While people of other generations tended to marry shortly after entering the workforce and remained married to the same partner, today's marriages occur later in life and are often briefer, requiring a new dynamic in the ways in which people meet and form relationships, said University sociologist Edward O. Laumann, one of the nation's leading experts on the sociology of sexuality. He is the organizer of the study, called the Chicago Health and Social Life Survey.
Between the ages 18 to 59, the age group studied, people on average are married for about 18 years. For the rest of that time, people cohabit for 3.7 years and are either dating or unattached the rest of the time, said Laumann, the George Herbert Mead Distinguished Service Professor of Sociology at the University.
Societal institutions hold significant power to direct and shape sexual relationships, identities and behaviors, the scholars found. "We saw this most clearly in cases in which individuals are most deeply embedded within local religious organizations, families and communities," Laumann said.
The new sexual markets operate differently for men and women, and are defined according to racial group, neighborhood and sexual orientation, the University of Chicago team found during a three-year study. The scholars interviewed 2,114 people in the city and nearby suburbs and also talked with 160 community representatives, including police, social workers, church pastors and others. They found the traditional institutions ill-prepared to deal with the changes brought on by new sexual markets.