Assessing the Deinstitutionalization of Marriage Thesis: An Experimental Test

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This article seeks to experimentally evaluate the thesis that marriage is deinstitutionalized in the United States. To do so, we map the character of the norm about whether different-sex couples ought to marry, and we identify the extent to which the norm is strong or weak along four dimensions: polarity, whether the norm is prescriptive, proscriptive, bipolar (both prescriptive and proscriptive), or nonexistent; conditionality, whether the norm holds under all circumstances; intensity, the degree to which individuals subscribe to the norm; and consensus, the extent to which individuals share the norm. Results of a factorial survey experiment administered to a disproportionate stratified random sample of U.S. adults (N = 1,823) indicate that the norm to marry is weak: it is largely bipolar, conditional, and of low-to-moderate intensity, with disagreement over the norm as well as the circumstances demarcating the norm. While the norm to marry is different for men and women and for Black and White respondents, the amount of disagreement (or lack of consensus) within groups is comparable between groups. We find no significant differences across socioeconomic status (education, income, and occupational class). Overall, our findings support key claims of the deinstitutionalization of marriage thesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)237-274
Number of pages38
JournalAmerican sociological review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • deinstitutionalization
  • factorial survey experiment
  • marriage
  • social norms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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