Social conservatives talk a big game about marriage. They love it! They have to protect it at all costs! Feminists and gays are ruining it!
It’s no big secret that conservative opposition to same-sex marriage is simultaneously about homophobia and misogyny — a dislike of gay people, coupled with a severe discomfort at the idea that two people of the same sex could form a partnership, because that turns the “traditional” man-in-charge marital relationship on its head. I’m not sure they’d ever say this out loud, but the unspoken thought process seems to be, “But who will be the wife?” Traditional marriage, in the social conservative’s world, is a heirarchy: The man is at the top and controls things, and the woman is at the bottom to support him. That’s just how it works. Feminists and marriage-equality activists want to kick the ladder over on its side. To the guy at the top of the ladder, that’s mighty scary.
Turns out, though, that feminists and marriage-equality activists have already changed the face of marriage, and for the better. With women earning more than ever before, and being better-educated than ever before, marriages are more egalitarian. Housework is more often shared (although women still do the lion’s share). Couples who share housework have more sex. Men spend more time with their children than ever before. And everyone is happier and more stable because of it.
While the changing economic roles of husbands and wives may take some getting used to, the shift has had a surprising effect on marital stability. Over all, the evidence shows that the shifts within marriages — men taking on more housework and women earning more outside the home — have had a positive effect, contributing to lower divorce rates and happier unions.
And despite scary headlines claiming that education ruins a woman’s chances at finding marital bliss, the statistics tell a different story:
While it’s widely believed that a woman’s financial independence increases her risk for divorce, divorce rates in the United States tell a different story: they have fallen as women have made economic gains. The rate peaked at 23 divorces per 1,000 couples in the late 1970s, but has since dropped to fewer than 17 divorces per 1,000 couples. Today, the statistics show that typically, the more economic independence and education a woman gains, the more likely she is to stay married. And in states where fewer wives have paid jobs, divorce rates tend to be higher, according to a 2009 report from the Center for American Progress.
Sociologists and economists say that financially independent women can be more selective in marrying, and they also have more negotiating power within the marriage. But it’s not just women who win. The net result tends to be a marriage that is more fair and equitable to husbands and wives.
Of course, articles like this assume that marriage is high on most women’s lists of life to-dos — not necessarily true for a lot of us. But it is true that most people get married at some point in their lives, and most people who get married probably want to stay that way — or at least, stay happy enough in their marriages where staying married makes sense. Feminists have shifted the focus of marriage away from an economic necessity and towards a truly fulfilling partnership. So conservatives are right about one thing: Traditional marriage is being challenged by feminists and marriage-equality activists. But traditional marriage has already been irreparably changed. And that’s a good thing.
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