How Class Differences Shape Love and Marriage

I just ordered and am very excited to soon be reading, The Power of the Past: Understanding Cross-Class Marriages by Jessi Streib. Books about marriage are plentiful but an ethnographic account of cross-class marriages is something new. If you click this link, it will direct you to a Washington Post article written by Streib that gives you a taste of what the book is about.

Couples argue about money, sex, and housework most frequently but class differences are sure to affect those variables. Indeed, Streib describes that in the case of her couples, class was about money but so much more about class culture, how to spend leisure time, manage home maintenance, and “even how to talk about their feelings.”

I grew up working class and so did my husband. This June we’ll be married 21 years, we met each other in our mutually impoverished early 20’s. We have some class differences—his family is conservative, religious and more settled, mine more hard-living democrats, I have three other siblings and we each have different fathers. So, we’ve had a few conflicts around risk taking but for the most part, I think it’s been easier for us because we both grew up working class and were better able to climb the ladder together (and that includes two sets of student loans). We are economically middle class but in sync about how we like to spend leisure time (outdoors), manage home maintenance (do-it-yourself), and talk about our feelings (express freely, brutal honesty). Before hearing about Streib’s book, I hadn’t thought past the money part of cross-class relationships.

I’m curious what Streib’s overall point will be. In the opinion piece she wrote she mentions that “the opportunity to marry — or even meet — someone of a different class is disappearing” and that inter-class marriages will become less likely. It’s the way economic conditions can shrink our world’s and give us less opportunity to encounter difference, and maybe find love.

June 24 1994
Author and her husband Larry waiting for the Justice of the Peace on their wedding day in Redding, CA in 1994.

One thought on “How Class Differences Shape Love and Marriage

  1. Colleen Smith

    I’m now on a mission to find/buy this book, thanks for the head’s up! As I enter adult, middle class life, I’m yearning for a vocabulary for the early difficulties I have in this dating pool.

    I have been reading your pieces on this site add they come out for a few months now and I just wanted to express my gratitude for putting your voice out there as an upwardly-mobile woman in academia. I’m a senior anthropology undergrad with a working class background at a big state university in the South. I “pass” as middle class in a mostly class-homogeneous environment, but hey, the experiential struggle is real. As much as class identity is given its lip service in some fields, your posts on here may be my first source of identity connection in my whole time at college. Please keep em coming!

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