What we’re seeing is a rapid hollowing out of marriage in Middle America–with 44 percent of the children of moderately-educated mothers born outside of marriage. “We’re at a tipping point with Middle America,” W. Bradford Wilcox, a leading scholar on marriage, told National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez, “insofar as Middle Americans are on the verge of losing their connection to marriage.”
We are “witnessing a striking exodus from marriage,” according to the study.
More than 40 percent of children are born out of wedlock, while more than half of births (53 percent) among all women under 30 now occur outside of marriage. Between 1970 and 2012, the annual number of marriages per 1,000 unmarried adults decreased by more than 50 percent. The divorce rate today is about twice that of 1960, though it’s declined since hitting its highest point in our history in the early 1980s. For the average couple marrying for the first time in recent years, the lifetime probability of divorce or separation now falls between 40 and 50 percent. Today more than a quarter of all children live in single-parent families, compared to only 9 percent in 1960. And the number of unmarried couples has increased seventeen-fold in the last 50 years.
While the trends don’t seem to bode well on first blush, my bet is that marriage isn’t being done away with as much as it is being reshaped. Quite frankly, the government has done an awful job managing the institution of marriage for the last forty years or so, and it is no longer useful to many people. To put it simply, government regulation of marriage causes more problems than it solves, which makes it a costly system, and therefore worthy of dissolution.
However, that doesn’t mean people aren’t living as if they were married. I would suspect that a good number of couples have a Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie sort of arrangement where they basically behave as married people, but without the formal legal trappings of marriage. Not all unmarried people are like this, since there are plenty of stupid young women who are unmarried but have still managed to slut it up and pop out a couple of bastards. Nonetheless, the legal institution of marriage is basically dead, and the only people who will use it are those for whom the regulations surrounding marriage are essentially irrelevant (e.g. homosexuals, ultra-religious folk who aren’t inclined to get divorced, and SWPLs). People who believe that divorce is likely will avoid legal marriages because the penalties of divorce are draconian.
While MGTOWs and MRAs would undoubtedly like to take credit for reshaping marriage by their willingness to walk away, it seems more reasonable to assert that women are fundamentally behind this reshaping of marriage. If women really wanted to be legally bound in marriage, all they would have to do is trade down to a man who would enslave himself to her instead of trying to stay with a man who refuses to be bound. Some might argue that alphas are reshaping marriage, but this isn’t necessarily true, as alphas would generally stand a considerably lower risk of divorce and the attendant butthexing that comes with it. It makes more sense to say that women want a relationship where they are the weaker/inferior party. Entering into a legal marriage automatically make them the stronger/superior party, and gives them hand. Since women don’t generally like having hand in a relationship, the only way to avoid having it is to avoid the legal institution of marriage. Of course, this argument is inherently tautological, and there are multiple interpretations that make sense. Arguing that men who would generally be considered unattractive are reshaping marriage by virtue of turning down uninterested women doesn’t make much sense, unless the pre-emptive rejection makes them more attractive. I tend to doubt that it does, but I could be wrong.
Anyhow, the current collapse of the legal form of marriage need not be viewed as an unmitigated disaster. The pendulum of marital authority, having once swung to the state, is now swinging away. It will eventually swing to another authority that is not as abusive and misguided, and then that authority will eventually be corrupted. In the meantime, a good number of people will still find a way to raise a family together, while a good number of people will make foolish mistakes and pay the penalty for it. There is nothing new under the sun.