Marriage: a fading institution? 114

Today the Supreme Court has overturned the Defense of Marriage Act’s definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, on the grounds that it violates the rights of gay couples by denying them government benefits.

Will the legalization of same-sex marriage rescue the institution itself from obsolescence, or hasten its terminal decline?

The decline is a fact.

From Pew research, December 2011:

Barely half of all adults in the United States — a record low — are currently married, and the median age at first marriage has never been higher for brides (26.5 years) and grooms (28.7), according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census data.

In 1960, 72% of all adults ages 18 and older were married; today just 51% are. If current trends continue, the share of adults who are currently married will drop to below half within a few years. Other adult living arrangements—including cohabitation, single-person households and single parenthood—have all grown more prevalent in recent decades.

The Pew Research analysis also finds that the number of new marriages in the U.S. declined by 5% between 2009 and 2010, a sharp one-year drop that may or may not be related to the sour economy. …

Public attitudes about the institution of marriage are mixed. Nearly four-in-ten Americans say marriage is becoming obsolete, according to a Pew Research survey in 2010.  Yet the same survey found that most people who have never married (61%) would like to do so someday. …

The decline is particularly dramatic among the less educated.

From the Population Reference Bureau, September 2010:

Marriage rates have dropped among all major racial/ethnic groups and for both men and women. However, there are substantial differences in marriage trends by level of education. CPS data show that those with only a high school diploma (or less) have experienced a steep decline in marriage during the past decade. In contrast, marriage rates have held fairly steady for those with at least a bachelor’s degree.

Forty percent of all births are now to unwed mothers:

From The Atlantic, March 18, 2013:

58 percent of first births in lower-middle-class households are now to unmarried women. Meanwhile, two in five of all births are to unwed mothers, an all-time high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Marriage has changed. Once upon a time, the typical marriage … involved special roles for the husband and wife. He would work. She would stay home. It was an efficient arrangement where opposites attracted. Men who wanted to be executives would marry women who wanted to be housewives. And, since almost half of women had no independent earnings 40 years ago, there were a lot of women who just wanted to work at home and raise a family.

Several factors mussed up this traditional union. Today women expect to work much, much more than they used to – and they do. They make up the majority of new college graduates and their labor participation rate has soared over 60 percent. Since 1950, hours of work by married women have increased by roughly a factor of three …

Now that women are better educated, with greater control over both their fertility and their earnings, modern marriage has changed from an arrangement where men marry for a housewife to a “hedonic” model where both partners can be the breadwinner. …

Think of marriage like any other contract or investment. It’s most likely to happen when the gains are big. So we should expect marriages among low-income Americans to decline if women perceive declining gains from hitching themselves to the men around them.

That’s precisely what we’ve seen…

Low-skill men have had a rough two generations. The evaporation of manufacturing work has gutted their main source of employment, while globalization has held down their wages. Marriage has declined the most among men whose wages have declined the most. …

It is relatively easier to raise a child and keep up a home with modern household innovations. The connection between Lunchables, detergent and marriage rates is not often made. But perhaps it should be. The development of time-saving technologies – cheap prepared foods, cheap clothes, machines to wash, dry, and vacuum – has not only encouraged more women to seek work, but also made it relatively easier for single parents to raise a child. Put starkly, technology makes it cheaper and easier than ever to be single.

While marriage becomes less attractive, divorce remains popular.

From McKinley Irvin family law blog:

Around 50 percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce. The number is similarly high in many other developed nations.

When you break that down by number of marriages [in the US]:

  • 41 percent of first marriages end in divorce.
  • 60 percent of second marriages end in divorce.
  • 73 percent of third marriages end in divorce.

Nearly three quarters of all African-American children are born to unwed mothers.

From NBC News November 7, 2010:

Seventy-two percent of black babies are born to unmarried mothers today, according to government statistics.  …

The black community’s 72 percent rate eclipses that of most other groups: 17 percent of Asians, 29 percent of whites, 53 percent of Hispanics and 66 percent of Native Americans were born to unwed mothers in 2008, the most recent year for which government figures are available. The rate for the overall U.S. population was 41 percent.

Ideally, we would like to see the institution of marriage as a union between one man and one woman – historically, customarily, and generally for the purpose of raising children – to continue. Conservatives should – and many do – strive to preserve it. And we hold to the view that it affords (of course not invariably) the best circumstances for children to be well provided for, educated, kept in good health, and launched into adult life.

Marriage is not always – or even very often in our experience – an easy relationship. But a marriage needs to be endured when it cannot be enjoyed at least until children born into it reach young  adulthood.

Our inclination is to be for the survival of traditional marriage. But it seems to us to be a lost cause.

The very fact that a union which cannot possibly produce children because it joins two people of the same gender is now called “marriage”  is a clear proof that the ancient institution is not just fading but over and done with.

If the only requirement for a marriage to be sanctioned by the state is the wish of the contracting parties to enter into it, then not only individuals of the same sex, but groups of both (or various) sexes should be able to marry. Expect the legalization of polygamy in America and other Western countries in the not too distant future.

What will marriage then mean? Nothing really. It will give certain legal benefits to the parties, but other than that? Any different from just living together? Will it engage exceptional loyalties, devotion, duty, pertinacity, the sharing of responsibilities and rewards more than if the parties cohabited without the ceremony and documentation of marriage?  Could do. Possibly. Sometimes. Maybe as often as old marriage did? No, probably not.

Of course, if Islam conquers the West the fun will be over anyway. Sure, men will be able to have more than one wife each and as many concubines as they like. Men will be able to divorce their wives with the greatest of ease, and keep their children. But women will be married off, perhaps when they’re still pre-pubescent children themselves, to older men, and will not easily be able to divorce their husbands. Men will only be doing their religious duty if they beat their wives. Adulterers – the  females at least – will be stoned to death. Homosexuals will be executed.

So women, men, and all others – gather ye rosebuds while ye may.