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But Regnerus is most interested in how three technological developments have driven this change.The first and most important of these is contraception, which has separated sex from reproduction and allowed people to seek it for pleasure and self-expression.
Grounded in abundant sociological research, a wealth of in-person interviews, and creative borrowing from critically minded left-wing theorists such as Anthony Giddens and Eva Illouz, gestures at the thesis.
Marriage in turn was anchored both by relatively stable male-female preferences as well as by what the economist Gary Becker referred to as “gains from trade.” Men, then and now, wanted sex, but they also needed a partner to raise their children and run their household while they earned a breadwinner wage.
Women, then and now, on average preferred relationships to casual sex, but prior to achieving economic autonomy also needed someone who could provide them with resources while credibly promising not to abandon them in the future.
It’s not that we know nothing — we know a lot — but the nature of our knowledge is limited: the mechanics of the act, the social rituals and expectations surrounding it, and maybe various pop theories for why men and women act the way they do.
Only rarely, however, are we aware of the structural forces acting on our romantic lives in the same way that the pressures of supply and demand influence the price of coffee.
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But it is crucial to understanding how our present differs from the past.