Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Is Marriage Going Away?

The New York Times reports today that 51% of women in America are now living without a spouse. Altogether, 63 million of the 117 million American women over the age of 15 are married, which works out to 53.85% of women in this age bracket. That would mean that about 46% of American women are not married. However, the 51% statistic reported by the Times includes all women who do not currently have a spouse in the home for any reason. For example, it would include women whose husbands are in the military and currently deployed overseas. These women would be a subset of the 2.4 million women in America whose husbands are not living at home for one reason or another. This statistic also includes the 3.1 million women who are legally separated from their husbands. If you add these figures to the 46% of women who are single, divorced, or widowed, then you get the 51% that the Times reports.

What do I make of these figures?

1. Always be wary of the way the NYT reports things from its far left perspective. The thrust of the article seems to be that marriage as we know it is going away. This is enhanced by using the 51% statistic discussed above rather than the 46% statistic. But in using this 51% statistic, the authors are lumping together some very different situations (e.g. a woman whose husband is deployed versus one who has been divorced versus a widow). The only common denominator is that a husband is not currently living in the home. This tells us next to nothing about the actual state of the marriages or non-marriages involved. We should also note that, even with all the problems in our society, the majority of American women of marriageable age are married. The authors simply ignore this as a relevant fact.

Not only does the article imply that marriage is going away, it further implies that this is a good thing. Every one of the women interviewed for the article was either single or divorced, and all were quoted as saying positive things about their single lives. There was nary a word in the article about all the detrimental effects of cohabitation or divorce on women's lives and on society as a whole.

The article further implied that this decline in marriage should be factored into public policy. It quotes Professor Stephanie Coontz as saying, "It is simply delusional to construct social policy or make personal life decisions on the basis that you can count on people spending most of their adult lives in marriage." But this commits the classic fallacy of assuming that "what is" is necessarily "what ought to be."

2. Nevertheless, the article is correct that the trends in marriage in America are not good. Living together without being married is a growing trend. Although the divorce rates have leveled off, this is in part because fewer people are getting married. They simply live together. In addition, young adults now tend to put off marriage until later. The authors correctly state, "The proportion of married people, especially among younger age groups, has been declining for decades. Between 1950 and 2000, the share of women 15-to-24 who were married plummeted to 16 percent, from 42 percent. Among 25-to-34-year-olds, the proportion dropped to 58 percent, from 82 percent." So why is this a bad trend? This leads me to my next point.

3. As Christians, we do not base our ideas about right and wrong on what people happen to be doing. The Word of God gives us a clarity far above the muddled views of ethical relativists. From the Bible we learn that God's intention is for one man and one woman to be united in a covenant relationship for life in order to exercise productive and procreative dominion over the creation. Our society's retreat from marriage and childbearing is a clear indication of its idolatry. Americans worship personal autonomy. God's dominion blessing seems so restrictive. It really cramps our idolatrous style. But like all areas of rebellion against God, we will reap what we sow. The very things that seem to promise us freedom will in the end destroy our souls and our society.

I invite you to taste and see that the Lord is good by committing yourself to follow Christ in the area of marriage. Then America can see the beauty of holiness in God's design for living. Marriage is not going away - at least not as long as there are those who revel in God's wonderful design for humanity.

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