Secular Media Also Pushing Early Marriage
I’ve seen a new batch of these “Marry young, damn you” type editorials in the last couple of weeks, most from secular sources.
More online articles about delayed marriage, or there being an upswing in unmarried people having kids or living together, have appeared too. Here are a few…
Find a Man Today, Graduate Tomorrow
Susan Patton told young women to look for a mate in college. Liberals went crazy. My mom said the same thing.
… What’s Douthat’s newest source of concern? Those of us who dragged our feet heading to the altar, waiting until our 30s—yes, practically ancient—before marrying for the first time.
And why are “older” couples such a threat to the cultural order? Well, it turns out they aren’t. At least, not all of us. And his conclusions about these demographic shifts remind me that Douthat is not alone. Other social conservatives and moderates—and even many who are not—are confusing what we really should be worried about. We do have a serious problem in this country, one that has painful consequences for the future of employment, children’s development, health, and family stability, but it’s not primarily about marriage, or about when women marry, or how many children they have. Like many other social problems that we confront today, the issue is really one of social class and increasing inequality.
….But what these “facts” all boil down to is one simple reality that is masked by these population averages: more and more the realities of our lives—how much and where we are educated, how much money we make, how stable our families are, the age that we have our children—are determined by our socioeconomic status, or social class, in this country. (The New York Times also had a depressing article this weekend about life expectancy differences that pointed out that even the health of our babies is—more than in other industrialized countries—a function of the income level of the babies’ parents.)
The simple fact is that if you are a college-educated young person (particularly one whose parents were also college-educated), you are probably going to marry later, have fewer children, stay married, and be more financially stable than if you were born in different circumstances.
Douthat himself acknowledges that while “the new romantic landscape doesn’t offer automatic benefits to the upper class and automatic costs to everyone else, it does create a situation where the people who need the least help figuring out the wisest life course have multiple clear paths to take, and the people who would most benefit from a simple map to responsible adulthood can easily end up in a maze instead.”
True, but I’m tired of all the hand wringing over people’s choices in their personal lives. To me, it’s clear that as a society we would be much better off if we focused less attention on who is getting married and having children and the timing of these life decisions, and more attention on providing structural supports for the individuals who are increasingly left behind in our economy, whether, married, unmarried, or divorced.
It seems like marriage serves as a distraction—a tempting media story from the real missing support system that our country lacks.
….Marriage—despite what social conservatives proclaim—is not a cure-all for our social ills. It may not be right for everyone, and it’s ironic to me that many of the same people who are lamenting its decline are also the ones against giving those same rights to all committed couples.
Another refreshing alternative from the “you must marry by the time you are 30” editorials:
When Susan Patton, a Princeton alumna, advised in an open letter that Princeton coeds find a husband before they graduate, she provoked an avalanche of responses that span the spectrum from “good idea” to “no way.” So, what should young women make of her advice?
It turns out that we actually know a lot about the consequences of choosing a mate at an early age. Most of it shows that, on average, delaying marriage confers a number of advantages to women — and to men as well.
Research over the last several decades has repeatedly demonstrated that women who postpone marriage are less likely to divorce, more likely to attain economic stability for themselves and their children, and more likely to express satisfaction with their family and work commitments.
Even “Knot Yet,” a recent report co-written by the National Marriage Project and concerned with the possible costs of postponing marriage, clearly shows that delayed marriage improves the socioeconomic prospects of women and their families (especially among more privileged groups), reduces the chance of divorce and allows women to attain important life goals.
It’s no mystery why this is the case. Amid our post-industrial, hi-tech economy, it takes longer to gain the personal insights and occupational skills needed to make a successful transition to adulthood. It takes time not just to develop the practical knowledge needed to negotiate a rapidly changing world but also to gain a clear sense of purpose about one’s own life and about the kind of person one wishes to have as a life partner.
…. These are just some of the reasons the average age at first marriage has been rising for several decades and now hovers around 27 for women and 29 for men. Younger generations have concluded, accurately, that their options do not contract after schooling, that they can take time to develop their own identities and make important life commitments, and that it may make sense to wait.
If the evidence supporting the option of delayed marriage is so strong, why has a letter urging women to choose a partner early garnered so much attention?
Perhaps because, despite the crumbling barriers that have allowed women to enter the halls of once all-male enclaves such as Princeton, so much remains unchanged.
Susan Patton never questions the norm that women should “marry up” — and by extension, men should marry “down” — on a variety of dimensions, including education, accomplishment and age. (Nor does she question the assumption that mate choice is universally heterosexual, but that is a topic for another debate.) Yet a thorough gender revolution means questioning such assumptions about how women (and men) select a life partner.
Genuine equality means jettisoning assumptions that all women should choose a partner who is older, more professionally accomplished or even more intelligent. The young women I have interviewed are far more likely to stress the importance of such criteria as mutual support, respect and love in a marital partnership.
Most of all, decisions about when and whom to marry are deeply personal, and advice that presumes “one size fits all” is more likely to trigger unnecessary anxiety than to offer useful help.
Instead of telling new generations what choices to make, we should turn our attention to creating the social supports and economic opportunities that will help them forge the more egalitarian relationships, satisfying work careers and work-family balance they desire, regardless of when — and whether — they marry.
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