Where Is Marriage Going?

Sometimes one gets to read a couple of completely different articles both purporting to lay out the direction that some institution is headed, both from the same political slant but in each the conclusion is totally opposite. Today I read one of the NRO‘s contributors making the claim that marriage is in a disastrous state in North America because it is regarded as a private contract between two individuals. Contrast that with an article I read the other week in Macleans that asserts that divorce is now stigmatized among the young.

My suspicion about this, and the Macleans article brushes up against it without getting into it, is that exactly what NRO‘s David French worried about – marriage as a private contract for individuals – is perhaps what is causing people to work harder at it and try to avoid divorce. Whereas divorce was, for those splitting up in the 1960s-1980s let’s say, a means to escape coercive social pressures, the sense now is that people are voluntarily marrying, and not doing so because they got knocked-up, or because they have hide their sexual orientation, or because they feel some kind of familial or religious obligation to do so, or because the man is one of daddy’s friends. Today Betty doesn’t have to end up with Don in the first place.

Anyone who is getting married in 2011 may still feel external pressures, but they have far more opportunity not to participate in the institution of marriage on someone else’s terms. Your marriage is your responsibility because it was your decision, and if you’re under 40 chances are you saw lots of divorce up close, either in your own family or a friend’s, so you know marriage is difficult. My sense is that yes, many in my generation may not marry, but those that do often have a better sense of the commitment that they are undertaking, the difficulties involved and so on.