Courting Trouble: a Qualitative Examination of Sexual Inequality in Partnering Practice
AbstractSociology recognizes marriage and family formation as two consequential events in an adult’s lifecourse. But as young people spend more of their lives childless and unpartnered, scholars recognize a dearth of academic insight into the processes by which single adults form romantic relationships in the lengthening years between adolescence and betrothal. As the average age of first marriage creeps upwards, this lacuna inhibits sociological appreciation for the ways in which class, gender and sexuality entangle in the lives of single adults to condition sexual behavior and how these behaviors might, in turn, contribute to the reproduction of social inequality. Drawing upon in-depth interviews with 88 primarily straight men and women between the ages of 25 and 35, this dissertation examines how single, college-educated adults factor marriage into their life-planning strategies and how, in turn, life-planning strategies influence partnering practices. Aiming to better understand how a relatively elite group of adults partner after college, interviews explore in detail respondents’ sexual and romantic expectations, their experiences with dating and relationship formation, and their desires for future family life. Although college-educated men and women widely share similar desires for professional accomplishment, marriage and family, they commonly diverge in perspective with regards to how and when these events should unfold across their adult lives and what they must do to ensure their success. Much of this project therefore examines how these gendered perspectives towards life- and family-planning can generate sexual conflict between single men and women. Analysis identifies several dilemmas that gender conflict routinely creates in the lives of those seeking to partner and how these dilemmas are anticipated and resolved in practice by women’s unequal accommodation. This study concludes its contribution by exploring how normalized gender inequality in the partnering process may contribute to and reinforce gender inequality more broadly.
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