According to Brittanica, the practice of marrying someone from within one’s own tribe or group, is the oldest social regulation of marriage. When the forms of communication with outside groups are limited, endogamous marriage (defined by Brittanica above) is a natural consequence. But along with technology and communication, a lot of adult Americans have changed. Paid domestic work, voluntary work, work done for friends or family, child-rearing — used to be devalued and treated as marginal or “unproductive” but because of improved social connectivity and cultural shifts, that’s not the case anymore. Most of us are married to our careers or to ourselves these days.
Better that than the wrong person.
The Heritage Foundation, it seems, is extremely concerned about fixing the declining state of marriage almost like they think decline of US marriages is one of America’s biggest issues in 2020. Which, they do. They state that “marriage remains America’s strongest anti-poverty, anti-crime, pro-health institution.” And hey, that is fair. Decades of statistics have shown that, on average, married couples have better physical health, more financial stability, and greater social mobility than unmarried people. Since the creation of tribes, one could say strong families make for strong communities.
Depending on your own personal marriage paradigm, America’s declining marriage rate can be a problem from the amount of taxes we pay to changes in your own neighborhoods.When it comes to public policy, boosting marriage rates can be done by eliminating the marriage penalty. That’s the part of the tax code where people are taxed more if they’re married. But more family-friendly public policies aren’t the solution to the problem can be found even in many developed countries like Italy, China, and Taiwan.
Broadly speaking, marriage is on the outs in America. Not in the way where it is ceasing to exist but in the way where it is just no longer in fashion, like skater skirts, football players, and boot cut jeans. Families are the building blocks of civilization but the importance of work and other things grew correspondingly as principal sources of individual identity. So the first question when it comes to finding a solution to the state of marriage is: should we be looking for one? According to the Institute for Family Studies, economically speaking, for the past decade, people are spending less of their lifetime married. The PEW Research Center reveals 27 percent of Americans aren’t sure whether marriage is for them. In the United States, the median age for first marriage rose to an all-time high in 2018: 30 for men and 28 for women. Which…sounds good to me?
Is this so bad? Maybe, marriage isn’t as culturally important as it once was?
In the 2020s, more women than ever are going to have the freedom to make everyday economical and political choices: some of them individual and some of them decisions on behalf of the population they can represent: over half the world, impacted by hundreds of intersectionalities. These choices range from when to get married, have children, buy a house, send a kid to school, etc. Women are the majority, not just babymakers. Our decisions, private and public, shape countries across class status.
According to The Atlantic, in 2016, the dominance of marriage in present day culture may simply be due to what the sociologist William Ogburn called “cultural lag”: the tendency of attitudes and values to change more slowly than the material conditions that underlie them. Yes, less people are getting married and fewer babies are being born in America but if we pay attention to the news on any given day, we would see that one of the reasons is that for most millennial and Gen Z women, we are in shambles as a country one way or the other. There is a reason why birth control is more effective than ever these days.
30 years ago, 1989, a 22 year old woman anywhere in the world who got pregnant might not have had choices…but since then, technological and societal advances, including global investment in women’s education, have meant that sometimes, differing decisions than the ones that would have been made in 1989 can be made. Ones that can permit women more bodily and economic autonomy. As this new culture dissolves in the pot, we have the power to create new and healthier boundaries with each other.
Understandably, with newly gifted power comes that stagnancy, contemplation and fear and we as women reserve the right to take time. Men do, as well. Nonbinary and gender-non conforming people as well. Trans people especially do. Everyone is afforded the right to go to their own corners and unpack their backpacks, even as adults.
Studies have also shown that the more education a woman receives, the later in life she gets married and the less children she has. Does that mean women education is an issue, and we need to stop educating women so they can get married immediately and have more babies? No. We can choose to look at this information a different way.
Again, according to The Atlantic, asserting that marriage decline is an American issue on par with our other political issues is a way of stirring up moral panic about changing family values or speculating about whether society has become too cynical for love. To me, moral panic always seems to lead to incel behavior. It aligns with a lot of the incel rhetoric on Reddit, bemoaning the loss of the patriarchy as women run around misguided and emotional. Would we still be having this conversation or experiencing this article if societies were still matriarchal? Come on. On stolen land, also, mind you. No. It is the patriarchal institutions like universities, churches, Hollywood, law, who are be worried.
One can say, statistically, the best chances for financial success, emotional well-being, and good health is for both parents and children happen when parents are married so marriage decline is one of America’s biggest issues.No one wants to go through marriage one day… to have wildfires on the highway, hurricanes where you can’t evacuate everyone, and the reality of the working class show up the next day. Nevermind the primitive state of reproductive justice in the land of the free, calling marriage a “fix” for poverty, crime, healthcare, and mental health is nothing more than an incel’s band aid for an infected cut.
Human beings, at the top of the evolutionary scale, require the most time of all species to reach maturity. Studies have shown that unmarried women with no kids are the happiest and healthiest population; doesn’t that mean that currently, husbands and children are often liabilities to the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness? Minority women, particularly Black women, have a heightened unlikelihood of finding a partner who is economically desirable. If this is a problem, who’s problem is it?
And even then, it’s not really a problem. The aforementioned Institute of Family Studies states that the divorce rate is simultaneously trending downwards, which means the marriages that do occur today are at least, more stable than marriages of a few decades ago.
So maybe this time, we should do things different. Maybe the government should mind their own business, for the first time in history. Maybe we should fight poverty a different way. Maybe we should fight crime a different way. Maybe we should fix the healthcare system a different way. Maybe we should look at the tax system differently than we have before and not just in the context of marriage. Maybe taxes, crime, sexism, education and healthcare should be among some of the biggest issues in America to tackle in 2020 on their own. (To The Heritage Foundation’s credit, those are also issues listed).
Maybe humans should keep investing in education, specifically global women’s education and see what happens. Also, maybe they should honor the fact some people can’t start families. Some people just don’t want to and some people shouldn’t. Family planning is a choice. One that doesn’t damage the entire country. As the Heritage Foundation also mentions along with the above, things like voter fraud, gerrymandering, and election integrity are though. Maybe we should look at the foster care and adoption system a different way. Maybe we should accept the idea of a chosen family as just as valid as a biological one. That is an idea that this country, again: on stolen land, with it’s broken foundation of brotherhood, should be able to fathom.
But that takes space, time, and silence as citizens.
The personal is political, no matter how much we don’t want to take it personally. Families are personal relationships, no matter how much we don’t want to take it personally. Choosing a family should take time. Some form of marriage has been found to exist in any and all human societies, past and present. Its importance can be seen in the elaborate and complex laws and rituals surrounding it. Americans have tended to rank marriage as more important than Europeans do for as long as there has been America, which is where some of the first instances of religious division in early Europe show up. Teenagers in this decade still dream of marriage. For high school seniors in 2014, the most “acceptable” arrangement was a husband working full time and a wife working part time (57%). 17% rated it the most desirable.
We should all probably go to therapy or something. After all, true love is not found, it is built. As the next generation of eligible bachelors & bachelorettes, we need to agree that marriage is a commitment and we should take our commitments seriously, in whatever way is most demanding careful consideration or application to us. Before we were unable to make those decisions but today shows we have new understanding. Marriage is characterized by or suggestive of an idealized view of reality.
America is not the first and will not be the last to go through a sex recession, loneliness epidemic, marriage decline, or low fertility rate. It just means we’ve been through a lot as a country and there’s some tension, still. But as a 22 year old QBIWOC living in Northern Virginia who just graduated, that is personally just how I see it. I’m 8 years to 30 and I’m more inclined to believe that connection comes in cycles and waves. That must be how they strengthen.
Marriage becomes alive again with culture and religion, from places where weddings and engagements and lifetimes have stories of love, fables, folktales (real, arranged, or imagined) that are romantic and alluring. We’ll never be able to fully extract that. As long as children dream, there will be marriage. Probably because we are told this, us and the people we love, is how we are all come to be. I’m not anti-wedding or anti monogamy but I am pro-choice. The heart’s needs are different for everyone, that was love’s first lesson. People who don’t understand that may want to rewatch a few movies.
As therapist Susan Pease Gadoua and journalist Vicki Larson said in Psychology Today, “hope we’ll be able to choose which model of marriage we’d like based on our age, socio-economic status, propensity for parenthood and sexuality. I hope one day we’ll have the freedom to be different.”