What does sociology actually know about marriage in Germany? It’s surprisingly little. If it weren’t for the official data from the Federal Statistical Office, for example, it would be even less. If research has so far been interested in marriage at all, then primarily with regard to the family. But from a sociological point of view, marriage has not yet been described as an “independent form of life” with its own “meaning”. Rosemarie Nave-Herz, who prefaces her new standard work on marriage in Germany with this comment, considers this subsumption of marriage under the family to be justified at best for the past, because at that time marriage and family time were almost identical. Today, however, a serious change could be identified here, which this book impressively describes. Will this change lead to the end of the marriage? Is it an obsolete model, or will it remain one of the “most important identity-forming institutions” in our society?
Nave-Herz bases her analysis on profound chapters on the history of the concept of marriage and its change in meaning in the second half of the twentieth century. Sociologically richer, however, are her descriptions of today’s attributions of meaning to marriage and other research questions: Are marriage and non-marital relationships in competition with one another? Are older or illegitimate forms of marital choice such as arranged marriages or forced marriages actually increasing in German society due to migration? Does the increase in childlessness in Germany have an effect on the importance of marriage? Is domestic violence a new problem? How is marriage changing as a result of women’s increasing employment? What forms of domestic division of labor have emerged? Who is Divorcing Today and Why? And finally, what about sex in marriage?
No evidence of a loss of meaning of marriage
As diverse as these research topics are, what they have in common is a great deal of public interest and a correspondingly large number of opinions expressed about them with little reliable sociological knowledge. According to Nave-Herz, society’s view of marriage is pessimistic, which presents sociological research with the challenge of confirming this pessimism or, on the contrary, proving the future viability of marriage. Of course, every study on their future has to address the development of the number of divorces in Germany. A sociological study that unceremoniously concluded from the increase in marriage that marriage had no future could safely be ignored.
The fact that the propensity to marry has not decreased at all, but has actually increased again since 2013 speaks against this. In general, the rising number of divorces is no evidence that marriage is losing importance. One could even argue the other way around, that precisely the special meaning of marriage is a reason for many not to put up with their own shortcomings, but to look for the opportunity for a new and then more fulfilling relationship in the separation. In short, one should know more about the actual reasons for marriage than about those for divorce. Unfortunately, there is no data on this. So what can be taken for granted?