Something crossed my brain this last week, something regarding marriage. American marriage, to be precise.
As we all know, divorce rates in America have been on a steady rise as of the last few years. Some people see this as a bad thing; some people see this as a good thing. Increasing equality for women has been pointed to as the cause, as well as increasing sexual openness and promiscuity. Concerns over the well-being of children involved in a marriage are the driving force behind many investigations and proposed solutions to heightened divorce rates.
What has intrigued me is the growing distaste with marriage altogether amongst newer generations of American citizens. When I talk of marriage or hear of others talking of marriage, about half of the times the person I’m conversing with (or the people I hear conversing) has expressed their lack of desire to marry at any point in their life at all.
This latest revelation has challenged my assumption that most people planned to get married at some point in their lives. It has also challenged my reasons to marry. I stand before you, the reader, unfettered in my desire to one day wed. I have, however, taken a close look at relational dynamics and institutions I had unquestioningly accepted. To be frank, I’m not surprised that many people are no longer considering marriage at all.
To first address why some people feel that marriage is a waste, we must first consider its grander, societal impact in history. After looking at histories definitions and treatment of the institution, one cannot doubt that, in its origins and much of human history, marriage is a concept based in patriarchy. Marriage is found in almost every nation on the globe, an institution that crosses cultural boundaries and religious boundaries. Therefore, marriage is a concept deep-rooted in the nature of humanity. In many cultures and religions, marriage usually favored the male because males were sometimes allowed multiple wives. Marriage also conferred the idea of ownership of the woman upon the man, without explicit rules for reciprocation of the idea. When you remember that women in these eras did not have the kinds of economic or political rights men had, you begin to see how anyone could believe that marriage was just a means of men securing their bloodline by staking claim in a woman, which would discourage other men from seeking intercourse or relations with her. In more modern history, even the idea of divorce was frowned upon. Economics played a role as well: since women weren’t allowed high paying jobs, marriage was the only way to ensure economic stability. A women in an unsatisfactory marriage usually had no choice but to remain in the marriage, despite an unfaithful or abusive husband. Anyone in favor of gender equality would at least hold reservation in supporting marriage. It’s easy to see why a feminist would not support marriage at all.
A second factor to consider is the modern-day structure and characteristics of an American marriage. Even though marriage is now considered an equal, monogamous partnership of the man and the woman (where the man “owns” the woman, and the woman “owns” the man), old gender stereotypes still persist which discourage women from participating in the same fields men do, as afforded to women by more equal rights. Sure, the man can always opt to be a stay-at-home husband while the wife brings home the bacon. Sure, both the man and the woman can both have careers. One of these options, however, is optimal for raising children. So, one could come to the conclusion that a woman who did not plan to have children would easily justify staying unmarried, which would then of course influence more men to not pursue marriage since the pool of pro-marriage women would dissipate. As more women seek high-paying careers, marriage rates would decrease, and more independent women would become more desirable by default. Women who wanted a career as well as children probably have a hard time finding men who are willing to be stay-at-home husbands, as old gender roles still push men to seek the very same high-paying careers. So, on the whole, both men and women are finding themselves in a gender role deadlock, making marriage a difficult concept to pursue since both parties are working hard in a career field. It is no wonder why a lot of times people feel that marriage is something more for the elite, or the well-established individual. It’s no wonder, then, why people are getting older before they marry as well.
The idea of increased sexual promiscuity and abandonment of more wholesome moral values contributing to the decrease of marriages is, in my opinion, both correct and incorrect. To be more precise, sexual promiscuity leading to the decrease in marriages is backwards in regards to causality. The decrease in marriage is causal of heightened sexual promiscuity. The female-empowering factors that give rise to heightened independence amongst BOTH genders promote a decrease in marriage. So, the heightened divorce rate of American marriages and the emergence of Americans disillusioned by marriage isn’t necessarily a bad thing since it is the result of women having equal rights, right?
This is where I make my case for modern marriage. First off, a woman having equal rights is unequivocally a positive, necessary thing, so don’t think this is going to be an argument against women’s rights. The reasons for maintaining the institution of marriage in today’s age revolves primarily around one thing: children. Let’s face it, the reason we give single parents (particularly mothers) such mad props is because raising even one kid alone is no easy task. To be able to work nine to five every day and then tend to your child’s developmental needs, even with daycare services and babysitters, is a daunting task compared to workload set upon a married couple. Only the wealthiest of citizens could afford the extra help needed to raise a child. Even then, it may not be the single parent who gets to raise and influence the child as it grows, so the single parent’s values may not even get passed down to the child at all. To ask a parent to take that risk is asking a lot. Sure, child support helps, but it’s no substitute for the economic and developmental support of both parents. Things like college and medical care especially call for lots of money, enough money that child support just isn’t enough. All of these things could still be overcome in a single-parent household, depending on the quality of character of the parent and the economic arrangement with the other parent, but this still requires that the two parents even be divorced. To have children without a marriage at all is almost economically impossible except for the richest of the richest Americans. We can assume, then, that more and more people are also choosing to forego having children.
This is a problem, especially in a system with any kind of welfare. Japan and Germany already have this problem, and both governments are starting to take steps to encourage marriage and child-rearing like tax breaks. When it comes to population growth, a perfect one to one ratio of births to deaths is desired. A ratio that is bigger than one to one results in overcrowding and overall drops in individual prosperity. A ratio that is smaller than one to one results in shrinkage of the population, leading to problems like having too many elderly for the middle-aged and younger citizens to support, an overall deflation of economic power, and essentially dissipation of people altogether.
So, you know what, men of America? Here’s my solution. Take a tip from a gay guy: it’s ok to be a stay at home father and adopt some of the more feminine duties. You’re still a man, and you’re still an important figure even when compared to some high-standing executive. You can still have an education to support yourself should the marriage go sour. This will mean people will still be older by the time they marry, but it means people would still marry at all. Giving women equal rights means that every individual citizen has now been trusted to make the right choice on whether to marry, have children, and what duties to fulfill, those duties not being confined to gender. Men, you don’t have to relegate yourself to being a stay-at-home dad, but I would highly encourage it. If none of us do, then we’ll all be stuck in this gender deadlock forever until our population dies out and leaves nothing of our nation left. Oh, and remember, its EQUAL rights. Being a stay-at-home dad doesn’t mean settling for subservience. A marriage like that, whether the man brings home the bacon, or the woman, is a horrible one that I myself cannot endorse. I’m not a fan of the historical hierarchy of genders in a marriage. Know that I am not alone, amongst men AND women, conservative AND liberal.