Why feminism is good for everybody, part 2954

Divorce rates are the lowest they’ve been since the 1970s, and marriages are more stable.

There are certainly myriad reasons why marriages are stronger now than thirty years ago, but I’d imagine that chief among them are things heavily influenced by feminism. As traditional gender roles expand, women and men have greater choice in who they marry. Men no longer shoulder the burden of being the sole breadwinner, and women are no longer expected to do all of the home and child-care. Women are going to college and grad school in record numbers, and are meeting people with whom they are share genuine interests and goals. People are delaying marriage, and marriages entered into later in life tend to be more stable and longer-lasting. Marriage is increasingly optional, and so more couples enter into it when they want to, instead of getting married so that they can escape social pressure or have children or live together or have sex without guilt. And couples can have sex for pleasure instead of constantly fearing another pregnancy, making marriage very much an institution for the two people who enter into it, and, ideally, fostering families who can choose to have children when they’re ready (which obviously makes for happier parents).

Next step: Making this institution open to everyone.


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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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27 Responses to Why feminism is good for everybody, part 2954

  1. stnemmoc says:

    If anyone is interested in the subject, this article addresses the gay marriage=divorce issue pretty well, I think.

  2. Poor Article says:

    The divorce rate is falling but the marriage rate is falling faster – so this is only half the news, in the full context it is bad news disguised as good. Moreover, with fall in marriage rate, and increase in cohabitation, more and more children are being born out of wedlock – not necessarily a bad thing – but never a good idea. Moreover, marriage is now facing an income gap – more of the rich are getting married, the poor aren’t. And this makes it even more difficult for children from lower income families since they are usually born out of wedlock where both parents(if around) work minimum/low wage jobs. The low-income people who really need to be married and do their best to raise their kids are at a disadvantage. Whether feminism(this is a feminist blog, right) would like to take the credit/blame is irrelevent, but a lower marriage rate is certainly bad for society.

  3. Isabel says:

    The divorce rate is falling but the marriage rate is falling faster – so this is only half the news, in the full context it is bad news disguised as good. Moreover, with fall in marriage rate, and increase in cohabitation, more and more children are being born out of wedlock – not necessarily a bad thing – but never a good idea.

    But, why? If two people have a child who don’t want to be married to each other, getting married seems to me like a pretty terrible idea that will stress out both parties and, because children are extremely capable of picking up on parental sress and prone to responding negatively to it, it very well may stress out the kid as well.

    Moreover, marriage is now facing an income gap – more of the rich are getting married, the poor aren’t.

    I would say this is symptomatic of a problem, not the problem itself. To find the real problem you need to look at why poor people are getting married less: is it because the lack of stability many of them face makes a commitment like marriage seem unfeasible? Is it because of situations where a woman might have a child with a man she considers unfit to be a father? Or vice versa (probably rarer because of the fact that women physically give birth to children, but hey you never know)?

    And why exactly is having unmarried parents more detrimental to poor people anyway? Could it be because of financial advantages offered to married people, like tax break, that the unmarried poor cannot take advantage of? Because if so, it seems to me that the problem is with the system that stigmatizes the unmarried, not with individuals who do not see marriage as the right choice for them at this point in time. Ideally, if two people do not want to be married to each other but do want to be equally committed (at least financially) to raising a child, they should be able to do that without being penalized for it.

  4. Mnemosyne says:

    The divorce rate is falling but the marriage rate is falling faster – so this is only half the news, in the full context it is bad news disguised as good … Whether feminism(this is a feminist blog, right) would like to take the credit/blame is irrelevent, but a lower marriage rate is certainly bad for society.

    I’d have to disagree with you there — I think it’s far more disruptive to society to have a large number of people get married if 50% or 60% of them get divorced within 5 or 10 years. That’s much, much more societal upheaval than if fewer people get married, but their marriages are more stable. After all, if homeowners are selling their homes so they can split the proceeds in the divorce, it’s not exactly contributing to a stable community and tax base.

    It does worry me that marriage is becoming a privilege of the rich, but that development has more to do with stupid public policies that discourage poor people from getting married (like the “no man in the house” rule so beloved by Moynihan) and the increasing fetishization of The Wedding As The Most Important (and Expensive) Day of My Life than it has to do with those mean old feminists forcing women not to get married.

  5. Poor Article says:

    Isabel:
    I agree, we can’t force a couple to marry, but the fact remains that cohabitation-relationships have a statistically higher rate of breaking up and are more fragile/unstable than marriages.

    Marriage > Cohabitation > Single Parent

    Hence, my conclusion about lower marriage rate having a negative impact.

  6. VK says:

    cohabitation-relationships have a statistically higher rate of breaking up and are more fragile/unstable than marriages.

    Correlation, not causation.

    Surely it’s more likely that stable relationships will induce people to marry, not that marriage will magically make a relationship more stable.

  7. Poor Article says:

    Correlation or causation, what I am trying to say is that cohabitation is a an inferior susbstitute for marriage.

  8. donna darko says:

    Bad for whom? Children. Americans are also having less children so your points are moot.

  9. djw says:

    more and more children are being born out of wedlock – not necessarily a bad thing – but never a good idea

    I’ve got no idea what you’re trying to say. It might be not be a bad thing but it’s definitely not a good idea? Huh?

    (Furthermore, are you sure this is true? Some time ago, late 90’s probably, I saw some numbers on this, and while the # of children born to unmarried parents as a fraction of total children born was up considerably, it wasn’t up relative to the total population. In other words, the statistical appearence of a higher percentage of children being born to unmarried parents was being entirely driven by married people having fewer children. The children born to unmarried parents per 1000 people remained very consistent since the 1950’s. I’m not sure if this is still true, or even if the numbers were sound).

  10. VK says:

    Correlation or causation, what I am trying to say is that cohabitation is a an inferior susbstitute for marriage.

    Why? How does a marriage certificate improve a home situation, beyond those artifically created by the government favouring married relationships – the tax changes, the implied legal status etc.

    What I am saying is that the most stable households are those most likely to put the time and money into getting married. It doesn’t improve their relationship. The less stable relationships would not be improved by marriage.

  11. Poor Article says:

    Americans are also having less children so your points are moot.

    Put it this way : Since the relative increase in number of cohabitations(less stable) than marriage, the total number of people choosing to have children is fallen. But inspite of this, the relative number of children being born to married couples is reducing as compared to those born to unmarried, which is the case for concern.

  12. Poor Article says:

    the most stable households are those most likely to put the time and money into getting married. It doesn’t improve their relationship. The less stable relationships would not be improved by marriage.

    Perfect. Which is why lower marriage rate is an indicator of less stable relationships.
    URL

  13. VK says:

    Which is why lower marriage rate is an indicator of less stable relationships.

    Only if every stable relationship must get marriage, and if everyone gets married at the same level of stability.

    Because there is less pressure on couples to get married today, I’d think of it more as the stability threshold for marriage is rising. Couples, who in the past at the same level of stability would have got married, now just live together. Their relationships are the same, the numer of marriages smaller and the marriages that happen more likely to stay together.

  14. VK says:

    Since the relative increase in number of cohabitations(less stable) than marriage, the total number of people choosing to have children is fallen. But inspite of this, the relative number of children being born to married couples is reducing as compared to those born to unmarried, which is the case for concern.

    Cohabitation is not inheriently less stable than marriage. I think the problem here is you are dragging information from trends. I.e. that men are on average taller than women, doesn’t mean that every man is taller than every woman, or even that it’s likely that a randomly picked man is taller than a randomly picked woman.

    Why is children born to unmarried parents a concern? How does a particular couple getting married help their children?

  15. Poor Article says:

    Did you read the URL ?

    Logically, what you say is correct, but all evidence shows that it is the other way around. And as always, logic will always fall to real evidence.

  16. Poor Article says:

    Woa, my news feeds just showed up this piece:

    The New Zealand Herald – breaking news !

  17. VK says:

    Yes, I read the URL. None of the studies, as far as I can see, prove causation rather than simple correlation. Particularly for things like married couples likely to be healthier than unmarried; married couples likely to be wealthier than unmarried.

    Similarly the NZ piece doesn’t give real info – “Weston and Qu’s research found that 63 per cent of couples who began living together in the early 1970s ended up marrying, but only 43 per cent of couples who began living together since the 1970s ended up married” How many were still living together? How many of those who married were still married? Why is marriage the end goal, as if it magically solves things? Why is staying together nessisarily beneficial? Are relationships only worthwhile if they last forever?

    Similarly taking marriage to be a single defined state seems flawed. Society’s attitude to marriage and it’s value is rapidly changing – making it very hard to compare with data from even 10, 20 years ago. It is no longer where you expect your first serious relationship to go, in fact many people don’t desire to get married ever.

  18. Poor Article says:

    You accuse me of being against unmarried families but I am going to ask you why are you against marriage ? And let me repeat :
    Marriage > Cohabitation > Single Parent
    All studies and common sense points it out. I am not forcing you or anyone to marry – just observing that cohabitations tend to break up at a higher rate than marriages and this is harmful especially to children. At least you will admit that cohabitation has more minus than plus points associated with it than marriage – people are free to choose either, which ever works for them – but the statictics are against them – just like there is a higherprobability that children from single parent homes are disadvantaged in life.
    But I think we will continue to disagree.

  19. Kyra says:

    Marriage > Cohabitation > Single Parent

    How so? What studies, and how and why, and what definitions of “better?” Repetition of your premise is not an argument for it.

    And once again, what causes these various problems about which you keep making assertions? Some indelible aspect of cohabitation or single parenting, or society’s treatment of them, or economics in this civilization? A person who, due to lack of a decent living wage, has to work seventy hours a week to keep herself and her children provided for, is quite naturally going to lack the energy to be the best of parents as well—if the economics of this society were changed so that thirty hours of work would provide all their needs, a significant chunk of her child’s disadvantages would go away.

    A lot of the problems with single-parent homes are economics and societal issues—we’ve got this isolationist, you-raise-yours-by-yourself-and-I’ll-do-the-same-with-mine thing going on, and the support network from family, friends and community has all but disappeared, and it results in the whole burden of raising any one child solely on that child’s parent or parents; there’s almost no diffusation among other people, and that’s in part why single parents often have it so bad in this society, that and poverty.

    One of my relatives is raising two kids post-divorce; he is decently off financially with a normal full-time job, and he has family and friends who engage with the kids enough to take the pressure off somewhat, scouts and church activities and other community issues so that the kids have other adult role models and mentors whom they trust and care for—and I think that is a very successful parenthood model—a little stressful at times but much less so for him and the kids than a bad marriage. It is where finances are a nightmare and community fails to help, that single parenthood risks disadvantaging the kids—therefore it is community and economics that need to be changed, rather than just pointing fingers at single parents and whining that everything would be fixed if they weren’t so determined to be single.

  20. Mnemosyne says:

    But inspite of this, the relative number of children being born to married couples is reducing as compared to those born to unmarried, which is the case for concern.

    As djw pointed out, the difference is not that unmarried people are having more children than before, but that married people are having fewer children than before.

    Here’s an example: let’s say you have two women in the 1950s. The unmarried one has two children and the married one has five children.

    Then look at two similar women in the 1990s. The unmarried one still only has two children, but now the married one also only has two children. That skews the statistics, because although the rate of unmarried people having children hasn’t risen, the number of children born to married people has dropped, so it gives the appearance of an “explosion” of children born out of wedlock, even though the rate hasn’t budged by an inch.

    Also, I can’t figure out what this means:

    Marriage > Cohabitation > Single Parent

    There are cohabiting people who have children, but they get counted as “single parents” because they’re not legally married. So what percentage of “single parents” are actually cohabiting parents, and what percentage are “true” single parents where one parent has primary physical custody? Also, how many of those single parent households are that way because of a marriage that ended in divorce or death rather than cohabiting or other non-marital relationships that break up? If the children were born into a marriage that later broke up, that’s not exactly supporting your point that marriage is clearly superior to other arrangements.

    You seem to think that your questions are significant, but you keep leaving out huge swaths of data in order to reach the answers that you want.

  21. Poor Article says:

    therefore it is community and economics that need to be changed,

    …if the economics of this society were changed so that thirty hours of work would provide all their needs, a significant chunk of her child’s disadvantages would go away.

    Wow, that’s very socialist of you !

    But inspite of this, the relative number of children being born to married couples is reducing as compared to those born to unmarried, which is the case for concern.

    Read again.
    1950: 5/2 = 2.5
    1990: 2/2 = 1

    —–

    PS : I have nothing against single-parents, infact they are the ones who have to work the hardest and as pointed out above, without a support network, life is very difficult for them and their children, though some even raise children better than the married, but the overall statistics prove otherwise. My point still remains that more unstable relationships and less marriages are not good for society.

    PPS : My nickname looks really stupid.

  22. donna darko says:

    Poor Article: Perfect. Which is why lower marriage rate is an indicator of less stable relationships.

    VK: Only if every stable relationship must get marriage, and if everyone gets married at the same level of stability.

    Because there is less pressure on couples to get married today, I’d think of it more as the stability threshold for marriage is rising.

    It’s an indicator of more stable relationships. There are fewer marriages and relationships because of a higher stability threshold resulting from all the alarmist reports divorce is at an all-time high due to feminism, of course, when new research shows divorce was at an all-time high in the 70s.

  23. Poor article says:

    It’s an indicator of more stable relationships.

    It’s an indicator of fewer more stable relationships.

    divorce was at an all-time high in the 70s.

    Again you ignore what you can’t/won’t address.

    The divorce rate is falling but the marriage rate is falling faster

  24. VK says:

    just observing that cohabitations tend to break up at a higher rate than marriages and this is harmful especially to children.

    Again, you are drawing conclusions from trends of data and trying to apply it to individual families. A child of cohabiting parents will not have their home situation improved by them getting married (well, bar some legal faff if they are not both the biological parents but we’ll ignore that for the moment). The relationship will not become more committed or stable if they get married.
    Similarly imagine a couple who are planning to have children – should they cohabit, or get married? Answer: either – their relationship will be the same either way, and their likelihood of breaking up the same.
    Marriage as a status is acting a a filtration system on the data. If you are in that set you are more likely to, but not guarenteed to, have a more stable relationship.

    At least you will admit that cohabitation has more minus than plus points associated with it than marriage – people are free to choose either, which ever works for them – but the statictics are against them.

    No, no, no. This is not what I am saying at all. I am saying that relationships with more plus points are more likely to choose marriage. Whether you cohabit or marry will have no effect on any particular couple.

  25. donna darko says:

    Quality over quantity, girth over length, however you want to say it.

    Fewer relationships, fewer marriages, fewer children, more stability, more happiness.

    Sounds good to me.

  26. greenmouse says:

    I agree, we can’t force a couple to marry, but the fact remains that cohabitation-relationships have a statistically higher rate of breaking up and are more fragile/unstable than marriages.

    Cohabitations have a higher rate of breaking up because most are trial runs. So people don’t marry someone, live with them, and then find out they can’t stand them and get a divorce. They’re more unstable because, again, they’re usually trial runs before an engagement or marriage.

    Rings != magic bonding mechanism.

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