Daily Archives: 12/26/2010

Marriage via Veracities

I thought this was insightful.

It seems that marriage used to be more of a objective oriented organization, focused mostly on children. Today its more focused on the emotional needs of adults who may never have children.

Her point about adaption that has resulted in a lower divorce rate was also interesting.

I think should make us less nostalgic for the good old days.


I think that in the last 60 years or so, American society has fundamentally changed its idea of marriage, even if we’re calling it the same thing. I’m not talking about gay marriage or interracial marriage or the sexual revolution. Almost the opposite, in fact. Marriages used to last because there was no other option. Now they last because (or rather, if) the partners put a lot of effort into maintaining a healthy and happy relationship so that neither of them wants to leave.

In the mid-20th century, divorce became socially acceptable, and those rates skyrocketed. Over the next few decades, we slowly learned how to make a relationship last when it doesn’t have to. We have self-help books, marriage counselors, couples retreats, and more broadly, immense dedication to self-knowledge of any kind, which is a luxury we have only recently been able to afford. All this study has slowly seeped into the common knowledge base, and now divorce rates are falling. So much for the collapse of the family! We just had to figure out how to hold together families in a new culture.

But, divorce rates have plummeted among the educated and wealthy and barely moved among the financially challenged. We’ve heard the scary statistics: half of all children born in the U.S. are now born out of wedlock (and the wealthy and educated have far less than their proportion of children), couples earning less than $25,000 per year have a 50% chance of divorcing whereas couples with postgraduate degrees have less than a 15% chance. This all just serves to extend income inequality to family life inequality.

I hope that as income rises across the board, lifestyle inequality will decrease as self-knowledge becomes a more accessible luxury. But I wonder if, the longer the upper and lower classes exist in society in different ways, the more they develop diverging societies entirely. Is a stable family no longer the goal at all? Is it the norm to hop from person to person and help the kids through the chaos as much as possible? Are they only learning how to tolerate chaos better, rather than how to avoid it in the first place?

Honestly I feel like that has already happened in a lot of ways. In some neighborhoods in Brooklyn, almost every 15 year old girl I see has a kid or two with her. Maybe they are babysitting, but they can’t all be. Even a single girl like that in a rich private high school would be an enormous scandal. I don’t think the rich educated suburbanites have the right answer to everything either, far from it, but I think that that lifestyle clearly is less prone to condemning children to an existence they don’t like and can’t escape from. And that’s a bit tragic.