Love marriage appears to be a valuable cultural value in many countries throughout Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as many other modernized societies around the world. However, it was not always true in history. In the 20th century, industrialization, urbanization, increased social mobility, and social and cultural modernization brought the hope that love would finally conquer marriage.
When Was Love Marriage’s Golden Age?
It turns out that the decade of the 1950s, which began in 1947 in the United States and lasted until the early 1960s there and until the late 1960s in Western Europe, was a truly remarkable time for marriage. Romantic love transformed marriage in the 20th century. Love finally conquered marriage. Romantic love and sexual fulfillment became the realities of premarital and marital relationships. In the Western world, marriage entered its heyday during this time period.
In that decade, there was a surge of support for the view that a happy marriage should be one in which each spouse feels they have received their fair share of sexual satisfaction, emotional closeness, and the opportunity to realize their full potential. The majority of people believed that they would not only find the greatest happiness in marriage but also the greatest meaning in their lives. Marriage had become nearly universal by the 1960s in many western European countries and North America (see for review, Karandashev, 2017).
What Was Good About the Golden Age of Marriage?
During that period, about 95% of all men and women strived to marry and married younger. During the 1950s, the norm of young marriage was so prevalent that an unmarried woman as young as twenty-one might be concerned about becoming an “old maid.” Many men and women relished the opportunity of courting and dating the partners of their own choice. They enjoyed marrying at their leisure and establishing their own households. The life span increased, married people felt happy, and divorce rates held steady. Married couples felt independent of their extended family ties. They enjoyed the freedom of their marital relationships (Coontz 2005, pp. 226–228).
By the 1960s, it looked like marriage had found the perfect balance between the personal freedom of a love match and the limitations needed for social stability.
Would the Golden Age of Marriage Spread Throughout the World?
Many social scientists thought that as industrialization spread around the world, love-based marriage and the male breadwinner family would replace the many other marriage and family systems in collectivistic societies. They predicted that love marriages would prevail over the consanguinity and arranged marriages widespread across many societies in traditional cultures.
For example, American sociologist William Goode (1917–2003), an expert on family life and divorce, conducted cross-cultural analyses of marriage and divorce across many societies. He examined family data from the United States, Europe, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, India, China, and Japan available at the time.
Based on his analysis, Goode revealed that the above-mentioned cultural evolution of conjugal family systems and the “love patterns” in mate selection were evident in all of these world regions and societies. In his pioneering and seminal book “World Revolution and Family Patterns” (1963), he presented these results and conclusions in an explicit and direct way.
People across cultures prioritized their material and psychological investments in the nuclear family as well as their emotional needs. They believed that each spouse could legitimately expect to rely on the other, prioritize their relationship, and put their loyalty to their partner ahead of their responsibilities to their parents.
The Love Marriage Ideology
According to William Goode (1959), the ideology of love-based marriage declares the individual’s right to choose his or her own spouse. This cultural ideology also emphasized the value of the individual over inherited wealth and ethnic group. Goode provided statistics and other data to show that love marriages were gaining popularity around the world at the time.
Many social scientists agreed with Goode and supported this conclusion. They believed that in Western societies, love marriage and the nuclear family increased their popularity in the 1950s and 1960s. They thought that the cultural evolution of marriage had prevailed in Europe and North America and had reached its culmination.
Their scientific prediction was that the rest of the world’s cultures would soon follow this marriage pattern that will soon be prevalent across many societies. This way of thinking about relationships was very appealing to young and educated people, especially women (see for review, Karandashev, 2017).