Born in 1888, Popenoe was the son of a California avocado grower and horticultural pioneer.He went to Stanford, where he studied with the university’s president, a biologist named David Starr Jordan.Have you read ‘The Rise of the Colored Empires’ by this man Goddard?”“Why, no,” I answered, rather surprised by his tone.“Well, it’s a fine book, and everybody ought to read it.Doubtless, many receive a great deal of help, expert and caring.Nevertheless, a 1995 survey ranked marriage counsellors last, among providers of mental-health services, in achieving results. Davis observes in an astute, engaging, and disturbing history, “More Perfect Unions: The American Search for Marital Bliss” (Harvard; .95), the rise of couples counselling has both coincided with and contributed to a larger shift in American life: heightened expectations for marriage as a means of self-expression and personal fulfillment.
In 1918, Paul Popenoe and Roswell Hill Johnson wrote “Applied Eugenics,” to explain “the practical means by which society may encourage the reproduction of superior persons and discourage that of inferiors.” It became the most widely assigned college textbook on the topic; it was also translated into German.
For Popenoe, marriage counselling was the flip side of compulsory vasectomy and tubal ligation: sterilize the unfit; urge the fit to marry. “I began to realize that if we were to promote a sound population,” he wrote, “we would not only have to get the right kind of people married, but we would have to keep them married.” Popenoe opened the clinic in 1930, in order “to bring all the resources of science to bear on the promotion of successful family life”—that science being eugenics.
He didn’t much mind if the marriages of people of inferior stock fell apart: “Divorcees are on the whole biologically inferior to the happily married.” By saving the marriages of the biologically superior, though, Popenoe hoped to save the race.
Americans, among the marryingest people in the world, are also the divorcingest.
Even during the downturn, business is up at e Harmony, which has taken credit for one out of every fifty weddings in the United States, but “The State of Our Unions,” an annual report issued jointly by the National Marriage Project and the Institute for American Values, warns of a “mancession”: in a lousy economy, more men than usual are working fewer hours than their wives, making for unhappier husbands and angrier rows.