NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

September 15, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

If you want hard information about marriage rates, divorce rates or the relative stability of intimate relationships, your go-to source would probably not be Glamour magazine. Here’s why (Glamour, 9/13/16). Still, writer Suzannah Weiss provides some interesting facts.

Weiss wonders about an important topic – the decline of marriage rates in the United States. Unfortunately, she doesn’t wonder very deeply or very skeptically.

Over the years, it's become far more common for couples to live together before getting married. A Census Bureau report from last year found that between 1967 and 2014, the share of Americans over 18 living with an unmarried partner went from virtually zero to nearly one tenth, while the proportion of those living with a spouse declined from around 70 to 50 percent. But according to a new study in Demography, living together is less likely to lead to marriage than it used to be.

In fact, it’s never been likely to do so. Numerous studies have shown that live-in partnerships tend to be significantly less stable than married ones, at least here in the U.S. (In Scandinavian countries, that may not be true.) So why are relationships, married or otherwise, becoming less stable?

The reason why becomes clearer when the data is broken down by population. The trend, it turns out, only applies to those without a college education. And that's not because those with lower education levels don't want to get hitched. They actually hope to get married just as much as anyone else. Rather, couples may be breaking up and refraining from marriage due to financial obstacles, Kelly Raley, a University of Texas sociology professor who coauthored the study, told us.

"One likely set of issues is low wages and unstable employment, more common for people without a college degree," she said. While some policymakers want to increase marriage rates by encouraging people to get married, she explained, that probably won't work if couples can't even afford it.

Hmm. The idea that low income people “can’t even afford” to be married is patent nonsense. Obviously, there’s nothing that makes being married and living together more expensive than not being married and living together. And living apart is the most expensive of all, requiring as it does, two sets of living accommodations, two sets of utility bills, two sets of household insurance bills, etc. For cohabiting to make financial sense, each person only needs to contribute a little more to the family revenue than their own incremental cost. So Weiss and Prof. Raley get it wrong.

Here’s a more sensible view of the matter (Bloomberg, 7/27/16).

A Harvard University study suggests that neither financial strains nor women's increased ability to get out of an unhappy marriage, starting in the 1970s, is typically the main reason for a split.

The big factor, Harvard sociology professor Alexandra Killewald found, is the husband's employment status. For the past four decades, she discovered, husbands who aren’t employed full time have a 3.3 percent chance of getting divorced in any given year, compared with 2.5 percent for husbands employed full time. In other words, their marriages are one-third more likely to break up…

“Wives have more freedom in how they ‘do’ marriage,” Killewald said, but husbands are still expected to be the breadwinner…

Her conclusion: The couples’ income and the wives’ economic independence didn't correlate with a higher risk of divorce. 

So, it’s not the ready availability of divorce that matters, nor is it women’s greater ability to support themselves. And it’s also not financial stressors, despite the fact that those may be more prevalent now than they were 40 years ago. Nor is divorce related to housework. Indeed, women did far more of the household tasks in 1976 than they do in 2016, but the divorce rate is much higher today. IN fact,

Couples married before 1975 who split the housework 50-50 were about 36 percent likelier to get divorced than couples in which the wives did three-quarters of the housework, Killewald found.

No, the main reason for divorce, according to Killewald’s analysis is the man losing his job.

The vast majority of men without a full-time job in the sample were involuntarily unemployed.

Interestingly, it wasn’t always this way. Back in the mid-70s, there was essentially no correlation between a man’s job status and his likelihood of getting divorced. But now there is a definite one.

Meanwhile, a husband’s job seems to matter more now. For couples married before 1975, the husband’s employment status barely affected their chances of divorce. It's the decades since 1975 that saw a dramatic increase in correlation between his job status and their risk of divorce…

So what happened in 1975? Killewald said she saw similar changes when she divided her data at various points in the 1980s. Other sociological studies have suggested something did happen in the 1970s that changed men's and women’s attitudes toward work and marriage.

“The late 1970s were really a time of change in what women expected for their careers,” Killewald said. What hasn’t changed nearly as much is the role men are supposed to play as husbands.

And, as we know, 70% of divorce actions are filed by women.

In short, larger percentages of women than ever before have entered the workforce, but their expectations of their male partners haven’t changed in the least. As Killewald admits, hubby is still supposed to play the role of breadwinner. Elsewhere, Forbes Magazine did a survey that found that a whopping 84% of married women aspired to be supported solely by their husbands.

What this all means is what I’ve been saying for years now – that, whatever the values of elites in politics, the news media, popular culture and the like, We the People are not too sure about abandoning the traditional sex roles that have achieved such success for human beings as a species. Women do paid work more because they have to than because they want to and men are breaking their backs working full-time plus picking up more than their traditional share of childcare and household duties.

For most people, the American economy, as directed by policy elites, has done no favors over the past 40 years. Real wages have flat-lined as well-paying manufacturing jobs have gone overseas, never to return. That means that, more and more, families need the earnings of two adults instead of just one. So women go to work, men pitch in with the domestic chores and families make it work. They do, at least until Dad loses his job, at which point, his role as resource provider gone by the wayside, he becomes expendable and it’s off to divorce court.

Someday, elite policy makers will wake up to what’s staring them in the face from innumerable sources of data: pretending that humans are ready to abandon their traditional male and female roles isn’t working. This is not to say that we should treat men and women unequally, that one or the other should have a narrower range of opportunities, less respect, fewer rights. On the contrary, we should militantly equalize those things between the sexes. But we should not be surprised when men exercising their free choice opt to do resource provision and women, exercising theirs, opt for motherhood.




National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

#divorce, #cohabitation, #jobloss

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