Attitudes to sex and marriage vary widely in Chicago's diverse neighborhoods
University of Chicago
5801 South Ellis Avenue
Tel: +773 702 8360
Fax: +773 702-8324
Homeless in US cities
Safest US cities
Most literate US cities
Teen student behaviour
Chicago's new Millennium Park
San Francisco shrinks
City Mayors reports news from towns and cities around the world. Worldwide | Elections | North America | Latin America | Europe | Asia | Africa | Events |
Mayors from The Americas, Europe. Asia, Australia and Africa are competing for the annual World Mayor Award. More
City Mayors ranks the world’s largest as well as richest cities and urban areas. It also ranks the cities in individual countries, and provides a list of the capital cities of some 200 sovereign countries. More
City Mayors lists and features urban events, conferences and conventions aimed at urban decision makers and those with an interst in cities worldwide. More
City Mayors reports political events, analyses the issues and depicts the main players. More
City Mayors describes and explains the structures and workings of local government in Europe, The Americas, Asia, Australia and Africa. More
City Mayors profiles city leaders from around the world and questions them about their achievements, policies and aims. More
City Mayors deals with economic and investment issues affecting towns and cities. More
City Mayors reports on how business developments impact on cities and examines cooperation between cities and the private sector. More
City Mayors describes and explains financial issues affecting local government. More
City Mayors reports urban environmental developments and examines the challenges faced by cities worldwide. More
City Mayors reports on and discusses urban development issues in developed and developing countries. More
City Mayors reports on developments in urban society and behaviour and reviews relevant research. More
City Mayors deals with urban transport issues in developed and developing countries and features the world’s greatest metro systems. More
City Mayors examines education issues and policies affecting children and adults in urban areas. More
City Mayors investigates health issues affecting urban areas with an emphasis on health in cities in developing countries. More
City Mayors examines the contributions history and culture make to urban society and environment. More
City Mayors describes the history, architecture and politics of the greatest city halls in the world. More
City Mayors invites readers to write short stories about people in cities around the world. More
City Mayors questions those who govern the world’s cities and talks to men and women who contribute to urban society and environment. More
City Mayors profiles national and international organisations representing cities as well as those dealing with urban issues. More
City Mayors reports on major national and international sporting events and their impact on cities. More
City Mayors lists cities and city organisations, profiles individual mayors and provides information on hundreds of urban events. More
Sex and marriage in
the City of Chicago
A University of Chicago research study
As more people remain single for longer periods of time, or become single because of divorce, elaborate markets to facilitate people in their search for companionship and sex have developed in major cities, according to a new study by a research team at the University of Chicago.
While people of previous generations tended to marry shortly after entering the workforce and remained married to the same partner, todays marriages occur later in life and are often briefer, requiring a new dynamic in the ways in which people meet and form relationships, said Chicago University sociologist Professor Edward Laumann, one of Americas leading experts on the sociology of sexuality. He is the organizer of a study entitled the Chicago Health and Social Life Survey.
Professor Laumann said that between the ages 18 to 59, the age group studied, people on average were married for about 18 years. "For the rest of that time, people cohabit for 3.7 years and are either dating or unattached the rest of the time," he said.
Societal institutions hold significant power to direct and shape sexual relationships, identities and behaviors, the scholars found. We saw this most clearly in cases in which individuals are most deeply embedded within local religious organizations, families and communities, Professor Laumann explained.
The new sexual markets operate differently for men and women, and are defined according to racial group, neighborhood and sexual orientation, the University of Chicago team found during the three-year study. The scholars interviewed 2,114 people in the city and nearby suburbs and also talked to 160 community representatives, including police, social workers, church pastors and others. They found the traditional institutions ill-prepared to deal with the changes brought on by new sexual markets.
The study was conducted through a survey prepared by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. The results will be published in 2004 in a book entitled The Sexual Organization of the City.
Although we looked at Chicago in detail, what we found is reflected in major cities across the US, Professor Laumann said. Each major American city is organized much as Chicago is, with similar neighborhoods, similar people and similar institutions.
In addition to a broader series of interviews, researchers focused on four Chicago neighborhoods for case studies: one predominantly African-American on the South Side, one Mexican-American on the West Side, one mixed but predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood on the Northwest Side and a North Side neighborhood with the largest homosexual population in the city, but which also has many upper income, young, white heterosexuals living there.
These communities were chosen to represent various points along a continuum of perceived cohesiveness and insularity as well as to provide samples of different racial, ethnic and sexual orientation populations, the authors wrote. The sexual markets are important means for people to organize their lives, the team found. Sex is a powerful force in relationships. It provides fulfillment and contributes to a high quality of life, Professor Laumann observed.
The researchers found that at the most fundamental level, people negotiate partnering in two kinds of sexual markets: one transactional and the other relational.
The transactional market consists of encounters primarily for the purposes of a short-term relationship. Transactional marketplaces are located in bars, health clubs and other venues where people who dont previously know each other can meet to form relatively uncommitted relationships.
The relational market functions in a more complicated way and is often guided by friends and family. People they know introduce people with common interests and common backgrounds. People in this market determine who gets in. People know more about the two people being introduced and the arrangement that develops is meant to be a long-term one, Professor Laumann said. Churches sometimes provide settings where the relational marketplace works as well, he added.
Women become disadvantaged in sexual markets as they age compared with men, who typically choose younger women as they grow older. A man in his 40s will seek a woman who is five to eight years younger than he is, Professor Laumann commented. Besides ageing, which makes women less physically attractive, single women who are mothers bring extra costs to a relationship because men are often uninterested in dealing with another mans children.
In addition to the market distinctions between men and women, neighborhoods and culture also exert limitations on the way people find sexual partners.
In Chicagos South Side African-American community, few people seek sex partners among African-Americans on the West Side, for instance, researchers found. The community also discourages homosexuality and provides few places where homosexuals can gather.
Members of the South Side community, like some people in other neighborhoods, also take part in a hybrid strategy in seeking partners somewhere between the transactional and the relational strategies. In the hybrid strategy, people choose to have short-term transactional partnerships, for instance, while maintaining a long-term relationship, or maintain several relationships as long-term polygamy.
African-American men are much more likely than white or Hispanic men to engage in polygamous relationships, the scholars found. About 21 per cent of the African-American men had at least two partners at the time of the survey, compared with six per cent of men overall in Chicagos Cook County.
Furthermore, the researchers found that polygamy is more common among better educated black men, who presumably have more income. As a result, the number of men available for stable marriages in the African-American community is reduced, leading to the large differences in marriage rates between African-Americans and whites, the researchers pointed out. About 57 per cent of black men have been married, compared with about 72 per cent of white men, according to census figures.
Hispanic neighborhoods are traditional in their sexual attitudes, with Catholic beliefs being an important guide. Homosexuality is discouraged. The market in the Mexican neighborhood is highly organized by family, the church and neighborhood social networks.
The Chicago North Side gay neighborhood has its own set of rules as well. There, the transactional market is very important for gay men but not important for lesbians, who favor the relational market. The community also discourages African-Americans from participating in its activities by such measures as triple carding African-American bar patrons. Lesbians also find it difficult to find places to gather in the neighborhood because of male dominance, researchers found.
In the gay community, the failure of institutions to deal with sexuality plays out in a variety of ways. Churches in the neighborhood provide an ambivalent resource by being open to gay people on the one hand, but also respectful of denominational perspectives that might not be open to gay marriage, for instance. The community also has no refuges for gay men and women who have suffered domestic violence.
Among heterosexuals, institutional response to sexuality is also problematic. Police largely limit their interventions to potentially criminal issues, churches often ignore the issue of sexuality, and health care agencies treat sexuality as a medical problem and avoid a more holistic approach, Professor Laumann and his team contend.
But the need for an institutional response is growing because of changes in sexual customs, he added. More cohabitation, for instance, has increased the incidences of jealousy and violence, which are more common among those who co-habit than people who are married.