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March 27, 2008

Marriage Woes: The End of the World as We Know It

Marriage rates have been plummeting in the UK and now they've crossed something of a milestone. Well, two milestones, actually.

The proportion of men and women getting married is below any level found since figures were first kept nearly 150 years ago.

And the number of weddings held in 2006 was the smallest since 1895, when the population was little more than half its present level.

The evidence that marriage is withering away at an increasing pace was met with a furious response from critics of Labour's benefits system, which disregards the status of husbands and wives and pays parents extra to stay single.

At some level there is an interesting sociological experiment going on over in Britain. They withdrew what we typically think of as the governmental benefits of marriage (lower tax rates for joint filings, survivor benefits, etc.) and then the government essentially offered unmarried parents a choice: (1) stay single and raise the kid and get a tax credit or (2) get married and get no tax credit.

It turns out that marriage is not more cherished than a tax credit, in the UK at least.

More: The hyperbolic title to this post comes from this observation from the article: "But it is a disaster for children, families and society."

Peter Wehner at Commentary Magazine continues in the same vein:

The causes of the collapse of marriage range from the rise in the Western world of a highly individualistic ethic, to a profound shift in moral and religious attitudes, to the sexual revolution, to the widespread use of abortion and the pill, to changes in law, among other things. The precise damage that the collapse in marriage is having on different societies is hard to measure – but we know it cannot be good. Marriage remains the best arrangement ever devised when it comes to sexual and emotional intimacy, raising children, and finding fulfillment and completeness between two people, not to mention things like financial security, better health, and longer lives. It is, as Bennett wrote, “the keystone in the arch of civilization.”

I have highlighted what I believe to be the truest portion of his remarks. Marriage is beneficial for our society in more ways than simple childrearing. Rates of marriage have important effects on issues as diverse as health care, the housing market, and employment. And I believe that we should make efforts to incentivise marriage when it is reasonable to do so. But I'm not ready to call this a disaster and if it came to choosing between high marriage rates and the modern "moral and religious attitude", contraception, and "the highly individualistic ethic" then I'd have to regretfully let marriage rates slide.


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posted by Gabriel Malor at 02:31 PM

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