Volume 1, Issue 3: November 2017
Quote of the Month
Timeless insights from scientists, philosophers, novelists and other wise souls
“Until the late eighteenth century, most societies around the world saw marriage as far too vital an economic and political institution to be left entirely to the free choice of the two individuals involved, especially if they were going to base their decision on something as unreasoning and transitory as love.”
Five things I'm thinking about this month
1. I learned this week that The All-Or-Nothing Marriage is being read in book clubs—a fun but daunting discovery. The leader of one of these book clubs reached out to me to see if I could recommend some discussion questions. I’ve never been in a book club, so I was flying blind. But I sent her a set of 10 questions, 6 of which orient discussion toward society at large and 4 of which orient discussion toward personal experience. Perhaps other book clubs could find these discussion questions useful, so I’ve made them available on the book page. If you have suggestions for additional questions, please let me know.
2. The Institute for Family Studies hosted a fascinating back-and-forth between the sociologists Mark Regnerus and Paula England. Regnerus argues in his new book, Cheap Sex, that a major reason why fewer American adults are marrying is that various forms of sexual gratification have become so readily accessible outside of marriage. In her blogpost, England—an eminent scholar and past president of the American Sociological Association—expresses doubts about certain elements of Regnerus’s argument and highlights the fact that less educated men are struggling to find decent-paying jobs as a central cause of the retreat from marriage. In his response, Regnerus identifies several areas of agreement, but also expresses skepticism that an improvement in job prospects will reverse the retreat from marriage. I recommend this back-and-forth, both because the topic and arguments are interesting and because it provides a timely demonstration of the constructive power of respectful discourse.
3. One of the most exciting new scientific articles on relationships this month is slated for publication in a marketing journal. Danielle Brick, Gráinne Fitzsimons, Tanya Chartrand, and Gavan Fitzsimons investigated how brand compatibility and relationship power combine to predict life satisfaction. Across eight studies leveraging experimental, longitudinal, and dyadic research methods, these scholars demonstrated that brand compatibility—the extent to which the two partners in a relationship have similar brand preferences (e.g., for Coke over Pepsi)—predicts greater life satisfaction, but only for partners with low relationship power. It seems that partners with high relationship power are able to consume their preferred brands regardless of the relationship’s brand compatibility, whereas partners with low relationship power are unable to consume their preferred brands if the relationship’s brand compatibility is low.
4. One issue that troubles me (and that inspired me to write The All-Or-Nothing Marriage) is that most of the collected wisdom of relationship science is cloistered away in academic journals. (There are exceptions, of course—especially the books of the pioneering relationship scientist John Gottman, such as the bestselling The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.) But this month the publication of a New York Times Guide called “How to Have a Better Relationship” is a nice step in the right direction. This may not be the guide I would have written, but it is a solid overview of many important ideas and empirical findings within relationship science.
5. As marriage has become increasingly optional in recent decades, some intellectuals have questioned whether getting married makes sense anymore. Others have suggested that getting married is a sensible choice, but only under optimal circumstances. In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, the business consultant Avivah Wittenberg-Cox argues that a highly successful professional woman is better off staying single than marrying a man who doesn’t support her career ambitions.
A dispatch from the mascot of the Relationships And Motivation Lab (RAMLAB)
It was another wild month in the RAMLAB. Eli spent some time on the ideas festival circuit, giving talks at Chicago Ideas Week and PopTech. The photo below—with Dan Ariely, Logan Ury, Stephanie Coontz, and Esther Perel—is from Logan’s 30th birthday celebration at PopTech.
The lab had three papers accepted for publication this month. The first is a paper with Samantha Joel and Paul Eastwick on open data practices in relationships research. The second is a paper with Laura Luchies and others on people’s feelings of happiness about their forgiveness of a partner’s transgressions. The third is a paper with Paul Green, Gráinne Fitzsimons, and Francesco Gino on the nature of work motivation.
Lab members Katie Carswell and Lydia Emery launched two new laboratory experiments. And Katie and Eli are in the final stages of preparing for a major studies of sibling relationships within family businesses in collaboration with the Kellogg Center for Family Enterprises. Stayed tuned.