23 January 2007

Marriage: The State Of Our Unions.

NRO has two good marriage-related pieces up today. The first is a Kathryn Jean Lopez-conducted interview with the Manhatten Institutes Kay Hymowitz, occasioned by the publication of her book Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age:

Kathryn Jean Lopez: What is the state of marriage in America?

Kay Hymowitz: Given our 37 percent out-of-wedlock birth rate and (approximately) 40 percent divorce rate, you might expect the answer to be — simply — dismal. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. The truth is Americans continue to be marriage happy; hence our gazillion-dollar bridal industry, the continuing lure of shows like The Bachelor, our gaping at Tom and Katie’s weird baronial wedding, etc. The Census Bureau predicts that 90 percent of American women will marry; the percentage for men is only slightly lower. In surveys the majority of young people say that marriage and children is very important goal for them.

What ails marriage is not that it don’t get no respect; it’s that Americans no longer understand its meaning. For most people it appears to be a love relationship between two adults having little to do with childbearing or childrearing. (See: Tom and Katie.) Marriage and children are two discreet phenomena in the lives of women. When “Prudence,” Slate’s advice editor suggested that a young woman, pregnant by her boyfriend of two years, might consider marrying the guy, angry readers blasted the columnist: Doesn’t she know how important a decision marriage is in the life of a woman? You don’t marry a guy just because you’re having his baby!

The irony is that most of those Slate readers will go the Prudence, not to mention the prudent, route. About four percent — tops — of college-educated mothers are unmarried when they have their children. Even more surprising: The large majority will avoid divorce and raise their children with their father. The divorce rate among college-educated women plateaued about 1980 and has even gone down since then. It’s less-educated women who are more likely to become single mothers — both through divorce and non-marriage. To return to your question about the state of marriage then: It’s doing pretty well — though not great — among college-educated Americans. But when it comes to those with less education, marriage is a mess. Hence the subtitle of my book: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-marital Age.

Next up is a piece by Jennifer Roback Morse critiquing some recent New York Times "reporting":

All this establishes is that the New York Times is so eager to show marriage as a declining institution that it tortured the data until it confessed. But, fact is, marriage is in trouble. They needn’t exaggerate. The point of the story was to convince the public that this decline is inexorable, like a force of nature, and that only old fuddy-duddies complain about it.

But should the rest of us just give a big “oh well” sigh and “move on?” The happy single women the NYT depicts for its readers are recently divorced women in their fifties and happily unmarried women in their thirties.

But I hear from a different set of people. The very day this story came out, I met a 43-year-old unmarried professional woman, who would love to be married. But all the men of suitable age and educational level insist on sex on the first date, and she’s not interested. I hear from young people who would love to get married and stay married because they don’t want to put their own children through the misery of divorce that they endured. But these young people are frightened, and not confident about their ability to sustain married life. I hear from women whose husbands abandoned them and their children, for no particular reason. The law in most states does not protect the partner who wants to stay married, but the one who wants divorce. Even one of the NYT happily divorced women mentions that women in her divorce support group are miserable. But the NYT doesn’t think any of those women are worth interviewing. Their misery is just collateral damage in the war for women’s independence.



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