The Ties that Bind: Marriage and Social Networks in the Modern Age (1920-Present)

Hilde Bras, María Sánchez-Domínguez

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


    The twentieth century has witnessed tremendous change in marriage and conjugal relations, ranging from the first sexual revolution of the 1920s, the “golden age of marriage” during the 1950s and 1960s, to the “implosion” of marriage and the growth of divorce, cohabitation, singlehood, and same-sex and blended families in recent decades. The shifts in the ties that bound twentieth-century people into marriage had important repercussions for their bonds with family, friends, neighbors, and community and vice versa. This chapter traces how people’s marital ties evolved from the 1920s to the present
    and how social networks, pivoting around the conjugal bond, have altered. It does so by focusing on four broad questions. First, why and how did marital relations change and how are these changes understood in their historical context? Second, how did people’s broader personal networks alter during this period? What sorts of ties were important? What roles did friends, family and kin, and neighbors and community members play? Third, how did these changes differ across gender, social class, time, and space? Fourth, what did changing ties mean for people’s well-being, for instance in terms of loneliness,
    divorce, and the quality and stability of relations? The chapter addresses these questions through a broad synthesis of scholarship for five periods of significant change: the 1920s, the 1930s to 1940s, the 1950s to 1960s, the
    1970s, and the 1980s to present. We present examples from the United Kingdom, the United States, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Japan, Korea, and Ukraine. We compare Western and non-Western societies where possible, but the majority of our evidence is on Western societies. We also compare norms, values, and practices across family systems with either “strong” or “weak” ties. In “strong ties” regions and groups, individuals’ bonds to kin, family, neighbors, and community are most important, while in family systems marked by “weak ties,” non-kin connections predominate. We distinguish also between
    collectivist societies, which emphasize the group and its interests, and individualist societies, which promote the interests of the individual over those of the state or group. Since the 1920s, people in most Western societies have witnessed vast swings in the importance of the marital tie in relation to other social connections. While social configurations during the nineteenth and early twentieth century had been broadly composed, consisting of close ties to parents, siblings, neighbors, and same-sex friends, as of the 1920s the conjugal relation became increasingly more central. During the 1950s and 1960s the prominence of the marriage tie was at its peak. Since the 1970s,
    the pendulum has swung back again to a situation in which a much wider configuration of social connections is important. Different from the nineteenth century, however, contemporary social networks comprise relations of choice rather than ties of blood, need, or proximity. In the chapter we sketch these developments in detail.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationA Cultural History of Marriage.
    Subtitle of host publicationVolume 6: The Modern Age (1920-2000+)
    EditorsChristina Simmons
    Place of PublicationLondon
    PublisherBloomsbury Academic
    Number of pages14
    ISBN (Print)9781350001916
    Publication statusPublished - 26-Dec-2019

    Publication series

    Name The Cultural Histories Series
    PublisherBloomsbury Academic


    • Marriage
    • social networks
    • 20th century

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