Archives: Marriage

Bucking the Trend and Marrying Young

04.27.2013 10:31 PM

One married friend of mine, who just completed a master’s program and had her son two days before my son was born, told me that one of her grad school study buddies would often give her a hard time about being married with a baby at the age of 24.

“Your life must be so depressing,” she would suggest, before mentioning all of the pretty things at Banana Republic that a young married mom simply couldn’t afford (or have occasion to wear). Which did at times make my friend, who considered herself to be relatively happy, wonder if she should be depressed.

However, at another time, this same study buddy told my friend, “You are the only person I know who is not on mood enhancing drugs [by which she meant medication for depression].”

In the “Knot Yet” report, one trend emerges most clearly: young adults are delaying marriage, even as many of them are not delaying children.  Indeed, “The Great Crossover,” as the report terms it, is that “for women as a whole, the median age at first birth (25.7) now falls before the median age at first marriage (26.5).”

As a researcher in small-town, working-class Ohio, this is the world I’m in. Many of my new friends and acquaintances are unmarried with children. Take for instance, Stephanie, who my husband and I wrote about here.

But it’s not the world I came from. Like my friend above, many of my friends from high school and college are engaged or married. And many of the married ones are pregnant or have children. And most of them, like me, are around the age of 25. (My husband and I married right out of college at 22 and 21 and we went to a lot of similarly aged friends’ weddings that summer and the following summers. This summer my 22-year-old brother is marrying his high school sweetheart.)

My husband and I certainly didn’t feel pressure to marry. In fact, my dad had reservations, and living in New York City made us feel a bit crazy for marrying so young. And I don’t think that my friends felt pressure to marry either. Thankfully, there is the recognition today that the single life can be deeply meaningful, too.

So why did we? Read More

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04.27.2013 2:53 PM

Marriage Media
Week of April 21, 2013
Courtesy of Bill Coffin

1. The Affluent Are Fine; Focus on the Poor, The New York Times: Room for Debate

Yet, many of our transfer policies — like housing assistance and food stamps — unintentionally penalize marriage among lower-income couples.

2. The Impact of Divorce, “Maybe I Do”: Modern Marriage and the Pursuit of Happiness – Kevin Andrews

In 1990, Jane Mauldon of the University of California at Berkeley found that children of divorce run a 35 percent risk of developing health problems, compared with a 26 percent risk among all children.

3. An Economy That’s Tearing Our Society Apart, The Washington Post

It’s hard to overstate the breakdown of marriage and the rise of single-parent families. Consider out-of-wedlock births. In 1980, about 18 percent of births were to unmarried women; by 2009, the proportion was 41 percent.

4. More Young Couples Commit – To Homeownership Before Marriage, Time: Business & Money

Nearly one-quarter (24%) of polled married couples ages 18 to 34 said that they purchased a home before they were married.

5. Seven Things You Don’t Know About Interfaith Marriage, Fox News

A quarter of couples in same-faith marriages actually started off in different faith ones. This suggests not only that religion in America is remarkably fluid, but also that spouses can have a powerful influence over one’s spiritual choices.

6. Voting for National Fatherhood Initiative’s 2013 Military Fatherhood Award™ Opens on Facebook, PRWeb 

National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) has selected the four finalists for the 2013 Military Fatherhood Award™, and now it is up to the public to choose the awardee on NFI’s Facebook page.

7. I’m So in Love — Or Am I? 10 Experiences That Signal You Are in Love, Huffington Post

  • 1. You are operating as a loving adult, not as your ego-wounded self.
  • 6. You are committed to working through conflict in loving ways.
  • 9. You don’t expect to be on cloud nine all the time.

For more, see here.

Could Pregnancy be a Reason NOT to Get Married?

04.22.2013 1:49 PM

In “Promises I Can Keep,”  Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas find that among the poor single mothers they interviewed,  “Nearly everyone has a morality tale to tell of two fools who rushed into marriage only to divorce.”

And, “The harshest condemnation is reserved for those who marry because of pregnancy. Such marriages, they believe, are almost certain to end in divorce, and thus benefit neither the couple nor the child.”

My wife, Amber, and I are finding the same thing in our research with white, high-school-educated young adults in one small Ohio town. The young adults we interviewed are generally very reluctant to give advice to others about relationships. But on this point they are not shy.

For instance, one mother, Erica, says she felt pressure from her grandma to get married to her high school sweetheart when she got pregnant with her second child, only to separate soon after getting married. She now advises people, “Don’t get married because you have a kid with somebody. I have a new thing: if you have a kid with somebody, don’t just keep trying to make the relationship work out…. Because it’s not healthy for the kid, it’s not healthy for anything.”

After hearing this sentiment repeatedly, Amber and I are beginning to wonder: For an unmarried couple, could the news of pregnancy act as a reason not to get married—even if the couple might be otherwise thinking about marriage?

Even if there is still a social expectation among one’s grandparents and great-aunts that an unmarried couple who gets pregnant should “do the right thing” and get married, might there be a social stigma among young adults—among one’s peers—about getting married because of the kids?

From our interviews, we have reasons to think that this may be true.

For instance, Myron, 23 (whom I wrote about previously at, did get married to his high school sweetheart when he found that she was pregnant. Even though he says he had every intention of breaking off their engagement because of what he describes as her “mean” treatment of him, the news that she was pregnant with his child changed his mind.

“I was like, ‘Well, I’m gonna marry her, and it’s my kid. That’s awesome. That’s my kid.’” However, a few months into marriage, she admitted that she was cheating on him, and he filed for divorce.

Looking back, he describes his first journey into marriage as “not the right way to do this.” Instead of marrying her because he loved her, he listened to people like his grandpa, who warned him that “you’ve gotta marry her or she’s gonna get you for child support the rest of your life.”

When I interviewed Myron, he was engaged to Christa, who was pregnant with their child. This time around, Myron was explicit that he was not getting married because they were having a child.

“We don’t wanna rush into anything,” he says. “I don’t want Christa to feel like we’re getting married because we’re having a baby.”

He then took pains to note that although he proposed after they found out they were having a baby, “I had already picked out the ring, had already taken her ring shopping. I already planned on getting married.” In fact, he says that his plan was to wait until after the baby was born to propose. But eventually, “I couldn’t hold it no longer.”

But, he is careful to say, “I want to be married to her, but I want her to have her wedding. I want her to have what she wants on her terms, not because of anything else.”

As the “Knot Yet” report points out, “Marriage has shifted from being the cornerstone to the capstone of adult life.” And the capstone model does not think about marriage and children as a package deal. Marriage is primarily about love between two adults. To the extent that it is about children, it’s the “glue” (as one working class woman whom we interviewed described it) that brings all the children from different parents together into one family.

This shift in the meaning of marriage may help to explain why some young adults are putting off marriage even as they are starting a family—traditionally one of the reasons to get married. If there are more stories like that of Myron, it would mean that some young adults may be delaying marriage—at least for a time—precisely because they want to avoid the appearance of getting married “just because” they are having a child.

Of course, the first time Myron got married, he did not delay marriage precisely because he was having a child. And just as his first failed marriage was a morality tale for him about how not to do things, now that we have had at least a couple generations of “shotgun-wedding-then-quick-divorce,” I wonder if we have reached a turning point where young adults coming of age today are adapting to the failed shotgun marriages they have seen and heard about: marriage is not about children; marriage and children are two completely separate things. And the “right” thing to do, they think, is to get married because you love the person—and for that reason only.

Although the dichotomy that many young adults erect in their minds about marriage between children and love is understandable—particularly because of the loveless shotgun marriages they have witnessed—I think it is unfortunate. Because it is true that one of the most important purposes of marriage is to unite a child to his mother and father. However, young adults are not entirely wrong, I think, in their moral intuition that a marriage must come into being for the sake of love. Without love, a marriage is just a prosaic institution, not a personal relationship. And who wants to live in a prosaic institution?

Building a thriving marriage culture that breaks through class lines will mean inviting young adults to appreciate that marriage is both/and: both about love and children. In fact, because marriage is about love, marriage is also about children: as a couple’s love and trust matures, so does their desire to share themselves completely with each other, to the point that they wish to have a mutual share in a new person, and to found a new family.

Now, there’s a good reason to get married!

Cross-posted at

Rights, Obligations, “Honoring the Struggle,” “Remembering the Reward”

04.19.2013 10:26 AM

I found the conversation with Larry Mead and David Blankenhorn last night at the Center for Public Conversation extremely helpful in terms of how to talk about strengthening marriage. (The video should be up in the next few days.) Larry talked about how for so long, academics and politicians emphasized the rights of poor people, and social barriers to their thriving. However, while completely acknowledging that these are important, he also emphasizes that poor people, like everyone else, have obligations as citizens to fulfill. In order to have rights, you have to be a participant in society.

Then he started talking about rights and obligations in terms of marriage. He suggested that our society should be more insistent about upholding marriage as a common obligation. (I would specify here that it should be an obligation for those who aspire to lifelong love, and to have a family.  We must honor those people who wish to remain single, or to take on a vow of celibacy. Marriage is not the only ticket to the good life.)

But, Larry insisted, we can’t just uphold marriage as a common obligation–we can’t just have high standards. We have to help people to fulfill the obligation, to live up to the standard. This, he suggested, means ”honoring the struggle” that comes with marriage: the struggle of two selfish human being trying to love each other for life. Sometimes, he noted, a marriage is effectively destroyed before death does them part. For that reason, not all couples will, or should, remain together.

But, marriage is a struggle, and he suggested, we as a society need to be more candid about that struggle. He suggested that in the not-so-distant past, we did have a strong marriage culture that upheld the obligations of marriage–but that did a poor job of honoring the struggle of marriage. Just as a teacher sets high standards for his students ,and then seeks to help them meet those high standards, so we as a society need high standards for marriage, and we need to help people to meet those standards. (I’m not sure what that looks like–but the idea sounds promising.) We need to be open as a society about the difficulties of marriage. Larry suggested that we need biographies of married couples that show the struggle and the reward. I would add that we also  need movies that show this.

Finally, Larry said, in addition to honoring the struggle of marriage, it’s important to “remember the reward” of marriage, ”the pearl of great price”: enduring love–and I would add, an enduring family. This, Larry suggested, is “the good news about marriage”: it really is possible for love to endure. And, again, I would add, it really is possible for a family to remain intact and endure as a touchstone down through the generations as a rock of love and stability.

As Larry noted, the good fruit that comes from marriage is not magical. You don’t automatically get it as a result of getting married. Marriage is not magic. Marriage is a “school of love,” to use a favorite phrase of Catholic theologians.

But in order to get the fruit, you have to participate in marriage.

I would add that participating in marriage also requires confidence; confidence in the character of the other person, and confidence that, if two people of good will and character give it a shot, love can endure.

This confidence is what many poor and working class people, for good reason, lack. There is a low stock of trust capital. Helping people to fulfill the obligation of marriage will require helping young adults to rebuild trust in each other, and in marriage as a capable guide to enduring love, and to an enduring family.

Thanks, David and Larry, for a thought-provoking conversation.


The Conversation with David Blankenhorn TONIGHT

04.18.2013 12:56 PM

Join us tonight (live in Manhattan at the Center for Public Conversation or on-line!) when David Blankenhorn converses with Professor Lawrence M. Mead about “Is Marriage Gap Driving American Inequality?” By clicking here you can sign up to receive a reminder e-mail right before the event begins.  Also, tonight we will be live-tweeting the event–you can live-tweet your comments and questions too, using #IAVMead.  As usual we will include questions from the on-line audience at the end of the conversation!  Follow us on Twitter and stay up to date on the conversation!

You can read more from Professor Lawrence Mead from our recent Valentine’s Day Symposium!

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04.18.2013 8:31 AM

Marriage Media
Week of April 14, 2013
Courtesy of Bill Coffin

1. An Interactive Look at Declining Divorce Rates,

Contrary to popular belief, America has seen a decline in divorce rates over the last 20 years. Use the interactive graphic. . . to see how the divorce rates have declined in your state and across the country.

2. Women Are Choosing Cohabitation Before Marriage, Medical News Today

Many cohabitations happen at a young age, with one-quarter of females cohabiting by age 20. Within the first year of living together, close to 20 percent became pregnant and gave birth.

3. How To Be a Happy Working Dad, Part One, GGSC at University of California, Berkeley

But even though our time with kids has tripled since the mid-sixties, the Pew Report finds that we’re two times more likely than moms to say we’re not spending enough.

[Tips included, such as: Kill your commute.]

4. Okla. Bills Aim To Cut Divorce, But Doubts Persist, San Francisco Chronicle

Nelson’s bill on divorce education. . . cover[s] co-parenting and the impact of divorce on children, and the form of education — whether a half-hour video or four-hour session — is largely up to the district.

5. CNY Sees Highest Divorce Numbers In Nine Years, YNN

“But I think a lot of people who, in the past, were resigned to the fact that they had to just stay in an unhappy marriage for financial reasons or because they didn’t necessarily meet the grounds for divorce. . . now they feel a little more comfortable.”

6. Knot Yet, Huffington Post Live [30 minute clip]

As the average marrying age rises in the US, do the distinctive relationship burdens, social implications, and financial consequences that come with the institution of marriage potentially worsen?

7. The Controversial Letter to the Editor of The Daily Princetonian

For more, see here.

BREAKING: New Zealand Lawmakers Burst into Song Upon Enacting Marriage Equality

04.17.2013 10:16 AM

(thanks to my wife for the link!)

On Wednesday, local time, the New Zealand House of Commons passed a bill allowing same-sex marriage (they have had civil unions for same-sex couples since 2005). Upon declaration of the passage of the bill, the chamber burst into song.

Here is a video, which I think is adorable and absolutely made my day.

Congratulations New Zealanders of all orientations!

Should Tax Rates Penalize Marriage?

04.14.2013 8:55 PM

Interesting discussion at today’s “Room for Debate” concerning marriage and the tax code:

“Even with marriage in the news this spring, it’s easy to forget that it comes at a price: the “marriage penalty” hits many couples on tax day. Federal tax rates generally discourage dual-income couples from getting married, and encourage single-earner couples to marry.

Does this mixed message make sense? Is there a better approach?” Read More…

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04.13.2013 3:59 PM

Marriage Media
Week of April 7, 2013
Courtesy of Bill Coffin

1. Tie the Knot: Why Are So Many Twentysomethings Having Children Before Getting Married?, Slate

The reality is that children born to unmarried twentysomething parents are three times more likely to grow up with a disorienting carousel of adults coming and going in the home, compared to children born to married parents.

2. Counting the Cost of Family Failure: £46bn and Still Rising, Relationships Foundation

[T]he breakdown of relationships continues to be a huge charge on the public purse and has risen to £46bn a year (equivalent to a cost of £1,541 per taxpayer).

3. Marriage and Historical Inevitability, The New York Times

[I]f conservatives would profit from acknowledging the economic forces shaping these realities, liberals would profit from acknowledging that maybe. . . a cultural transformation that they’ve long favored is coming at a cost.

4. People Who Marry Young Are Happier, But Those Who Marry Later Earn More, The Washington Post

It’s uncontroversial at this point that marriage, in general, makes you happier, due to the work of Dartmouth’s David Blanchflower. It seems that’s true with twenty-somethings, too.

5. A ‘Gray Divorce’ Boom, The LA Times

One in three baby boomers is currently single, and these boomers are more vulnerable both economically and socially compared with married boomers.

6.  Young Opponents of Gay Marriage Undaunted by Battle Ahead, The New York Times

They identify themselves as part of the “pro-marriage movement” and see themselves at the beginning of a long political struggle, much like the battle over abortion.

7. The Difference Between a Happy Marriage and Miserable One: Chores, The Atlantic

According to a 2007 Pew Research Poll, sharing household chores was in the top three highest-ranking issues associated with a successful marriage—third only to faithfulness and good sex.

For more, see here.

Love is a Climb, Not a Fall

04.11.2013 3:44 PM

My friend from college, Marilette Sanchez, recently posted an especially vulnerable story on her blog about the “3 things I learned from my almost-break-up.”

What struck me most was this sentence, “Love is a climb, not a fall.”  Maybe this is a cliché, but I hadn’t heard it before, and it seems to me to be a helpful way of thinking about love in the long haul. In our soundbyte culture, I think that compact nuggets of wisdom, like this, can be especially helpful for young adults as we form our thoughts about love. In my humble opinion, this little sentence is Facebook meme-worthy.

The “Ennead Awards.” How can you not LOVE the use of the word ennead?

04.10.2013 1:01 PM

John Culhane has offered some simultaneously insightful and witty analysis of SCOTUS at HuffPost.

“Well, folks, as we settle into the long lull between the arguments to the Supreme Court on Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act and the expected decision in late June, allow me to present the First-Ever Ennead Awards. There are — conveniently — nine categories, to wit:…” Read more…

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04.06.2013 8:44 AM

Marriage Media
Week of March 31, 2013
Courtesy of Bill Coffin

1.  Nine Facts about Marriage and Childbirth in the United States, The Washington Post

  1. The average age for childbearing is now younger than the average age for marriage
  2. We are very near the “tipping point” when most births will happen out of wedlock.
  3. Most unwed mothers are not teen mothers . . .

An article on Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America. For more, see #2-#7.

2. The Other Marriage Inequality: Column, USA Today

[I]t turns out that marriage inequality is one of the biggest things making people less equal, accounting for as much as 40% of the difference in incomes: “It is the privileged Americans who are marrying, and marrying helps them stay privileged.”

3. The New Unmarried Mom, The Wall Street Journal 

If 30 is the new 20, today’s unmarried 20-somethings are the new teen moms. And the tragic consequences are much the same: children raised in homes that often put them at an enormous disadvantage from the very start of life.

4. Study: Delaying Marriage Hurts Middle-Class Americans Most, The Washington Post

“When they can’t get the white picket fence, and a certain level of stability,” they defer marriage and have higher rates of nonmarital births. That in turn fuels more poverty, and takes them further away from the white picket fence.”

5. Knot Yet: The Future of Marriage in the U.S., The Brookings Institution

The great crossover in childbearing and marriage is concentrated among the 60 percent of young adults who have a high school degree but not a college degree. [The great crossover is "the fact that the age of first marriage. . . now lags the average age of first birth by about a year" (Source #7).]

6. The Case for Getting Married Young, The Atlantic

Culturally, young adults have increasingly come to see marriage as a “capstone” rather than a “cornerstone”—that is, something they do after they have all their other ducks in a row, rather than a foundation for launching into adulthood and parenthood.

7. Late Marriage and Its Consequences, The New York Times

So while the new romantic landscape doesn’t offer automatic benefits to the upper class and automatic costs to everyone else, it does create a situation where the people who need the least help figuring out the wisest life course have multiple clear paths to take, and the people who would most benefit from a simple map to responsible adulthood can easily end up in a maze instead.

For more, see here.

Democratic Senators rush to support same-sex marriage

04.05.2013 7:20 PM

Matt Bors gets it exactly right:

Wonkblog has a good chart showing how fast support for gay marriage has grown in the Senate:

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very glad this is happening. But I can see the humor in it, as well. (By the way, the above graph is a couple of days old, and thus already out of date. The current number of Senators supporting SSM is 53.)

Dan Amara and Jon Chait point out that there are only four remaining holdouts among Democratic senators, and try to game out who will be the very last one:

Read More

“On Being” Episode with Blankenhorn and Rauch

04.05.2013 3:04 PM

Over the next week, NPR will be replaying the On Being conversation with David Blankhorn and Jonathan Rauch from last fall.  Krista Tippett hosts the show and explores their friendship and thoughts on marriage.  I had a chance to read through some of the reflections (AKA comments) at the site from last fall and there are many thoughtful and moving entries.

The Case for Early Marriage is a Case for Courtship

04.04.2013 10:32 AM

I appeared on HuffPost Live last night to talk about delayed marriage and its consequences. One thing that I didn’t get to say, but that is extremely important to say, is that there is no such thing as a right age to marry for everyone. However, there is such a thing as a right way to go about courtship (if I may use that ancient and beautiful word): to be intentional in relationships, and specifically, to court with a view toward marriage. And if young adults do this, more young adults will get married in their early-mid 20’s.

Also, Amanda Marcotte, who wrote the Slate article, “The Case Against Marrying Young,”  noted that many young adults are wary of getting married young because they saw their parents get married young and get divorced. This is a legitimate concern.

However, as I noted, what many working class young adults are instead doing isn’t any better: they are still forming intimate relationships and starting families – the only thing that’s missing, as they say, is “the piece of paper.” And when these young couples break up – and many of them do break up – they experience something like an invisible divorce. For instance, consider the emotional state and family situation of Ricky, the four-times engaged but never married father I wrote about recently.

So many working class young adults find themselves in a predicament: get married and make themselves vulnerable to divorce, or delay marriage and make themselves vulnerable to a string of broken relationships, and if they have children, a fragmented family.

The way out of this predicament, I would suggest, is for communities to come alongside young adults and encourage them to embrace intentional relationships and to embrace “the marriage idea”: the commitment to love and sacrifice for your spouse and family until death. In other words, for communities to rebuild marriage as a formative institution that guides young, passionate lovers to becoming old, mature lovers.

And I emphasize the role of communities here, because it really does take a village to build and sustain a good marriage.

Kind, smart, lovely people sometimes support bigoted public policy

04.04.2013 5:54 AM

Last month, Family Scholars reader Teresa asked me:

Barry, Anna J, can you help tease this out a bit more, for me, regarding ssm. Is the position opposing ssm, which I profess, existentially a bigoted position?

I answered at the time, but the comment thread ran out almost before anyone responded to me. So I thought I’d reopen the discussion, using the answer I gave Teresa (although I’ve edited somewhat).

So, Teresa, to answer your question: Yes. I think your position unjustly treats the needs and wants of lgbt people as less important than those of others, which is my definition of a bigoted position.

But let me rush to say that’s not to say that you’re a bigot, a hateful person, or acting out of spite or out of “yuk.” From the little I’ve seen of you online, you seem like a lovely person, not at all hateful.

I don’t know if you’re a bigot or not personally, because I don’t know you that well. But if you do have some bigoted attitudes that you need to fight against, that doesn’t make you a bad person. Nor do I think that makes you any different from me. Or from most people. Surely we all have some prejudices and bigotries inside that we have to work on.

History makes it clear that good, sincere people who are not hateful, can nonetheless hold bigoted positions. It’s impossible to look at the history of (for example) anti-semitism without finding plenty of genuinely kind people, people who really did have Jewish friends, nonetheless advocating things like “exclusive” clubs.

I think that one thing we should admit to is that being a nice person, a non-hateful person, a loving person, a genuinely good person, does not make us immune from holding bigoted positions.

When it comes to public policy, bigotry isn’t a personal flaw; it’s a social atmosphere.

In the social atmosphere of the 1950s and 1960s, everyone was so used to believing that Jews didn’t need to be treated equally that even good, kind, loving people had a hard time seeing why it was wrong for places like country clubs to have rules against Jewish members.

In the 1970s, it was a radical position to be opposed to laws that made gay sex illegal. For most of the 20th century, police routinely raided and shut down gay bars and nightclubs, and amazingly few people could see that it was wrong to do that. The reason people had trouble seeing it is not that people in the 20th century were stupid, or mean, or hateful. My grandparents, for example, were not stupid or mean or hateful. But they were raised from birth in an atmosphere gave them little reason to question such practices.

But those practices were, nonetheless, bigoted public policy.

So when I say that being against legal SSM is a bigoted policy, that’s all I’m saying. I’m not saying that those who oppose SSM are bigots (no more so than anyone else, anyhow); I’m not denying that they are frequently smart, loving, and kind people.

I do think, however, that legal inequality for same-sex couples is a policy that only makes sense to so many smart, loving, kind people because we were all raised in a society in which discrimination against lgbt people has been the norm. Being raised in that society has obscured our vision. In a society in which most people are raised from birth to think of lgbt people as equal to everyone else – a society much like the US will be in a quarter-century, I suspect – legal inequality will seem like the strange and unjust policy it is.

I know that by even bringing this up, I will be accused of trying to shut down discussion, of being a bully, of trying to emotionally blackmail people, etc.. I don’t think those are fair accusations. I’m just someone who thinks that bigotry is an important issue that should be discussed, not ignored.

Should We Focus Less on Marriage and More on Stable Cohabitation?

04.03.2013 8:21 PM

At the recent Brookings Institution event about the findings of the “Knot Yet” report, Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and former executive director of the White House Task Force on the Middle Class, concluded his portion of the panel with this statement: “We should focus less on marriage and more on stable cohabitation.”

Sociologist Andrew Cherlin echoed a similar, although more tempered, sentiment when he said, “The problem though is not cohabitation per se; the problem is Americanstyle cohabitation. We have the shortest duration of cohabitating unions of any western country…. So, yes, marriage is very important, but so is stability and sometimes we might be able to encourage stability even if we can’t successfully encourage marriage and that might be a worthy goal.”

I’m all for finding ways to help my cohabiting friends and neighbors with children become more stable. I’ve watched sadly as the 20-something cohabiting couple next door went from attached-at-the-hip inloveness as they delighted in parenting their toddler son together, to the bitterness of a break up brought on by cheating, to the birth of a second child and now to the ambiguity of late night visits and subsequent all-nighters spent trying to piece the relationship back together before he has to leave in the dusky dawn morning for his electrician’s job in a nearby city 45 minutes away.

But to me, the point popular among elites—that our energies would best be spent on stabilizing cohabitation, not fussing over marriage—largely misses the point.

Why? Because as cited in the Knot Yet report, the majority of American young adults still want marriage. To say that we should not focus on promoting marriage but rather on making cohabitation more stable is to ignore the aspirations of most cohabiting couples. Furthermore, it is unclear to me how one would go about stabilizing cohabitation without imposing on it many of the same expectations and norms of marriage.

Among the Middle American demographic—defined as the almost 60 percent of high school educated adults who have a high school diploma but no four year college degree—it is rare to meet someone who sees lifelong cohabitation as the preferred long-term alternative to marriage. Of the 74 high school educated young adults my husband and I interviewed as part of the Love and Marriage in Middle America Project, only one of them said that he straight up did not believe in marriage. Ironically, he was happily married. (He explained that he married to accommodate his Jehovah’s Witness parents, but that as an agnostic he personally saw no point in marriage and would have been fine with lifelong cohabitation.)

So while most Middle Americans cohabit at one point or another, most also want to get married to someone eventually. In their view, living together is what you do in the meantime, while you discern if this is the right person for marriage and get to a basic level of financial independence—but cohabitation is not the end goal.

Given this understanding, cohabitation is by definition unstable. It is a place of deciding, whereas marriage is the decision.  It is a process, or journey; marriage is the culmination, or destination. In the minds of Middle Americans, marriage is what you do when you are certain, when you’re stable. Cohabitation is what happens while you try to get to that point.

Read More

Will Liberals Help to Save Marriage? Starts 6 pm EST

04.03.2013 5:38 PM

Join host David Blankenhorn in conversation with Peter Steinfels, professor at Fordham University and former New York Times “Beliefs” columnist, and Institute affiliate scholar Amy Ziettlow, co-author of the recent report Does the Shape of Families Shape Faith, starting at 6 pm eastern time in a live streamed, live blogged event at our Center for Public Conversation.

Thoughts on the Fullness of Humanity

04.02.2013 3:26 PM

Access to marriage=Access to human dignity

The above equation is one thought I hope to explore during tomorrow night’s conversation with David Blankenhorn and Peter Steinfels.  How might we build on this belief that access to marriage is synonymous with access to full humanity.  Or, the converse, if we explicitly or implicitly believe that someone should not have access to marriage are we also saying that they do not have access to the fullness of human dignity?  As someone who has supported the access of gays and lesbians to marriage for some time, I hope that we can be inspired by the relatively rapid shift in public opinion towards this civil rights issue and begin to think about other populations whom we explicitly or implicitly deny full access to marriage.  For example, the elderly.  I do not think that our current policies and practices of providing long term care nor our societal support and honor for family care-giving in general begins in a place that honors the marriages of older Americans, in part because many of our current policies treat the vulnerable old as a burden, as less than fully human.

Another population that comes to mind is the incarcerate and/or previously incarcerated.  John Maki, of the John Howard Association, Illinois’ only prison watchdog agency, writes an insightful piece today at HuffPost on the current debates in Illinois on the current and future state of prison healthcare in a time when the prison population is and will be defined by long term chronic care conditions of inmates considered elderly at 50 plus years of age.  He is looking at Illinois, but New Jersey and California have also been struggling with prison over-crowding and attempts at consolidation as well as trying to meet the specialized needs of an often mentally ill, aging, and generally infirm prison population.

“Apart from overseeing the care of its general population, IDOC also struggles to treat the growing number of inmates with special needs. For instance, over the past decade, Illinois’ elderly prison population grew by more than 300 percent, far outstripping increases in other age groups. While exact estimates vary and there is no Illinois-specific data, it is widely accepted that U.S. prisons and jails house more mentally ill people than psychiatric hospitals. Additionally, a 2010 study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that 65 percent of the U.S. prison population meets the DSM IV medical criteria for substance abuse or addiction, though only 11 percent receive treatment.

These special populations and the costs associated with their care stem from decades of choices made by elected officials with the support of the public. Decisions to lengthen sentences, mandate harsher punishments for drug-based offenses, and close public mental health institutions have filled IDOC with inmates who are drug addicted, mentally ill, and growing older. As a consequence, state prisons have become de facto hospitals, asylums, drug treatments facilities, and retirement homes…

IDOC’s health care system is not just an issue for the state’s prisons. Every year, about 30,000 inmates leave IDOC to return to their communities. If the prison system is not able to meet its health care obligations, cities, counties, and the general public will inevitably pay a higher price when inmates are released, with increased transmissions of infectious diseases, emergency room visits, and higher recidivism rates…” Read more…

Now, granted, unlike with gays and lesbians we do not have outright laws against the elderly or the incarcerated or formerly incarcerated accessing marriage.  However, I am inspired by the current movement towards marriage equality for gays and lesbians to think not only of how we explicitly discriminate against others but also how we implicitly and structurally create second-class citizens of our neighbors.

What Matters in “Gay Marriage” – “Gay” or “Married”?

04.02.2013 8:33 AM

I often joke with friends and family about how my wife and I are “gay married,” as if this is something different from being … “married.” Perhaps we same-sex couples do everything with our sexual orientation front and center? In that case, this past weekend I celebrated a gay birthday by going gayly out to dinner at a restaurant. I did some gay crocheting, took a gay nap, and wrote a few gay letters to friends.

This is, by and large, a lighthearted amusement. But the “joke” is also grounded in our bone-deep recognition that some people do view every aspect of our lives as unalterably tattooed by our sexual “perversions.” Our being gay – or practicing gay sex – is the attribute that marks us out for differential treatment. Some people would argue it requires differential treatment.

I thought of this other, less amusing use of the phrase “gay marriage” or “same-sex marriage” last Friday when I listened to an On Point news hour reviewing the Supreme Court oral arguments on DOMA and Proposition 8.  The host, Tom Ashbrook, spoke with two guests — law professors Suzanne Goldberg (pro-marriage equality) and Teresa Collett (anti-)– about the arguments. In discussing DOMA, Collett followed the lead of defense lawyer Paul Clement, representing BLAG, in arguing that what the DOMA law sought to achieve was not any sort of discrimination between gay and straight marriages, but rather to impose legal uniformity.

From the oral argument transcript (p. 62-63):

Mr. CLEMEN T: … Ms. Windsor wants to point to the unfairness of the differential treatment of treating two New York married couples differently, and of course for purposes of New York law that’s exactly the right focus, but for purposes of Federal law it’s much more rational for Congress to — to say, and certainly a rational available choice, for Congress to say, we want to treat the same-sex couple in New York the same way as the committed same-sex couple in Oklahoma and treat them the same. Or even more to the point for purposes -­

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: But that’s begging the question, because you are treating the married couples differently.

I want to point out a couple of features of this exchange.

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