January 16, 2007

"There is no going back to a world where we can assume that marriage is the main institution that organizes people's lives."

Inexorable unmarriedness.

40 comments:

Wade_Garrett said...

The benefits of living outside of marriage were totally unforeseen? They were surprised to find they now have more time to go to cultural events? That they had more flexibility in their lives? They hadn't realized that marriage was a trade-off? Did they think that marriage was going to be nothing but sheer bliss for the rest of their lives?

Maybe women are beginning to approach marriage the way that men have always approached marriage -- something that can have a lot of emotional, romantic and economic benefits but also something that can trap you if you don't choose wisely.

Wade_Garrett said...

Somewhat unrelated, but if this trend away from marriage keeps up, do you think that Hollywood will stop cramming predictable, cliche, intelligence-insulting, unrealistic romantic comedies down our throats at the rate of five per month?

hdhouse said...

Would roughly the same percentages then hold for men? Discounting of course that there are more women then men.

John Thacker said...

Of course, part of this is because the age of marriage is increasing. People getting married first at a higher age means that fewer people are married at any one time.

That certainly still reflects an important change in peoples' lives, but people still intending on getting married "someday" but waiting until/after grad school is different from the change caused by people who never marry.

David said...

Speaking from the male perspective, when I need a boost to my maleness I take a two-pronged approach. I pay a visit to relatives in a Leisure World community or take our dog to the local assisted living facility to enliven the atmosphere there.

In both cases the number of women outnumber men by about 5 to 1. I feel like a pork chop surrounded by a pack of hungry coyotes. They do demand that I have my own teeth even if I carry them in my pocket!

Desperate housewives indeed!

Anonymous said...

Have some sort of catastrophe that disrupts our technology based society and marriage would be back to number one in a cave man minute.

I don't want that to happen in any way, shape or form, but I do give a sigh as I recognize that unfortunately this article is probably correct.

Let me be really controversial here and say having a society of complete freedom for women where they no longer require men to meet their protective/subsistence needs seems to compel a society where men are no longer there to meet many women's mental, emotional or spiritual needs.

So, while women are better off in many, many ways and I wouldn't want to go back at the same time both women and men are losing something very important and central to being a human. More importantly, I think, we are losing a primary mechanism of growth to being a good human. It seems to me the normal pattern of adult development where people learn to break from the narcissism of childhood and become more altruistic is being lost.

It could be that we are merely feeling the effects of a societal shakeup and over time the pendulum will swing back. One can hope we will be able to create a society that has the best of both worlds.

But, honestly, short of a world shaking disaster I don't foresee it happening and rather predict the continuing marginalization of the traditional nuclear family and mating for life. The sad fact is that this outcome has been the goal of many groups. Yay, you win and I think the rest of us lose.

Dave said...

Sounds good to me!

Liam Colvin said...

"Only about 30 percent of black women are living with a spouse, according to the Census Bureau, compared with about 49 percent of Hispanic women, 55 percent of non-Hispanic white women and more than 60 percent of Asian women."

Wow, and lets see: which of those population subgroups does the best in school, acheivement, earning potential, etc?

Yep. Let's kill marriage now - it's so yesterday!

vbspurs said...

Quoting NYT:

Only about 30 percent of black women are living with a spouse, according to the Census Bureau, compared with about 49 percent of Hispanic women, 55 percent of non-Hispanic white women and more than 60 percent of Asian women.

Welfare strictures.

(Over-)education.

Easier social conditions towards homosexuality (lowering the pool of available males, as well as the implicit 'rise' of female homosexuality).

Increased technological advances making males nearly obsolete for procreation, and even having someone around to kill spiders in the bathtub (Raid).

I mean, it's not hard to understand why there are non-attached/married women out there. Just ask Oprah.

Cheers,
Victoria

(Blogger still glitchy...hope this doesn't appear a gazillion times)

Anonymous said...

I had to comment on this quote:

“. . .it is simply delusional to construct social policy or make personal life decisions on the basis that you can count on people spending most of their adult lives in marriage,” said Professor Coontz, the author of “Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage.”

Wow, did this guy just say you are delusional to get married? After all, marriage is itself a personal life decision based on planning to remain together all your lives, isn't it?

Al Maviva said...

Hey, it sounds great. Unmarried or divorced, sharing an apartment with some other unmarried or divorced person, going out a lot and partying... Sounds awesome. If you're 20.

While these anecdotes sure prove how unmarried life totally rawks, actual data (I know, the plural of datum is 'anecdotes') shows married people enjoy greater wealth, better health, and tend to live longer than singles.

I guess the piece strikes me as another "making our Upper West Side readers feel just great about themselves" puff piece.

Yeah, the institution of marriage is really falling apart and now we in the upper middle class can celebrate it. But maybe first we ought to ask the underclass how that whole ditching marriage thing is working out for them...

Meade said...

"...51 percent of women said they were living without a spouse."

Great! Call me delusional, but as long as they're not infected with the wolbachia bacterium, I'll factor their cruel truth right straight into my fantasy involving multiple female partners.

milwaukee39 said...

Another article adressing how singleness frees and empowers women. Yet, when the subject of single men arises, such men are often portrayed as feckless and irresponsible. The template seems to be that female autonomy is good while male autonomy is bad, even dangerous.

The Drill SGT said...

A wonderful celebration of the demise of the institution of marriage, with a feminist spin.

After of course a 10,000 year history of women creating the institution of marriage to provide a legal and social framework for society and the protection of women and children.


I hope nobody is ulimately disappointed by the change.

Anonymous said...

Gerald: Stephanie Coontz is a woman and she did not say people are delusional to get married. Its perfectly rational to seek out and commit to someone and to expect someone to honor their commitment to you for life. But given the frequency of divorce and frequency of avoiding marriage altogether, its not safe to assume that you'll have a spouse by your side throughout your life, despite the best of intentions. Getting married is a personal decision based on the expectation that you'll stay together long-term, but I think Coontz is talking about decisions like "After my partner and I date or live together for a few years, is it fair to expect that he/she will marry me?" or "Is it worth investing in developing marketable skills to support myself or can I rely on the assumption that I'll find a spouse to help provide for me and any children I want to have?"

vbspurs said...

A wonderful celebration of the demise of the institution of marriage, with a feminist spin.

Yeah, so why is Maureen Down always whining about not being able to get a date?

Cheers,
Victoria

AJ Lynch said...

Stephanie Coontz- isn't she from that far-left whackadoodle Evergreen University in Washington state? If so, was the NYT hesitant to include that info with her background description?...

“This is yet another of the inexorable signs that there is no going back to a world where we can assume that marriage is the main institution that organizes people’s lives,” said Prof. Stephanie Coontz, director of public education for the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit research group. “Most of these women will marry, or have married. But on average, Americans now spend half their adult lives outside marriage.”

btw, I hate to see staements like "there is no going back". Demographic snapshots are affected by themselves. For instance, hispanic population will become midle and upper middle class which will reduce average family size so it will not reach today's population predictions. I believe the same thing happened to the predictions (from 1970's and 1980's) to the black population.

And sorry for being too lazy to google Coontz myself but was not in the mood to do the googles on the internets.

AJ Lynch said...

Ok I was right again. Coontz is from whacked-out Evergreen. Here is a link to her CV (she began at Berkeley-what a surprise).

http://www.stephaniecoontz.com/curriculumvita.htm

Sloanasaurus said...

I recall an interview with a French politician soon after Hurricane Katrina. He was reflecting on the fact that so many of New Orlean’s survivors were able to stay with relatives in different parts of the state and country and that such a fact greatly relieved the burden on the state to take care of the people.

He said that if such a disaster were to strike in France, it would create a disaster for the state because so many people in France had no extended families and so many lived alone. The burden would overwhelmingly fall onto the state.

Our society is bedrocked in the millions of marriages that provide stability to peoples lives and families. Unhinged, and further multiplied millions of times, the lack of marriage and will move society closer to chaos and eventually failure.

peter hoh said...

At least we are still in a world where we can assume that a NYT article about marriage will contain quotes from Ms. Coontz.

The Drill SGT said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Drill SGT said...

The Drill SGT said...
Yeah, so why is Maureen Down always whining about not being able to get a date?


Victoria

I followed the link, but you and I already knew the answer before doing that.

Maybe she's too well known?

Anonymous said...

I didn't realize that the NYT now had a comments section for its stories. I checked out this one, at well over 200 comments so far, and it is a sad sight to see. My favorite comment?

"Well, finally the women of America have awakened. All we need men for now is reproduction or sperm donation. We can make our own money, own our homes, provide our own safety. Men have not been providing us with what they were supposed to have been providing us with for at least 30 years now, so why should we marry them? It does not make sense either financially or socially, and sometimes marriage causes more damage than being single.
It is time for the men of America to start acting like men. Step up the game, guys. We are not taking the abuse, cheating, lying and backstabbing anymore. Get your A game on, because the women are calling the shots now."

Bet this gal has suitors lined up around the block! Another fun part of the comments are the outraged lesbians angry that they aren't included in the story. Wow, so much bitterness and anger in this thread. Saddest comment? Oh, so many to choose from:

"I used to tell my daughter: “Never get married until you are 30.” Later, while still in a 33-year cold marriage, I told her: “Never get married.” She did anyway (at age 30). I got tired of being the accountant, the landscaper, the babysitter, the house cleaner, the laundress, the shopper, the social secretary and the major wage earner. Men my age (59) who are not fat, smell bad, don’t bathe and have 6-inch hairs growing out their ears and noses are taken, but so what? I am not involved in a mentally grueling relationship with an egotist who’s always putting me down and don’t most men do that?"

I feel for the daughter.

Richard Fagin said...

Who ever said we LEFT the world where it was assumed that marriage is the main institution that organizes people's lives, let alone can't go back?

We've instituted social policies based on the personal preferences of the privileged few, highly educated, social elite that disfavor mariage and are now finding that the fallout of those preferences for the rest of us peons is pretty severe.

We common nincompoops can't survive the same errors in judgement and the consequences of such errors as can the likes of Prof. Coontz, et al.

People with high six figure incomes (or more) can lose high six figures in a divorce and make it all back many times over in a few years. Most of us aren't so fortunate. What's the fifty year old guy (or woman) working for $15 an hour supposed to do? They have only 15-20 good years left to work. What happens to fathers on divorce or as single fathers? The court grabs at least 20% of their gross income until the kid's 18 and hands it to the mother. We can argue about the fairness of all that, but let's face it, the cost of keeping two households is a lot more than only one. It puts both parents clost to or in poverty usually.

Marriage is like a lot of other cultural institutions that the elite aren't totally fond of: it's a social guardrail. The creative few of us hate institutions and rules because they stifle creativity. Granted. Most of the rest of us are too dumb to live without such rules. A lost marriage, an unepected pregnancy, a short term illness with loss of work; all those things are are minor disruptions for the privileged. They are a disaster for the orindary working man or woman not having a spouse. They're frequenty disasters for working married couples, but much less frequently.

So, yeah, Prof. Coontz and her buddies will get along just fine without a sound insitution of marriage and the social opprobrium that used to accompany single adulthood. Suzy working aisle five at Wal Mart ain't so damned privileged. (Oh, heck, I'm not picking on Wal Mart - Jeannie operating the alkylation unit at Lyondell Petrochemical if you think I'm being sexist, etc.)

Anonymous said...

Man, I smell I meant to do that! all over this.

AJ Lynch said...

And the article uses a circuitous method to derive the 49%. Hell they even count 16 and 17 year old girls as woman.

Here is a quote fom the story...
" Among the more than 117 million women over the age of 15, according to the marital status category in the Census Bureau’s latest American Community Survey, 63 million are married. Of those, 3.1 million are legally separated and 2.4 million said their husbands were not living at home for one reason or another.

That brings the number of American women actually living with a spouse to 57.5 million, compared with the 59.9 million who are single or whose husbands were not living at home when the survey was taken in 2005."

The good news is the NYT disclosed the circuitous methodology.

ShadyCharacter said...

AJ, good point. Since women live longer than men, they're including a fair number of widows in their numbers, aren't they. I guess they count both of my widowed grandmothers as having joined the ranks of free-wheeling glad to be freed from the shackles of matrimony materialists like those in the article.

Not to mention the 15, 16 and 17 year olds...

Why not include the 0-14 year olds who have chosen in the spirit of independent womynhood to forgoe the bonds of marriage - I bet with the widows and children we could make it look like 65% of women at any one time are opposed to the institution of marriage.

vbspurs said...

I recall an interview with a French politician soon after Hurricane Katrina. He was reflecting on the fact that so many of New Orlean’s survivors were able to stay with relatives in different parts of the state and country and that such a fact greatly relieved the burden on the state to take care of the people.

An almost tender reaction to the crisis, since in Britain, the first thing to come out of people's mouths (when I called, and heard the talk shows) was, "Why are black people so fat in America?".

That's like Americans calling up Rush or Randi Rhodes after 7/7, and asking "Why do Brits have such bad teeth?".

The burden would overwhelmingly fall onto the state.

Note though, that even if the reverse were true, the same burden of responsibility will fall upon the French State.

As you know, the French State does not encourage competing fountains of bounty in France.

I recall reading of a man who started a bread bank in Paris, to feed the needy in the "banlieues rouges" and the red tape he had to endure, plus the looks of suspicion and even hatred by the bureaucrats were deeply disturbing to him.

Marriage, family, are not a problem in France. In many respects, they are stronger than in the US (divorce not as prevalent; due to high rents, kids stick to their parents).

But it's the level of expectation of State help, that is a HUGE difference.

Our society is bedrocked in the millions of marriages that provide stability to peoples lives and families. Unhinged, and further multiplied millions of times, the lack of marriage and will move society closer to chaos and eventually failure.

I wish I could agree, and I do! But also, I know that Americans are much more peripatetic than people in France, or the world as a whole.

In cases such as the heat wave that killed over 15,000 mostly elderly Frenchmen and women in 2004, when the cadavers had to be lined up in supermarket freezers because no one came to pick up their elderly relatives -- that yes.

That wouldn't occur to nearly the same extent, in the US (in fact, it would be a national scandal if it did).

But in America, one has an idea that after 18, you're on your own.

Marriage is one "cure" for that, I suppose.

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

Maybe she's too well known?

That, Drill Sgt, or maybe she's just too strident. :)

Cheers,
Victoria

AJ Lynch said...

Shady Character asked:
"Why not include the 0-14 year olds who have chosen in the spirit of independent womynhood to forgoe the bonds of marriage -"

Come on that would be way over the top even for the NYT. To the NYT, these young girls are probably just practicing to forgoe the bonds of marriage.

The Drill SGT said...

I'm just too polite.

Yes, too many folks know too much about her.

Revenant said...

We've instituted social policies based on the personal preferences of the privileged few, highly educated, social elite that disfavor mariage and are now finding that the fallout of those preferences for the rest of us peons is pretty severe.

That's just dumb. The only "social policies" implemented regarding marriage were ones which made it strictly optional. If people still wanted to get married there'd be nothing stopping them. The fact that most of them *aren't* simply proves that it isn't, as you so desperately want to believe, some tiny elite that scoffs at marriage -- it is the ordinary men and women of our society.

class-factotum said...

Maybe she's too well known?

That, Drill Sgt, or maybe she's just too strident. :)


I have to agree with Victoria here. My mother, a 64-year-old widow, has had five marriage proposals since my dad died nine years ago. What's the main difference between her and Maureen, other than fame and political orientation? (My mom is very intelligent -- went to U of Wis on a full scholarship, but dropped out to get married.)

My mom is nice.

vbspurs said...

My mother, a 64-year-old widow, has had five marriage proposals since my dad died nine years ago. What's the main difference between her and Maureen, other than fame and political orientation? (My mom is very intelligent -- went to U of Wis on a full scholarship, but dropped out to get married.)

My mom is nice.


Darling, as my grannie used to say, you gather more bees with honey, than with vinegar.

Throwing out blanket statements about anyone, even feminists is ridiculous, but one gets the sense that feminists want to be assholes, or don't want to feel that they have to be nice, and still be liked -- just because.

It may be true that women can't be strident, and expect to be liked, but marriage/partnership isn't about liking.

It's about a comfort level in imagining yourself next to a person for a very long time.

And frankly, I myself don't like strident, overly opinionated, cause-y guys either.

Cheers,
Victoria

Al Maviva said...

Richard said: We've instituted social policies based on the personal preferences of the privileged few, highly educated, social elite that disfavor mariage and are now finding that the fallout of those preferences for the rest of us peons is pretty severe.

Revenant said: That's just dumb.

I beg to differ. If you've read any of Theodore Dalrymple's discussion of this situation in Great Britain, he makes a pretty serious argument that the adoption of upper and upper middle class vices by the lower economic classes is generally disastrous. For example, cocaine is an expensive habit for people with six figure incomes, and it sometimes ends in rehab or divorce. Cocaine is a disastrous habit for low income people, and it often ends in skid row and/or death.

Social institutions are in place for exactly the reasons Richard puts his finger on. Most people don't have the luxury of living a free wheeling life because they can't afford the consequence. While it's daring and anti-boojie for Evergreen State professors and art gallery directors and Berkeley lesbians to dis marriage, marriage is a really useful institution for the vast unwashed masses.

Me included.

Kev said...

AJ Lynch--I totally missed the "women older than 15" statement when I first read the story; I didn't catch it until I read LIleks' Bleat--which has some good comments on the article--this morning. I would really like to see how the numbers would change if the 16- and 17-year-olds were taken out of the mix, since I would think that many people wouldn't expect them to be married.

Victoria--I loved your typo ("Maureen Down")--or was it one? ;-)

Revenant said...

If you've read any of Theodore Dalrymple's discussion of this situation in Great Britain, he makes a pretty serious argument that the adoption of upper and upper middle class vices by the lower economic classes is generally disastrous.

Since "upper and upper middle class vices" have absolutely nothing to do with this discussion, I see no reason to care what Dalrymple thinks about them. Your observation that cocaine use is worse for the middle class than it is for elites would, perhaps, have some bearing if we had a social policy of allowing cocaine use. In reality we have a social policy of spending zillions of dollars trying to eradicate cocaine use -- a policy supported as vociferously by the "peons" as it is by the "elites".

It is, thanks to liberalization of marriage laws, easier to get married today than it has ever been. The notion that "elite social policies" are causing "severe fallout" that prevents marriage deserves nothing more than sneers and derisive laughter.

marriage is a really useful institution for the vast unwashed masses

Sure, which is why so many members of the "great unwashed masses" get married. But it is *less* useful than it has ever been, thanks to our rising wealth, increased options (e.g. women having non-marriage options beyond "whore" and "poverty"), and decreased birthrates. And because marriage is less useful than it has ever been, it is less popular than it has ever been.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that a reduced number of marriages is completely spun as a women's issue. What percentage of marriage-aged males are not living with a spouse? How does it effect them? I'm not sure why this story is supposed to only effect females.

AJ Lynch said...

Kev:
I looked up the census data and by including young girls, I estimated the NYT overstated the unmarried group by more than 4 million since there were about 10.5 million total in the 15-19 age bracket (10.5 Million / 5 years = 2.1 Million in each year of age).

That's per my memory, I think I saved the census link and almost posted it here. If you want it, just post the request here.

Btw, I saw the Lileks article today and was patting myself on the back cause he made the same exact observation I did.

Brent said...

To all who return at a future time to this post: The article referenced here from the front page of the New York Times has been thoroughly discredited for it's misuse of statistics and attempt to mislead.

Start here:Journalistic Malpractice in "Marriage is Dead" from Michael Medved