American society is undergoing some major shifts in how men and women think about marriage –whether to enter it, stay within it, or consider alternatives to it. But some recent explanations about what these shifts mean contribute more confusion than clarity.
First, some facts:
• The divorce rate continues to hover at around 50%, regardless of greater awareness of the potential emotional and financial impact of divorce upon couples and their children.
• Polls find that about 60% of those surveyed accept affairs; and about 30% actually admit to having had one.
• The marriage rate has dropped by 37% in the last four decades
• Cohabitation has risen dramatically during the same period
In 1960, 430,000 unmarried couples were living together. By 2000, that number had soared 12-fold to 5 million. Today, only 2.3 million couples marry in a year. It’s possible that cohabitation is on its way to becoming the dominant form of male-female unions.
Clearly, people are thinking and behaving differently about marriage than previous generations — especially how necessary or desirable they think it is compared with other forms of intimate partnership. This raises questions about how best to understand these shifts, and what they portend for the decades ahead.
Some answers have been provided by socially conservative organizations, such as the National Marriage Project and the Institute for American Values. But these answers are shaped by an ideological agenda, rooted in two convictions: First, that divorce and cohabitation are social evils, to begin with, and should be curtailed through legislative action, whenever possible. And secondly, that the best social arrangement is the traditional marriage (heterosexual only, of course) in which the wife is a dutiful subordinate; an unequal partner.
Such self-described “pro-marriage” groups seem especially annoyed by Continue reading