Date of Award

2018

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Sociology

First Advisor

Melissa J. Wilde

Abstract

Contemporary scholars in the sociology of the family tend to emphasize the delay in the entry of first marriage, as this has been a key demographic shift in family life since the mid-twentieth century. In keeping with this focus, research has explored how marriage is conceptualized as an achievement or a capstone for adult life. However, relatively early marriage is not uncommon, as many young adults wed before their mid-twenties. More importantly, however, there are signs that the reasoning behind marital decisions is not the same for all young adults. Specifically, researchers have focused on secular understandings of marriage and adulthood, at the expense the religious imperatives that drive many young people of faith to pursue an alternate path to adulthood which prioritizes family life.

Using in-depth interviews with 87 partnered Evangelical young adults (ages 18-29) and embedded ethnographic observation, I explore how religion and social class sensibilities interact to shape marital timelines and expectations. I argue that marriage is best conceptualized as sacred endeavor for Evangelical young adults. For these young people, marriage is first and foremost imbued with religious meaning. Among young adults of this religious community, dating relationships are pursued with expectations towards future marriage. Evangelicals often marry at young ages and in uncertain economic circumstances, as their understandings of the point of marriage and God’s role in the world discourages a reliance on worldly criteria, such as financial security. These early unions are often greeted with suspicion and disapproval from secular peers and acquaintances.

Yet, while religion affects the understanding and timelines for marriage for Evangelical young adults in general, social class continues to exert a strong influence over their family formation pathways even within this select group. Working class and middle class Evangelicals experience divergent levels of social approval for early marriage. In particular, middle class Evangelicals are sanctioned for marrying prior to completing a bachelor’s degree while working class Evangelicals face less scrutiny within their religious communities.

Embargoed

Available to all on Sunday, June 06, 2021

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