The recent death of Barbara Bush (1925 – 2018) and her seventy-three-year marriage to former US President, George H.W. Bush (1924 – ) has got me thinking about the state of marriage in our society.
According to a report by the West Australian, marriage rates in October 2017 had dipped below that of the Great Depression, the lowest in Australia’s history.
More surprising, however, been the conditions under which this decline has occurred. The modern decline in marriage appears to be the consequence of changing cultural norms and social attitudes that are dismissive, even hostile, to the idea of lifelong, monogamous marriage.
By contrast, the low rates of marriage during the Great Depression was largely the result of poor economics. Low wages, wealth destruction, and unemployment meant people couldn’t afford to get married, so they didn’t.
Similarly, research has revealed that marriage in the United States is fracturing along socioeconomic lines. Today middle and upper-class Americans are far more likely to wed than the American working class. Only thirty-nine percent of the American working class are married compared to fifty-six percent of members of the upper and middle classes.
Our socio-political culture has slowly but surely stripped marriage of the privileges that were once exclusive to it. Casual and extra-marital sex is almost encouraged, sexual licentiousness is no longer frowned upon, and the existence of the Welfare State means that women no longer have to rely upon a husband for financial support (rather, she relies upon the government).
Sexual behaviour is a key indicator of a society’s moral character. Ethical sexual relationships, including good marriages, are based upon love and respect. The problem with the modern conception of sex and marriage is that it has forgotten that sex concerns flesh and blood human beings. It has therefore fooled itself into believing that it can be divorced from emotions, responsibility, morality, and consequences.
While society continues to value licentious sex over long-term commitment, the institution of marriage will continue to decline. Things could change, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.