Some elements of that social change might be easier to anticipate than others. For example, the share of the young adult population that chooses to remain single (with their sexual needs met by robots) is very likely to increase.
Because social change is organic, however, adaptations in other social norms and behaviors are much more difficult to predict. But this is not virgin territory.
New technologies completely transformed sexual behavior and marital norms over the second half of the 20th century. Although getting any of these predictions right will surely involve some luck, we have decades of technology-induced social change to guide our predictions about the future of a world confronted with wholesale access to sexbots.
The reality is that marriage has always evolved alongside changes in technology.
Between the mid-1700s and the early 2000s, the role of marriage between a man and a woman was predominately to encourage the efficient production of market goods and services (by men) and household goods and services (by women), since the social capacity to earn a wage was almost always higher for husbands than it was for wives.
But starting as early as the end of the 19th century, marriage began to evolve as electrification in the home made women’s work less time-consuming, and new technologies in the workplace started to decrease the gender wage gap.
Between 1890 and 1940, the share of married women working in the labor force tripled, and over the course of the century, that share continued to grow as new technologies arrived that replaced the labor of women in the home. By the early 1970s, the arrival of microwave ovens and frozen foods meant that a family could easily be fed at the end of a long workday, even when the mother worked outside of the home.
As an unintended result of these new technologies, marriage stopped being about the efficient production of market and household goods, and started being about something else long before the close of the 20th century: companionship, love, and sex.
Marriage stopped being about two people coming together because they were very different from one another, in terms of their ability to produce, and started being about two people coming together because they were very similar to each other.
It thus became easier for societies to see (albeit very gradually) the irrelevance of rules that prohibited same-sex marriage.
… Extrapolating from this historical trajectory, I predict that the adoption of sexbot technology could disentangle the association between sexual intimacy and marriage, but also lead to higher quality marriages on the whole.
There are those who argue that men only “assume the burden” of marriage because marriage allows men easy sexual access, and that if men can find sex elsewhere they won’t marry.
We hear this prediction now being made in reference to sexbots, but the same argument was given a century ago when the invention of the latex condom (1912) and the intrauterine device (1909) significantly increased people’s freedom to have sex without risking pregnancy and (importantly, in an era in which syphilis was rampant) sexually transmitted disease.
Cosmopolitan magazine ran a piece at the time by John B. Watson that asked the blunt question, will men marry 50 years from now?
Watson’s answer was a resounding no, writing that “we don’t want helpmates anymore, we want playmates.” Social commentators warned that birth control technologies would destroy marriage by removing the incentives women had to remain chaste and encourage them to flood the market with nonmarital sex. Men would have no incentive to marry, and women, whose only asset is sexual access, would be left destitute.
By the late 1920s and the 1930s, it was apparent that these concerns were unfounded. Couples continued to marry and, in fact, married at higher rates than in previous decades. At that point, the conversation turned to how contraceptives were changing the nature of marriage itself.
Whereas in the past, women might have acted as if they succumbed to their husband’s sexual desires only as a means to having children, technological advances in contraception meant that women were forced to admit to enjoying intimate relationships with their husbands.
Social commentator Walter Lippmann in his 1929 Preface to Morals wrote: “[B]y an inevitable process the practice of contraception led husbands and wives to the conviction that they need not be in the least ashamed of their desires for each other.”
…Those who fear that sexbot technology will have a negative impact on marriage rates see sexbot technology as a substitute to sexual access in marriage.
If they are correct, a decrease in the price of sexual access outside of marriage will decrease the demand for sexual access in marriage, and marriage rates will fall.
It could just as easily be argued, however, that within marriage sexual access and household production are complements in consumption—in other words, goods or services that are often consumed together, like tea and sugar, or cellular data and phone apps.
If that is the case, then, consumer theory predicts that easy access to sexbot technology will actually increase the rate of lifetime marriage, since a fall in the price of a good increases the demand for complements in consumption, just as a fall in the price of cellular data would likely increase demand for phone streaming services.
Moreover, if sexual access through sexbot technology is a complement to household production, then we could observe an increase in the quality of marriages and, as a result, a reduction in rates of divorce.