Belinda Luscombe of Time Magazine writes this week about Marriage: What’s It Good For?, pointing out that the state of marriage has shifted in unexpected ways. A couple of statistics they point to:
· In 1960, nearly 70% of American adults were married; now only about half are.
· In 1960, 2/3 of 20-somethings were married; in 2008, just 26% were.
· College grads are now far more likely to marry (64%) than those with no higher education (48%).
The most interesting statistic they cite in the article is the percentage of children born to unmarried women. In 1960, about 5% of children were born outside of marriage, compared to 41% in 2008. And, broken down by race, in 2008, 72% of black children were born to unmarried women, compared to 53% of Hispanics and 29% of whites.
Marriage, today, practically speaking, is just not as necessary as it used to be. 40% of those surveyed believe marriage is obsolete. Now, neither men nor women need to be married to have sex or companionship or professional success or respect or even children. The largest statistical difference is that which has opened up between the rich and the poor. In 1960, the median household income of married adults was 12% higher than that of single adults. By 2008, the gap grew to 41%. So, the richer and better educated you are, the more likely you are to marry or be married, says the article.
The reasons for getting married now include love, commitment, companionship, with having children and financial stability being less important reasons. Also interesting is the effect the marriage statistics seem to be having on divorce statistics. In recent years, the overall rate of divorce has plateaued. The rate of divorce among college graduates has declined, which is offset by a rise in divorce among those at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum. Also, 2/3 of divorces are supposedly initiated by women.
Here’s what I think: This is a very interesting article, more for the sociological comment than an indictment of marriage. As a family law attorney in Dallas, Texas, this article only serves to confirm what we see on the ground here.
The stats about the increase of wealth of married folks beg the question of the impact of women moving into the workforce. In 1960, only 32% of women worked outside the home. Now, 61% of women work outside the home. Women have also seen increases in their average level of education and income. So, the increase in the median household income of married adults could easily be linked to the increased number of working women, without comment on the marriage rates.
In the 60’s people may have married, and married young, to have sex, have children, and, for women, have the financial stability of the working husband. Today, women don’t need a man for any of those things. The invention of the birth control pill combined with the increase of working women has changed the dynamic for women. Our society’s mores have shifted, too. So, a woman doesn’t need to get married to have sex or avoid the stigma attached to having a child without a husband. And women’s equality in the workplace has eliminated the dependence on the working husband for financial security.
This leaves love and companionship as the only arguments left favoring marriage. But, our society doesn’t place importance upon having one long-term companion and increasingly accepts the concept that a person may have several, or even many, relationships over a lifetime. In fact, I’ve heard several young people comment that they don’t believe in the idea of spending a lifetime with one person because over time your needs, wants, and desires change, resulting in a need to change partners.
I also don’t place great meaning upon the statistic that 2/3 of divorces are initiated by women. This doesn’t equate to women making 2/3 of the decision to divorce or being 2/3 to blame for divorcing. In fact, all this may mean is that women are more likely to act upon decisions, once made, than are men.