bad? Aren’t institutions allowed to evolve? Another discussion point: can technology help us resolve that tension? For example, could working remotely allow people to have more time in the home? Or allow people to allocate time more efficiently so that are more “at home?”