Occasionally I go out on a limb from my usual topics and today is going to be one of those days. It has been building in my head for awhile and I want to talk about marriage. I am going to try to do this in the most reasonable way possible without excessive criticism (a little funning is fair game) of anybodies position. So whatever your stance or lifestyle choices are please do not read into my words and get all offended. More likely than not what you read into this will have far more to do with you (and your feelings about your life) than it has to do with me.
I am going to start out by saying that marriage is a weird thing. It is weird because more so than government or money or anything like that it is an idea. What makes it so weird is that unlike government (which is what it is) or money it means very different things to different people. Unlike say a hundred dollar bill which, though of course it is relatively more valuable to an unemployed laborer than Bill Gates, we pretty much agree as the same value, the value peoples values of marriage vary widely. These views are affected by race/ ethnicity, culture, location, socioeconomic status and of course religion. Even the environment you grew up in can make a person who grew up 1 block away from another otherwise similar (on paper) person have vastly different viewpoints.
Some folks take marriage very seriously and others use it as something to get their 15 minutes of fame on who wants to marry a reasonably attractive nobody/ doctor/ midget stripper/ has been E list celebrity. Some people give it serious consideration and reject potential candidates who are close to, but not quite desirable and others seemingly put more energy into their choice of cars or haircuts. The bottom line is that a given marriage is worth precisely as much as the two people in it think it is worth.
Of far more significance (since say post WWII) a couple of big things have happened that really shook marriage. First the requisite education levels (I say education not schooling intentionally) required to support oneself, let alone a family have gone up drastically. An average 18 or 20 year old can’t support a spouse and a kid on the skill sets they have been able to acquire. This is quite a recent change as not so long ago getting married in their mid to late teens was quite common. This leads to even more prolonging of the awkward period called adolescence where our economic system incentivizes (and our social system reinforces) postponing coupling and the raising of children until which time you can acquire the skills to support them. This period just keeps getting longer as an internship/ apprenticeship, putting in substantial sweat equity starting at the bottom and learning or higher education is mandatory for having any shot at a decent economic future. I would wager this has in part lead to a corresponding increase in the average age people get married at.
Also since women have relatively recently entered the workforce their need to get married for economic survival has plummeted and with it the stigma of not getting married very early.
Folks are often socially active and dating for years before getting married these days. This means that lots of people are sexually active before getting married. (I see no point in getting bogged down on this though we will revisit it as it pertains to children and economics later).
Also women are now capable of physically having children far later and far more routinely than in the past. This is leading to some career women in their 30’s postponing marriage. That old biological clock has been slowed down.
I have personally found that men in their mid to late 20’s are in no hurry to get married even if they are in a stable relationship with a woman they plan to be with (and might even cohabitate with). Part of this could be that they are trying to get economically established and are not in a hurry to have kids. Maybe they want some time to pursue other goals. I currently have a theory that a lot of the reason these men are in no hurry is that they are not getting a wife in the most traditional stay at home sense. Since folks are getting married later girlfriends have jobs, etc which they typically do not, for numerous reasons, plan to leave any time soon. Since these women typically make less money than men going halfsies with no immediate plans for children might not look that appealing. Conversely for a lot of women then economics plus stability and womanly social pressures incentivize pushing marriage. However, Wifey points out that the social pressures and situations in larger urban areas are very different. She says in big cities often it is women who are holding off on getting hitched. I don’t know about that (she knows lots of these things) because I try not to talk to people from big cities.
Now we get to children and economics. The heritage foundation did a study on child poverty. Basically it says that if both parents have graduated high school and are married the odds a child will grow up in poverty are about nil. My initial thought was “turns out that if you graduate highschool, get married and then have children your odds of poverty are almost nonexistent. Go $&%(#ing figure”.
I took the time to read the study and it was interesting. They noted that most single mothers are not teenagers but in their mid to early 20’s and that typically they are in a relationship with the father. They do not “plan” to have a child but do stop using birth control which is essentially a plan to have a child as they are having sex. A friend of mine said “No girl over 20 gets pregnant by accident” and while I am sure once in a blue moon it does happen more likely it is intentional. Often the mother and the father are even living together.
The one thing that bothers me is that the way they get these statistics is IMO seriously misleading and designed to product shocking gotcha statistics. They only count the fathers income if he is married to the mother. Two parents living together raising a child will not have both of their incomes counted by this method of tabulation unless they are legally married, even if they are stable, the father contributes significantly to the household and has for years. Since the women in this group tend to have few marketable skills they don’t make a ton of money. The shocking statistics which come from this article are IMO seriously flawed and arguably intentionally misleading. They do note (I am sure accurately) that these relationships often break up and whatever informal support the father was giving may taper off. Despite my issue with the statistics this article is interesting, brings a lot of ideas and is well worth the read.
To me saying marriage is the magical solution to all of the problems of child poverty is seriously flawed. Why would we think the same couple in the same situation would act any differently if one Tuesday they got off work early and went to the courthouse to get married? Folks who barely know each other, jump into a relationship and then have a child, quite possibly without the father being on board beforehand, having given little consideration for how it will affect their future and if they really plan to be together forever are almost doomed from the start.
What we need to stabilize childrens lives is GOOD MARRIAGES and good stable long term relationships that act like good marriages. Parents, who sew some wild oats, party hard, hike the Appalachian train, try to make it on Broadway or whatever they need to do, then get their stuff together in terms of a career path, get to know each other, decide they plan to stay together forever AND THEN HAVE CHILDREN. What shocking, revolutionary ideas! When folks do these things out of order the results are almost always less than optimal. Sort of like baking a cake you have to do these things in the right order under the right conditions or the result is a big mess.
Values and good decision making are the answers. How to cultivate these is something I am far less than certain about. I think on an individual level it comes from parents and families. On a larger scale getting rid of disincentives (often women will qualify for welfare but not if the fathers income is counted) is a good start though that only works in certain socioeconomic groups.