Monday, May 03, 2004

The Decline of Marriage

There are two articles in yesterday's Times about the crisis of marriage. One points to the high rate of divorce in America, particularly in Roanoke, VA. The national rate of divorce and separation grew 10 percent in the 1990's, according to the 2000 census. It grew about 30 percent in Roanoke. The article vaguely points to the correlation between Roanake's economic woes and its high rate of divorce.

The article has some contradictory facts on divorce and women. It's says that divorce means a shrunken standard of living for most women. But it also says that women who taken managerial jobs can afford to leave their husbands. The extra money gives them more freedom.

The other article is by David Brooks. Brooks refers to a study that shows that hooking up has replaced marriage. Brooks writes,

Sexual marketplaces are a rapidly expanding feature of society, and they are becoming more distinct from marriage marketplaces. Furthermore, as the sex markets become bigger and more efficient, people have less incentive to get married. As the scholars Yoosik Youm and Anthony Paik write, "Opportunities in the sex market act as constraints in the marriage market."

The big problem here is that there is an overwhelming body of evidence to suggest that marriage correlates highly with happiness. Children raised in marriages tend to have more opportunities than children raised outside marriage.
Over all, Americans are spending much less time married. They marry later and divorce at high rates, and remarry less and less. We are replacing marriage, one of our most successful institutions, with hooking up. This is a deep structural problem, and very worrying.

This issue of marriage wasn't on my radar a few months ago. I never really thought about the politics of marriage and divorce until reading Ann Crittenden's The Price of Motherhood . She has a good chapter on the devastating impact of divorce on mothers. And how divorce laws are skewed against those who take off time to raise the kids.

I'm convinced that one of the reasons behind the dual income family is the fear of divorce and not greed. You never know for sure that your partner will be around to support you in the future.

It is also one of the reasons that mothers are starting to demand pay and benefits for the unpaid work of raising kids. There is just no guarantee that your spouse will take care of you. Taking time out to raise kids is very risky.

Divorce isn't just a moral crisis; it's an economic crisis.

Rauol Felder, the NYC divorce lawyer, was quoted in the New Yorker last week that divorce should be made more difficult. Others are proposing subsiding marriage classes.

In the coming years, marriage and divorce will be discussed more and more in political circles, not just in religious circles. The trick is to bolster shaky marriages without trapping people in disastrous marriages, to provide security without chains, and to balance the needs of parents and children.

UPDATE: Harry at Crooked Timber picked up this post. He finds it ironic that women work more to guard against divorce, but those long hours pretty much guarantee that they’ll end up divorced. James Tooley thinks that the solution is for more women to forgo all career aspirations and serve their hubby (gag). But Harry suggests that both partners work less and tend to their relationship.

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