sexual organization of the city

In today’s NYT, David Brooks gives us his review of the book by Edward Laumann (and others) entitled The Sexual Organization of the City.

Brooks was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago (as we have noted before in this blog) and he should know that the first revelation of Laumann’s study is that Chicagoans are having sex. At least this is the first evidence of a scientific kind…and frankly no one at the University of Chicago is likely to have any other kind. When this community talks about the “life of the mind,” they’re not kidding.

Here are the last four paragraphs of Brook’s story.

When you step back from this data, you see that, first, there has been a flowering of diverse sexual zones. This spontaneous evolution is so rapid, it is very difficult for big institutions to keep up. How can the city government of Chicago design health and welfare programs for areas as different as Southtown, Westside and Shoreland? How can the churches and other moral authorities keep up?

Second, sexual marketplaces are a rapidly expanding feature of society, and they are becoming more distinct from marriage marketplaces. Furthermore, as the sex markets become bigger and more efficient, people have less incentive to get married. As the scholars Yoosik Youm and Anthony Paik write, “Opportunities in the sex market act as constraints in the marriage market.”

The big problem here is that there is an overwhelming body of evidence to suggest that marriage correlates highly with happiness. Children raised in marriages tend to have more opportunities than children raised outside marriage.

Over all, Americans are spending much less time married. They marry later and divorce at high rates, and remarry less and less. We are replacing marriage, one of our most successful institutions, with hooking up. This is a deep structural problem, and very worrying.

Hang on a second. Isn’t there a contradiction here? Brooks makes it sound like the problem with “hooking up” is that it moves us away from a marriage-based society and that this is a problem because “marriage correlates highly with happiness.”

Can we not assume that these people are leaving the institution because marriage does not make them happy?

We may concede that these people are not as happy as people who are married, but it is not clear that a return to marriage will make them happier. It is presumably to escape the limitations of the old forms and or the opportunities of the new forms of marriage that prompted them to leave in the first place.

Or am I missing something?

There is the unhappy, and uncharacteristic, implication here that Brooks knows better. I’m disturbed he’s disturbed.

2 thoughts on “sexual organization of the city

  1. mpryan

    I saw the Brooks article in the Dallas Morning News and thought it was about a thesis or treatise, not a published book. Brooks’ political perspective was lost on me but now I see it, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m interested in exactly where in ‘the city’ persons of my ethnic, educational and economic persuasion may be meeting in hopes of sex. I know persons representative of those described in the Brooks story because I work in a field in which I encounter all of them, daily. There’s a ‘high school clique’ mentality to this place different from Houston, where I lived as long — not going to Chicago for romance!

  2. me

    Brooks wrote a larger piece for the New York Times Magazine based on his new book. It seems he has a definitive view of happiness, which can be summed up as “Be more like me!”. He drops the normal conservative line that market forces will sort things out (if more people are getting divorced, it must make them happier) and asserts, without any grounding in fact, that heterosexual marriage is simply better. Don’t you people at UofC ever take statistics? Brooks surely didn’t, as he often confuses cause/effect relations and statistical significance in most of his columns.

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