The purpose of the study was to investigate college women's
were unwillingness to participate in 24 alternative marital and family
forms. Data were collected through the use of anonymous questionnaires
distributed in classes. The analysis revealed "One man married to
two or more wives" (95.1%), "Man has 'right' to sex
outside of marriage" (94.2%)," "Group marriage"
(91.3%) and "Woman has 'right' to sex outside of
marriage" (91.3%) were the most undesirable forms of marriage. Even
the most "undesirable" forms of marriage had individuals who
were willing to participate in them. This study confirms that among
college age women, the expectations of what is considered an abnormal or
undesirable form of marriage is more vague and flexible than assumed.
During 2004, more than ever, the definition of marriage and family
has been opened to public debate. However, these are not new debates. In
1972, Jessie Bernard wrote, The Future of Marriage and Axelson and
Strong (1972) concluded that the field of marriage and family would be
dominated by the study of alternative family forms. Bernard's
(1972) work, arguably, deals more with the changing roles of women than
with alternative marriage and family forms, but it can be argued that
the two may go hand in hand. As more women entered the work force, there
was greater pressure for the development of egalitarian or even role
reversal marriages. In addition, even though the definition of marriage
remained, "one man married to one woman," this definition too
had undergone change from traditional monogamy (one man married to one
woman until death) to include serial monogamy (one man married to one
woman at a time) so that society could respond to the rapid rate of
divorce and remarriage. From these changes in marriage came changes in
definitions of family, so that "family" now included divorced
families, both mother and father headed households, never-married single
parent (mothers and fathers), paternity issues, minority families, and
dysfunctional families. However, there remained a paucity of research on
what continued to be fringe or alternatives forms of marriage and
family; even though many of these alternative marriage and family forms
are both practiced and legal in other cultures of the world (polygyny
and polyandry as examples).
There were some notable exceptions. White and Wells (1973); Jurich
and Jurich (1975); Stinnett and Taylor (1976); Strong (1978); and
Billingham and Sack (1986) have all studied how willing college students
are to participate in various alternative marriage and family forms. In
each of these studies it was found that many students expressed a
willingness to participate in non-traditional monogamous marriages or
other alternative marriage and family forms. It may be argued that
college students are at the forefront of the social evolution of the
redefinition of marriage and family. In 1986 Billingham and Sack found
that 64.7 percent of women college students were unwilling to
participate in a cohabiting relationship. In 2003 that percentage had
dropped to 28.9 if the intent of cohabiting was marriage (Billingham,
unpublished manuscript). Likewise, in 1986, 91.1 percent of women said
they were unwilling to participate in "Serial monogamy." In
2003 that percentage dropped to 19.5. Thus both cohabiting and serial
monogamy had moved from an undesirable marital and family form in the
1980's to a much more acceptable form of "marriage" in
the 21 century.
Since societal evolution involves alternative behaviors by a
minority of individuals that later become acceptable to mainstream
society, the purpose of this study was to identify those forms of
marriage and family that are currently considered most undesirable by
college aged women. Then to determine if there are some women who would
be willing to participate in these undesirable form of marriage and
family. We anticipate that this might offer a window into the future of
marriage and family in America's future.
The data were collected from students enrolled in large lecture
classes at a large university in the mid-west. Students were informed
that their participation was voluntary and that they were not to put any
identifying information on the questionnaire. This would help assure
their responses would be both confidential and anonymous.
The students were also informed that they could choose not to
participate in the study and they could withdraw from the study at any
time during the data collection period. The protocol allowed for data
collection only after the class had ended and students had a chance to
leave the classroom before the study was introduced. While the effect of
this protocol varied from classroom to classroom, the overall effect was
that a smaller number of students choose to stay and complete the
questionnaire than had been hoped.
Only the responses of the women students were compared in this
study. Finally, only women who identified themselves as single, never
married and heterosexual were used in this comparison. This resulted in
a usable sample of 111 respondents.
After approval from the Committee for the Protection of Human
Subjects in Research was received, permission from instructors to
collect data in their classes, was obtained. Either the project director
or the class instructor introduced the study and invited the students to
participate. This was done after the instructor had ended the class. The
students completed the questionnaire and, once finished, placed the
questionnaire in a box provided by the project director. Students were
invited to shuffle the questionnaires if they wished.
A questionnaire requesting background information and containing a
list of 24 alternative marriage and family forms was distributed. The
list of 24 marriage and family forms was compiled from earlier studies
on this topic, and from discussions with students and colleagues about
what kind of living arrangements were not included on our list.
The students responded to each of the 24 marriage and family forms
using the categories: 1--"I would Never participate,"
2--"Very Unwilling," 3--"Unwilling," 4--"More
unwilling than willing," 5--"More willing than
unwilling," 6--"Willing," or 7--"Very willing."
In this study we focused exclusively on those responses in the "I
would never participate" category. We did this because this is the
only "absolute" and "inflexible" category available
to the students, and is thought to represent the "absolute
limits" of the acceptability for any given marriage or family form
on the list.
Results and Discussion
Table 1 presents the results of the analysis. The 24 marriage and
family forms are listed in order based on the highest number and percent
of women who reported that they would "Never" participate in
the marriage form. The marriage form that the greatest number of women
reported they would never participate in is "One man married to two
or more women" (95.1%). This form of marriage is polygyny, and on a
world-wide cultural bases is widely practiced and accepted.
There were four marriage forms listed for which over 90 percent of
women reported they would "Never" participate. These are: 1)
One man married to two or more women (95.1%); "Man has
'right' to sex outside of marriage" (94.2%); "Group
marriage" (91.3%); and "Woman has 'right' to have
sex outside of marriage" (91.3%).
One third (33.3%) of women reported they would never participate in
a "Child free marriage." Thus, for one third of women, both
their, and their future partner's future plans must include
Fifteen women (14.4%) reported that they would "Never"
"remain single." It is not clear as to whether these women
believe that marriage will simply be a natural occurrence in their lives
or that they will do whatever it takes to be married one day.
Interestingly, 10.7 percent of women reported that they would
"Never" participate in a "Traditional sex role segregated
marriage." This may indicate that, for these women, the definition
of "traditional sex role segregated marriage" has changed, or
it means that they simply are unaware that even today, women end up
doing most of the household tasks than their partners.
Since this study focused on the "absolute" or
"extreme" end of willingness to participate in a list of
alternative marital and family forms, i. e. "I would
'Never,' participate" these results indicate that even
though there are some forms of marital and family forms that the
overwhelming majority of women chose not to participate in, there are
still individuals in our society to whom these forms may be acceptable.
Thus, marriage and family in a pluralistic society may call for a
reevaluation and perhaps redefinition of marriage and family so that
they can become more flexible, inclusive and reflective of the members
of the society.
Since these results indicate that there are a wide variety of
marriage and family forms that at least a minority of individuals find
desirable, and seem willing to consider participating in, there is a
possibility that should any one form of alternative marriage and family
be legalized, society would be hard pressed to deny legal equality to
Axelson, L. J., and Strong, L. D. (1972). Some personal
characteristics and organizational attitudes of NCFR membership. The
Family Coordinator, 21, 337-346.
Bernard, J. (1972). The Future of Marriage. New York World
Billingham, R. E., and Sack, A. R. (1986). Gender differences in
college students' willingness to participate in alternative
marriage and family relationships. Family Perspective, 20, 37-44.
Jurich, A. R, and Jurich, J. A. (1975). Alternative family forms:
Preference of non-participants. Home Economic Research Journal,
White, M., and Wells, C. (1973). Student attitudes toward alternate
marriage forms. In Roger W. Libby and Robert N. Whitehurst (Eds.),
Renovating Marriage. Danville California: Consensus Publishers, Inc.
ROBERT E. BILLINGHAM, SR.
PITIYAGE BILESHA PERERA
NICOLE A. EHLERS
Number and percentage of college women who selected they would
NEVER be willing to participate in the marriage and family
forms (N = 111)
"I will Never
One man married to two or more wives 98 95.1
Man has "right" to have sex outside of marriage 97 94.2
Group marriage 94 91.3
Woman has "right" to have sex outside of marriage 94 91.3
One woman marred to two or more husbands 92 89.3
Non-Consensual extramarital sex 88 85.4
Bi-sexual marriage 87 85.3
Consensual extramarital sex 86 83.5
Spouse Swapping 86 83.5
Same sex relationship (WITH children) 82 80.4
Rural commune 82 79.6
"Swinging" 79 77.5
Arranged marriage 79 76.7
Same sex relationship (WITHOUT children) 78 75.7
Marriage arranged by a "matchmaker" 76 73.8
A five year evaluation and renewal 45 43.7
A "Child Free" marriage 34 33.3
Long term cohabitation
(with no intent to marry your partner) 21 20.2
Remain Single 15 14.4
Traditional sex role segregated marriage 11 10.7
Serial Monogamy 10 09.7
Long term cohabitation
(with intent to marry your partner) 07 06.7
Role reversal marriage 03 02.9
Egalitarian marriage 00 --