Conflicting answers to popping the question

March 19, 1999

Newspaper and media surveys that report the decline of marriage tell us more about the question being asked than about marriage, says new research from the University of Loughborough.

Rachel Lawes, a social psychology researcher at the university, has spent the past four years questioning people about their views of marriage. She says in almost all cases people give two contrasting, even contradictory, views, depending on the question asked.

In conversation she has found her subjects will speak of marriage as both a beneficial institution, with a romantic and optimistic outlook, as well as an outdated institution likely to wear out and be stressful and generally unpleasant. The answer she gets depends on the question she asks and the context.

Ms Lawes said: "Everyone produces both answers. It tells us nothing about what marriage is like, but rather that it may no longer be wise to take claims about the breakdown or the continued popularity of marriage reported in the media at face value.

"People's responses do not tell us about marriage, but about the questions that are deemed appropriate by researchers at that time."

British Journal of Social Psychology

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