Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Decline and Fall of American Marriage

Marriage is in decline. At a time when America has generously opened the institution to non-traditional couples, fewer people are getting married. Will the strangeness never cease!

Mark Regnerus has the numbers:

As recently as 2000, married 25- to 34-year-olds outnumbered their never-married peers by a margin of 55% to 34%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2015, the most recent year for which data are available, those estimates had almost reversed, with never-marrieds outnumbering marrieds by 53% to 40%. Young Americans have quickly become wary of marriage.

Why is this happening?

Regnerus dismisses the argument that men are less desirous of conjugal bliss because they are less able to support wives and families. To that we should add that women might be less willing to marry men who are insolvent. This argument is not one way.

He continues to say that most men do want to marry eventually, just not now. Today they prefer to wait until they are around 30… a significant increase from the historical norm.

Regnerus examines the argument that men believe that marriage is a bad deal. One might ask how many women want to become wives and then to ask how many women want to marry when they are in their twenties. Even if most women do want eventually to marry, many of them today do not want to marry young. Again, we ought to consider the possibility that the decline of marriage has multiple causes.

Be that as it may, Regnerus offers his own hypothesis. Men are not getting married because they can get all the sex they want on the cheap. So, why get married and feel like they are paying for it. While that last sentence follows reasonably from the first, Regnerus does not quite put it that way. If bachelorhood offers cheap sex, doesn’t that entail that marriage offers more costly sex?

Were we to examine the implications of having a lot of cheap sex, we would also notice that… sorry to have to say it… in this life you often get what you pay for.

Regnerus does not say so in his article, but I will add that the cheap sex movement began began in the 1960s with the call for free love. Apparently, once love is free fewer and fewer people are willing to pay for it. But this assumes that you think that free love and free sex are the same thing? Besides, the Regnerus argument does not aim at free sex. It argues for the influence of cheap sex. When what used to be free is now cheap, maybe we are making progress.

Regnerus offers this argument:

For American men, sex has become rather cheap. As compared to the past, many women today expect little in return for sex, in terms of time, attention, commitment or fidelity. Men, in turn, do not feel compelled to supply these goods as they once did. It is the new sexual norm for Americans, men and women alike, of every age.

What caused this transformation? Regnerus says it began with birth control:

This transformation was driven in part by birth control. Its widespread adoption by women in recent decades not only boosted their educational and economic fortunes but also reduced their dependence on men. As the risk of pregnancy radically declined, sex shed many of the social and personal costs that once encouraged women to wait.

One needs to add that many women also came to believe that marriage was an oppressive institution. They did not really want any part of the classical marriage. Why marry a woman who does not want to be a wife? Why marry a woman who wants you to become a househusband. Could this be part of the issue, too?

And then there is the omnipresence of porn. Apparently, women in porn videos never say No:

Online porn has made sexual experience more widely and easily available too. A laptop never says no, and for many men, virtual women are now genuine competition for real partners. In the same survey, 46% of men (and 16% of women) under 40 reported watching pornography at some point in the past week—and 27% in the past day.

Porn is ubiquitous and it is free. True enough, it can and has been used to satisfy sexual cravings, but there is more to life than satisfying sexual cravings. Men gain no prestige and no status for watching porn. If they have nothing but porn in their lives, their prom or homecoming dates might be their hands. If so, the bros are not going to think you are a stud. I am not going to say that these men are missing out on the joy of a relationship, but I will say that they lose status for being unattached, for not having dates.

Some people have argued that pornography is degrading to women. Might it be that the more women are pornified, the more they feel that they must compete with porn stars through sexting, the less they seem to be marriage material. 

In this context, let’s not forget the influence of young men’s mothers. They, above all other people, will look seriously askance at a young woman who engages in sexting and hooking up.

Given one singular momentous event that occurred this week, we must mention that the Playboy Philosophy espoused by Hugh Hefner played a role in the way men saw their relationships with women. Hefner’s promotion of decadence for the masses told men that they did not need to shoulder the responsibilities that accompany serious relationships. As my friend Susan Brownmiller pointed out in the New York Times, Hefner relieved men of the responsibility to be breadwinners. He was not the only one who disparaged the role of breadwinner, but certainly he was influential. Hefner lived his life like a pasha with a harem.

With his passing, the media world has arisen en masse to praise him as a champion of women’s rights and the first amendment.

And you were wondering why our culture is in decline.

Anyway, when we are calculating the advantages that men gain from having lots of cheap sex, we cannot honestly overlook the risks. Among them, the STD risk. The New York Times reports on the latest from the Centers for Disease Control. Given that 110 million Americans now have an STD, at least we know that they did not get it from porn. One suspects that they got it from Tinder:

The incidence of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis is increasing, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated 110 million Americans now are infected with a sexually transmitted disease.

Chlamydia is the most common S.T.D., and the number of cases rose 4.7 percent from 2015 to 2016. The increases occurred nationwide; rates were highest in the South and lowest in the Northeast.

Chlamydia is usually asymptomatic, and the number of reported cases may have grown in part because of newer, more sensitive screening techniques.

Adolescents and young adult women have the highest rates of chlamydia: one survey found that 9.2 percent of girls aged 15 to 19 were infected, as were 8.0 percent of women aged 20 to 24.

And also:

From 2015 to 2016, gonorrhea infections increased 22.2 percent among men and 13.8 percent among women, the C.D.C. reported. Almost 92 percent of cases are in people 15 to 44 years old.

And finally:

The rate of primary and secondary syphilis in 2016 is the highest it has been since 1993, and it increased among both men and women from 2015 to 2016. Men account for almost 90 percent of cases, and most are among men who have sex with men.



whitney said...

A woman is a fool to marry a man of no means and a man of means is a fool to marry any woman with all the laws to her advantage.

Jack Fisher said...

I don't know about that, Whit, I married my wife when I had nothing but student debt and today we've got everything that makes life worth living. And by that I include material shi'ite, I've got a shotgun worth more than all the cars in your driveway, including the one up on blocks and the one that you think the repo man doesn't know the location of.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Stuart, this is the best post you've ever composed on the subject of marriage, because it is all-encompassing with consequence and proof. I'd love to see someone deny the connections of these findings. They are all related.

The question we must ask as a society is: "Is marriage important?" I believe it is -- physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Marriage is certainly difficult and challenging, but what valuable part of life is not? There is great benefit to the human person in making a lifelong commitment and honoring that commitment. Yet the Glowing Box tells us otherwise, because television/internet is all about satisfying curiosity, escape and passive consumption. And to arouse our interests, the Glowing Box must deliver marginal novelties that separate us from each other and inspire us to chase unicorns. Pixels allow us to peak into a life of excitement -- a desperado lifestyle -- and peer into the life we don't have, regardless of whether it is good for us in the long run.

Call this moralizing, if you like. But what comes at the end of porn? The conclusion of a one-night stand? Or short-lived serial monogamy? Or waiting until your mid-/late-thirties to have children? Or being told that masculine characteristics and virtues are no longer desired? Or you can't find a job? Or because you're so burdened with student debt that you can't move on with your life?

I'm not so sure these questions represent a monolithic morality anymore. I suspect we will revisit them, because the costs of living like lions and lionesses on the Serengeti are piling up before our eyes. Regnerus' findings and figures represent the tip of the iceberg. Certainly the results are very sad, and create a spiraling sense of loneliness. If you have not read the book "Loneliness" by John Cacioppo, I strongly recommend you do. And it is quite telling how lonely this book is in comparison to the thousands of volumes written on self-help subjects. Human beings need to connect to each other and to the transcendent, and they find the transcendent when connected. Today's pixelated American life drives us apart, staring into the Glowing Box like hypnotized moths.

Impulsive, short-term pleasure is not the hallmark of a life well-lived, because it doesn't create, build or construct anything meaningful or enduring. And when you don't have anything meaningful in your life (and no hope of achieving it), you become depressed. When you don't see a path to anything meaningful and desirable, you become anxious. And when you are constantly distracted, you can't concentrate and focus on the action required to realize a desired outcome, so you become frustrated. Given the number of prescriptions in America to deal with depression, anxiety and frustration, we have some soul-searching to do.

Yes, there have always been distractions, forms of entertainment and titillating novelties in human history, but no distribution and delivery mechanism like the Glowing Box. Plug it in and stare... for hours. Always available, 24 hours a day. We talk a lot about not over-consuming sugary food and drinks, so as not to get diabetes. Who's talking about the devastating social consequences of boundless pixel consumption?

I suspect we are on the verge of America rediscovering the truth of the soul, and the soul's veritable longing. Marriage is a commitment that feeds the soul. All of the great spiritual traditions tell us only the soul endures. Even Christopher Hitchens knows this now.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Jack, let me make an assumption: You married your wife when you were young, and the two of you committed to creating a life together. You graduated from college and law school with big loans, but you were committed to being industrious in your chosen profession, and you succeeded in accumulating wealth. And now you have many material possessions that bring you great satisfaction. That said, assuming I am correct, I would also challenge you on the material end with "everything that makes life worth living." While I'm happy for you with your shotgun and don't question its monetary value, I wonder... would you be happy without it? I suspect you would, because of what you and your wife have created together. That's the enduring output of a life well-lived, and it has nothing to do with stuff. Stuff may make daily life more enjoyable, but it doesn't make the life. You and your wife built that life, and I am very happy for you.

In that spirit, I'd like to extrapolate something from Whitney's post: I suspect she's saying the potential of means. In other words, ambition. Save that, at very least a man's commitment to providing for a family as best he can. As for a man who's already produced those things and accumulated wealth before marriage, I also agree that the laws are in his wife's favor if he doesn't protect himself with a pre-nuptial agreement. Therefore, a woman who marries a man who isn't committed to contributing to his wife and family is a fool, and a wealthy man who enters with the mindset of pure marital sanctity is a fool, too. I'll leave it to Whitney to validate if I captured that correctly.

whitney said...

I did mean potential. Thanks for seeing that. I should have edited

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: With [Hefner's] passing, the media world has arisen en masse to praise him as a champion of women’s rights and the first amendment.

Strangely I only saw one short BBC interview with Naomi Wolf, and she basically couldn't stomach the other interviewee's praise of Hefner. ... Here it is for at least one feminist voice. Hugh Hefner: pornographer or sexual liberator? DEBATE – BBC Newsnight

On marriage age, I don't know a single male direct ancestors of mine going back 2 to 5 generation who married before the age of 30, so maybe Scandinavian ancestry has more older marriages for men at least, or maybe we were not good looking sufficiently (at least in competition with Lake Wobegon's above average looking men) to win a woman's heart without clear evidence of ability to provide for a family.

On siblings my brother married at age 26, and was divorced by 29, and his daughter married at 22, while my sister was 29 did better at least in staying married, however dysfunctionally.

I am surprised by knowing a fair number of upper 20-somethings of both genders who are not only not married, but no boy/girlfriends at all, and not looking, perhaps in part explained by introversion and a desire to not risk rejection? Overall it does look like modern life has sufficient distractions that raising children is no longer the only model for a good life.

And maybe "distractions" is the key factor. Overall I'd say this is good, only people who REALLY want kids have kids. Of course, its not that clean, so responsible college-educated youth don't have many children out of a stable relationship, while more poor young people do. So the "wealth gap" is real, where poverty means you don't have much safety, but you need someone to love, and that makes small ones to love, without serious means to raise them.

I keep hoping my niece and her husband will not have a child until she finished at least community college, but I don't have much hope since she admitted she holds credit card debt, and it just looks like they're on a slippery slope to the working poor. If you can't avoid debt when you're child free, you shouldn't have children, even if the credit industry says otherwise.

sestamibi said...

One of the most tenacious canards of the past fifty years, starting with Midge Decter in "The New Chastity" (1972) right up to Mark Regnerus today, holds that feminism and the sexual revolution was a great deal for men, who now had unlimited access to "free" sex.

Yeah right. Maybe a great deal for Bill Clinton and a handful of other alpha males, but for me and the much larger number of betas out there nothing but lives of loneliness and frustration, accompanied by significantly limited economic opportunities due to competition from women who in prior times might have been our mates. The normalization of bastardy added yet insult to injury, as the handful of alpha males who were getting any began to account for a disproportionate share of births, yet us remaining betas were expected to pony up for the support of their spawn through our tax dollars.

This, as the libs call it, is simply not sustainable.

Jack Fisher said...

@Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD

My comment on everything that makes life worth living included the qualifying phrase "and by that I include" material well being, meaning there other things I didn't refer to, such as a trophy-grade wife who has also been my business manager from the beginning, health, chilrun, g-chilrun, spiritual satisfaction, etc. etc. But no, I wouldn't be satisfied without the material. Didn't work my ass off to not enjoy all this abundance. All things in their season, and now is the season of gloating.

You're right, Witney does make a valid point.

Ethically, I don't like prenup agreements for a host of reasons.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Jack, I'm clear. Thanks.

Sam L. said...

IAC and Jack, Jack's shotgun reminds me of a story I read in the early '70s, either in Sports Afield or Outdoor Life: Two guys out waterfowling. One has an expensive shotgun, which he keeps wiping down. Says it's expensive, and he has to take good care of it. The other guy, the writer, says at the end of the story, that it's too bad he didn't think that way about his marriage.

James said...

MARRIAGE, n. The state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress and two slaves, making in all, two.
A. B.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Sam L.: Fitting story. I just have a Remington 870 Wingmaster 12 gauge, and I don't hunt... I shoot a lot of trap, skeet, 5-stand and sporting clays. I just clean mine at the end of the day. That said, I love my 870 after 25 years. I also have a couple of Beretta semi-autos, and a couple Browning over-and-unders. My 870 is my original shotgun from my Dad, and I love it most for that reason. My only sadness is that I'm not out on the boat and in the blind with my old man and my uncle. My choice. Hunting's not my thing.

James: What's "A.B."?

Anonymous said...

Many women want to get married.....few want to be a wife (equal partner)...Most like the entitled woman I am married to expect a combination of concierge, chef, mechanic, etc, etc.

James said...

Ambrose Bierce
Another one:
LOVE, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage or by removal of the patient from the influences under which he incurred the disorder. This disease, like caries and many other ailments, is prevalent only among civilized races living under artificial conditions; barbarous nations breathing pure air and eating simple food enjoy immunity from its ravages. It is sometimes fatal, but more frequently to the physician than to the patient.

Anonymous said...

JF: "I've got a shotgun worth more than all the cars in your driveway..."

The Carlos Danger of smoothbores.

J said...

@ Sestamibi

for me and the much larger number of betas out there nothing but lives of loneliness and frustration, accompanied by significantly limited economic opportunities due to competition from women who in prior times might have been our mates

Agreed; that has been my experience as well.

@ Anonymous

Most like the entitled woman I am married to expect a combination of concierge, chef, mechanic, etc, etc.

Yeah, I could write a book on my dating experiences in this regard. Yes many women expect it all and yet have little to offer. I am no longer shocked at the entitlement, the lack of courtesy and kindness, the unfeminine dress and manners that are on display. And yet Mr. Regnerus would still blame the men - how courageous of you sir.

RonF said...

I know several young women between the ages of 30 and 40 who are accomplished in their field - and single and attempting to date and are frustrated and unhappy. They got sold a bill of goods.

sestamibi said...

"I know several young women between the ages of 30 and 40 who are accomplished in their field"

Mmmm, not so young at that point, just regretful.

Linda Fox said...

It's not the sex. Sex has always been available.

The OTHER aspects have changed - and not in a way that promotes marriage.

Ares Olympus said...

Linda Fox, the most interesting in that blog is that children are not mentioned at all.

If children aren't involved, I admit I don't clearly see the value of marriage over cohabitation, beyond the tax advantages for fortunate single-income households, or later social security benefits.

There can be a social status benefit, and it may make you look more trustworthy, if someone esteems you sufficiently to say "until death do us part", even if we know that is mostly just sentiment now-a-days.

I also recognize modern welfare/aid benefits often encourage poor people to stay unmarried, and I actually talked to a guy a few weeks ago who divorced, but claimed it was because it improved his daughter's ability to get financial aid for college.