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March 04, 2007

The Privileged, Matrimonial Few

Interesting story from the Washington Post: Numbers drop for the married with children

Punctuating a fundamental change in American family life, married couples with children now occupy fewer than one in every four households -- a share that has been slashed in half since 1960 and is the lowest ever recorded by the census.
As marriage with children becomes an exception rather than the norm, social scientists say it is also becoming the self-selected province of the college-educated and the affluent. The working class and the poor, meanwhile, increasingly steer away from marriage, while living together and bearing children out of wedlock.
"The culture is shifting, and marriage has almost become a luxury item, one that only the well educated and well paid are interested in," said Isabel V. Sawhill, an expert on marriage and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

And for those who believe that is all a matter of modern ideas breaking down traditional ideas of marriage and child-raising, here's a quote from you, into which I'll add my own emphasis: "'We seem to be reverting to a much older pattern, when elites marry and a great many others live together and have kids,' said Peter Francese, demographic trends analyst for Ogilvy & Mather, an advertising firm." What's old is new again.

Some various thoughts on this:

* One of the very interesting and problematical things in the story is a reason many people give for not getting married, which is that they feel they can't afford it. This despite general evidence that shows being married stabilizes one's finances rather than causes hardships (anecdotally, this was certainly the case with me; when I met Krissy all my bills were on third notices because I just didn't get around to paying them on time. Krissy took over the finances and I stopped having to worry if my electricity was going out).

I think to some unknown extent worrying about the cost of being married is a convenient excuse not to get married for other reasons -- lots of people of marriageable age right now are the products of divorce, so any excuse not to screw up like their parents did is a good one -- but this doesn't mean that I think it's being used as an excuse by everyone. In particular I wonder whether how much of "I don't think we can afford to get married" translates into "I don't want to mix my financial life with someone else's." Lots of people of marriageable age are running around without health insurance, and so are their potential spouses; how many of them are thinking "do I want to be responsible for this person's medical bills?" Likewise, how many of them want to be on the hook for a dual-income-requiring mortgage if the spouse loses a job? And so on. Adding a child to this equation adds another level of uncertainty.

Which leads to an interesting thought experiment: Would universal health care lead to an increase in the willingness of young couples, particularly poor and working-class couples, to marry? That's one less major expense to be phobic about, after all. And, if there were evidence that showed a correlation between universal health care and higher rates of marriage (particularly among working class and poor couples), would social conservatives, who appear to be generally against universal health care, be persuaded to be for it? Bear in mind I call this a thought experiment for a reason: I don't know the marriage rates in, say, Canada or the UK and whether they are trending differently than those in the US.

* The article notes while there's a racial dimension to who is not marrying, the rather more relevant indicator is class -- the better off you are, the less likely you are to co-habitate or have a child outside of a marriage (and this has been the case for some time). It also notes that the affluent and college-educated are less likely to "marry down" -- marry someone who is not of a similar level of education or income. As a side effect of the affluent marrying the affluent (and the not affluent not marrying as much), the household income disparity between classes is going up. Which is to say that to some extent the decline of marriage is contributing to systematic economic inequalities in the US.

I don't think this means that those in the poor or working classes are doomed to a life of unmarriageability. What I do wonder about is whether those people who raise their class level via education/income leave behind potential marriage partners, and I wonder if intentional or unintentional snobbery is making those people already affluent leave potential partners out of consideration. Anecdotally, I know that black women who have gotten educations or have good jobs are less inclined to marry to black men who are less educated or who have poor job prospects; I suspect these women are not so much outliers as pioneers. There are more women than men entering college and getting degrees, and as they build their own economic and class position, they're going to quite reasonably ask why they should bother considering men who are not their equals in position. This is the genesis of the "all the good ones are taken" line. How many good men -- "good" in the sense of being a useful and loving partner -- are being excluded from consideration?

It's not just the women who do this sort of sorting, of course. Men do it too. Speaking as a member of the educated and affluent class, with one exception I can't think of any man I know who is also educated and affluent who didn't marry someone of equivalent economical and educational stature (there are no "trophy wives" in my peer circle to skew this determination). And likewise, I wonder how many good women are being excluded from marriage consideration because of this social sorting.

(The exception, incidentally, was me -- when Krissy and I met, she was both economically and educationally a step down the ladder from me. And I would be lying if I said to you that for a small time in the early part of our relationship I didn't wonder if it was going to be a problem. This got solved when I realized that she was actually smarter and more sensible than I and if I got stuck on class considerations rather than looking at the actual person I would be stone moron and would deserve the couple-less and lonely life that would inevitably follow. And now, as it happens, Krissy has more degrees than I do and is the one whose job has all the nice benefits and perks, so if someone wants to discuss "marrying down," there'll be some argument as which of us was doing the marrying down. As it is, I know I got lucky. Krissy was the right person for me, period.)

* I am proponent of marriage and the benefits it provides to the adults and the children in it (so much so that I wish to let same-sex couples and their children share in those benefits, which I understands annoys some people), and I think it would be sad if it basically became to province of the well-off, who already have so many things as it is. If one wants encourage marriage (and childbearing and childrearing within it), I think one would consider encouraging the social and economic aspects that in turn encourage marriage. If I had to pick one thing, I think I would focus on education. I'd want to make sure that public elementary and secondary education were uniformly excellent in the United States (which right now it is not) to encourage children of all economic classes to continue the educations that correlate to economic security (and thus, marriage), and that our students didn't leave college or graduate/professional schools so overburdened with debt that they fear marriage will worsen their economic situation rather than improve it.

I suspect this would do a better job of preserving marriage than, say, blocking certain couple from engaging in it, or making it more difficult to divorce once one is married. And in any event the end result would be a better educated populace, from which would stem other, non-marriage-related benefits. Everybody wins.

Thoughts on any or all of this?

Posted by john at March 4, 2007 02:09 PM

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gMike | March 4, 2007 02:44 PM

As I read your comments I kept waiting for the effects of meeting the "right" person to come out. You redeemed yourself, in my eyes, with the following:

This got solved when I realized that she was actually smarter and more sensible than I and if I got stuck on class considerations rather than looking at the actual person I would be stone moron and would deserve the couple-less and lonely life that would inevitably follow.

I recently gave some advice to a young man on the occasion of his 18th birthday,the most important piece was, find a woman whose particular brand of craziness matches your own. I didn't do so and have been happily divorced for 28 years and with the same woman for 21 of those years. No, we haven't married..........yet.

V's Herbie | March 4, 2007 02:50 PM

Part of the "we can't afford to get married" equation is the cost of the ceremony itself. A quick google brought up this site which lists the average wedding cost at $30K. So unless your parents can pay for your wedding, you can't hope to put on the kind of party that's expected.

MWT | March 4, 2007 03:03 PM

I rather like the way they do things in Scandinavia, where the pattern is "meet and date --> move in together --> have children --> get married (maybe)." There, the culture focuses commitment more toward bringing up the children together.

It sounds like they have the whole "family values" thing worked out a lot better, actually. Longer maternity leaves, paternity leaves, much more flexibility about taking off work when a kid is sick, etc.

timelady | March 4, 2007 03:18 PM

1) weddings dont HAVE to cost obscene amounts - its the media and bridal industry, and the 'i want to be a princess' culture where the wedding is the focus, not the commitment. thus i often suspect that the more the wedding costs, and the more it becomes about the 'bride as a princess', the more likely the marriage is to fail. when its all about MEEEEE, its not about becoming US.

2) Australia, where i am from, has reasonable health care (its not perfect, but it does beat the American system from what i can see), and our divorce/unmarried rate is similar to the US. s is the rise of childlessness. (I have so many friends who said that my horde of five is their contribution too, to save them doing it;) )

3) generalisation : its a selfish society, this western society atm...and selfish people make lousy commitment types. and we are a society of increasing litigation and blame instead of just deling with stuff - again, lousy in a marriage (or any type of commitment).

4) marriage is HARD work. its good work, but damned hard nonetheless. the rewards are amazing, but it is really tough sometimes, in the rough bits everyone goes through, to just plow through, and work together.

5) choosing the right one to commit to is also hard. so many mr right nows, so few mr rights:)

6) not letting same sex couples legally marry is mind bogglingly insane.

my 'up since 4 with smallest lad' type ranting and opnion:)

Robb | March 4, 2007 03:19 PM

I hardly know where to begin.

I'll preface by saying that I'm very much in the minority these days. I'm married, with kids, and both my wife and I are first spouses of one another and are the product of parents who are still together after nearly 40 years of marriage. We did the "conventional" approach with the one wrinkle of co-habitating prior to marriage, which these days is considered somewhat normal. We're both college educated and would consider to be reasonably privelidged by most

I've seen most every other kind of situation in the last several years - divorces - with and without kids, unmarried couples who resulted in children but who then split up, same-sex couples with and without children, and unmarried mothers who marry and then have more kids. I've never bothered to consider what makes one of these relationships work when others don't. And by "work", it doesn't mean that the couple necessarily stays together. In some cases I'd consider a couple that split up but who are still friendly and care jointly for a child to be a success.

For the record, I don't know if health care cost is really what's holding people back from marriage. For sure it's a frightening prospect, health costs today. If you're young, I suspect that you don't think much about it unless you already have children. If you do, odds are that the children are the main concern for health care, and if there are two adults working toward that goal it would seem more secure. Also, if both adults are working (very common today) one or both may have employer sponsored insurance which would cover the family, IF they are married. The couple may be able to choose the best plan or even parts of each spouse's insurance. Older couples might avoid marriage for this of finanacial risk, but I'll bet that's only the case if there are no children.

Actually I'm surprised to hear that working class and poor couples are avoiding marriage. I would have thought that they would be more likely to marry, even if the divorce rate was higher. Wouldn't you be more likely to avoid marriage if you didn't have a joint responsibility to another human being?

Joe Rybicki | March 4, 2007 03:22 PM

V. Herbie, that's a good point. It's not so much the average cost of a wedding, though, as it is the social expectation that a wedding has to be this really lavish affair.

When my wife and I got married, the goal was to throw a great party for all the people who care about us. It did end up costing significant money (though apparently less than the average), but that was more because we had a specific location in mind that -we- wanted to use, and there were specific constraints upon that.

This decision was made only after we discarded the idea of having a pot-luck wedding barbecue on our deck, primarily because we lived in an expensive area and it would have been prohibitively expensive to get and stay there for many of the people we wanted to be there.

As it turned out, our wedding was exactly what we hoped it would be: our loved ones came and witnessed, and everyone had a great time. (Due in no small part to our really kick-ass minister, whose moving and relevant opening remarks I should really transcribe and post here.) Ultimately that's what matters, and I think a lot of people lose sight of that.

My friends are getting married in July. They're having the ceremony in their backyard, and having the reception first to ensure everyone has a good time. I expect it to be one of the all-time greats, and it'll probably cost them about $1000 total.

Contrast this with a wedding I once went to in Pittsburgh, at a beautiful (and exclusive!) chapel, with a lavish spread, laid out on tables whose centerpieces probably cost $1000 each. The telling moment: One of the readers at the ceremony, returning from the lectern, stumbled over a flower and very audibly hissed, "Shit!" ...And no one laughed.

I'll take the backyard wedding any day.

Therese Norén | March 4, 2007 03:30 PM

Like MWT said, the commitment is the important part over here in Scandahoovia, the legal stuff is less important. Unfortunately, that's a reasoning that will screw the economically weaker part in case of a split. I do recommend my friends to marry, as well as I recommend them not to fall into the gendered buying trap, where he buys the big stuff, and she buys the day to day stuff.

Age at first marriage follows the age when the second child is born very closely. It works, apparently, because 72% of all children under 18 live with both their biological parents, and around a third of their parents aren't married.

Nina A | March 4, 2007 03:32 PM

Well,I'd like to get married to my partner,unfortunately health care IS stopping us. I had a severe health crisis 2 years ago-it left me with a chronic condition that requires daily medication to keep alive. At the time,I was employed,but not insured-my state's medicaid plan picks up those costs. If we were to marry,our income would be too high to qualify for that,and his employer's plan doesn't cover pre-existing conditions in spouses. In retrospect,what we should have done was to hit the local 24-hr chapel on the way to the ER.

mary ann | March 4, 2007 03:44 PM

I don't think it's just health insurance. A lower-income single parent is much more likely to meet the income standards for state insurance for their children, but also HeadStart and subsidized child care, reduced lunch at school, and the tax credits for low income families with children, among other benefits.

My mother is a social worker, and I'll never forget the day she showed me the math. A fifty cent raise for one single parent was going to end up increasing that mother's cost of living by four dollars an hour. Getting married and adding another income would have that same effect.

I'm sure lower income single parents "can't afford" to get married. If both parents are barely getting by to begin with, and they're already cohabitating and sharing the bills, getting married is likely to really cost them.

Jude | March 4, 2007 03:54 PM

I've been married twice. Both husbands ended up being abusive (and yet are currently married to other people whom they do not abuse). I figure that I am either too annoying to be married, or incapable of choosing someone who will continue to be nice to me after we're married. I don't see any advantages to relationships, which is why I don't even have friends.

claire | March 4, 2007 03:56 PM

I'm not sure that a lack of universal health care is really impacting young people's decision not to get married that much. If one or both have a pre-existing condition, then I could see that it would. Generally though, I think credit card debt would be more on people's minds.

I've read some stuff about how openness regarding finances correlates to the respect and honesty within a relationship. If people aren't getting married because their financial outlooks don't jive, perhaps that's just as well.

As for same sex marriage, I think it's ridiculous to think that banning it does anything to preserve marriage. Personally, I would rather do away with government sanctionned marriage altogether and let couples get civil unions for the tax, inheritance, and other benefits instead.

AliceB | March 4, 2007 03:57 PM

Like V's Herbie, I understood "can't afford to get married" as people viewing the wedding as being too expensive. Although as Nina experience shows, marriage can be unaffordable for other reasons, for most people there's a money benefit to marriage, which the article points out. Weddings, for reasons that baffle me, have become these enormous, over-the-top extravaganzas.

I don't think universal health care would change things--marriage across Western Europe has dropped dramatically since the 1970s, and most (all?) countries there have various forms of state health insurance. I'm all for universal health care, because it makes sense for many reasons, but I don't think encouraging marriage would be one of them.

John Scalzi | March 4, 2007 03:59 PM

V's Herbie:

"A quick google brought up this site which lists the average wedding cost at $30K. So unless your parents can pay for your wedding, you can't hope to put on the kind of party that's expected."

There's no way on earth I'd pay that much for a wedding, and certainly no way I'd expect the couple's parents to pay that much.

Krissy and I paid for most of our wedding, and had a really excellent one, and came in around $6k in 1995 (which would probably be $8k or $9k today). Neither of us had the desire to pay a penny more than that; it'd be money we'd be taking out of the rest our lives, and that's simply not smart.

PixelFish | March 4, 2007 04:14 PM

Hrm. Getting married has always been a subject that pings my psychological radar, because where I was raised (in Utah) the overwhelming cultural message broke down to be: A) You will get married to somebody of your same beliefs B) You will get married young or as soon as you find a potential partner that works for you C) You can't have sex til you get married D) You will plan for being married from a very young age because it is the most important decision of your life and E) Most everybody around you will not really consider you an adult til you are married. The last message was unintended, but reinforced by the fact that in Mormon/LDS culture, women generally don't get fully inducted in the temple ceremonies until they are getting married. I have been excluded from activities with adult cousins and aunts and uncles on the basis of my singlehood. (One memorable occasion had my uncle telling my mother that he was throwing a party for all the adult relatives, and she said, "Oh, good, I'll tell Lis and Mary." Pause. My uncle says, "All the married adults.") The culture I was in pushed the idea of marriage on me on such an early age, that I even remember agonizing over it at the age of five. At twelve, we were instructed to make a list of traits we wanted in a potential husband and date only boys who filled the requirements: priesthood, good fatherhood potential, etc. etc. To remind me of these future choices, I was even given a spool of pure white thread which was to be used in my wedding gown and even started a trousseau and hope chest as church project during my teen years. (It never progressed very far, because of my unorthodox aesthetics.) A church activity had us dressing up in our mother's wedding gowns and getting our picture taken in front of the local temple. I'm not sure it's possible for me to overstate the amount "You WILL get married....or else...." was being driven into my psyche.

While I generally agree with the importance of marrying somebody of similar beliefs and it being one of the most important decisions you can make in life, you will be unsurprised to hear that during my teens and early twenties, I and, as far as I can tell, most of my Mormon peers fixated mostly on C) No sex until marriage. By the time I was 21, a third of my HS graduating class was married. By the time I was 25 that number had climbed to just over half. By the time my ten year reunion rolled around, I was one of THREE single people at the reunion, where 200+ students showed up. Three. And single meant: not married.

At this point, I regard myself as lucky not to have been steamrolled into an early marriage for a number of reasons, not the least of which is: I am no longer LDS. And making the ultimately painful decision to leave the church would have been a lot harder if I'd been worried about hurting and disappointing my husband, his family, all our friends, etc. Particularly since the LDS view of the afterlife hinges on marriage being the key to the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom.

Similar to worrying about entangling your financial future, there are worries about what happens if I lock myself down in a decision before I've figured myself out enough not to screw it up. And while I've had ten years of seeing classmates get married, and wanting to get married, and being engaged two and a half times even, I can't help wondering how much my wanting to get married was a product of my childhood and how much is what I really want.

I actually do think marriage can be a really good thing, and something I want for myself eventually. I just don't think that it should be the key to adulthood, special rights, or the sole means for measuring family values. I would love for gay folks to be able to get marriages recognised legally.

As a side note: I have friends who got married because that was the way they could share medical benefits.

I also have a sister-in-law who entered a provisional one year marriage in her early twenties, and got an amicable pre-agreed divorce a year later. For her and then-her husband/friend, they were trying to see if the married life was their cup of tea, and wanted to try it for a pre-determined period. They both decided it was a nice thing....and they'd be interested in trying it long-term in about a decade.

I think Timelady has a point that a marriage is more likely to fail when it becomes a Me, not a We thing. And while an obscenely expensive wedding doesn't necessarily mean the couple is doomed, it seems like it might contain pitfalls and focus on the wrong things.

anghara | March 4, 2007 04:17 PM

My husband and I got married in the courthouse, with perhaps fifteen friends in attendance. My family was across the planet at the time. Most of his was too far across the country. The wedding cost us maybe $75 for the wedding licence and ephemera associated with it, and whatever the cost involving the person who read us our, er, rights, was, I don't even remember. We went out to dinner, after, with some of those friends who were at the wedding. One of them brought a cake to serve as the wedding cake. That was pretty much it.

We're still happily together six and a half years later, in the aftermath of both tragedy and eucatastrophe (his stroke, four years ago, for the first part and my publication spree over the last few years for the second).

As far as I'm concerned, the wedding is the stage set; it's the marriage that's the play. The best and most expensive scenery in the world won't redeem a play that doesn't fly. It's just as easy to get married for a thousand dollars, or six thousand, as it is to splurge the equivalent of a year's income on a wedding bash, but if the partners aren't right for one another it'll come out in the wash anyway - and sometimes that sense of non-rightness is all too easy to lose when all you can see is an ocean of champagne and caviar and white tulle...

Steve Buchheit | March 4, 2007 04:26 PM

Considering I've heard the argument made for keeping health care converage only for spouses, not "civil union" or "same sex" co-habitors, I have to say, John, the the "vocal" religious people have already voted to keep health care difficult to get to support more people getting married to get coverage. There was a big fight convering this when Shaker Heights' government went to recognize "cohabitor" rights (aka, "same sex," "common law," and people living together).

So, the social conservatives have already cast their lot in with keeping health care hard to get to force (or persuade) more people to get married (so they will get the coverage).

Cassie | March 4, 2007 04:29 PM

"Can't afford to get married" is also a factor of how much debt we take on during college. I chatted with my dentist recently, and he told me that the average newly licensed dentist has over $200,000 worth of college debt when starting out.

Who wants to help someone pay off that kind of debt? Who wants to start married life on net income minus loan payments? You might qualify for a mortgage because banks will play the numbers and give money to anyone, but can you make the payments and not give up other essentials?

Alex R. | March 4, 2007 04:37 PM

As a counter-point to PixelFish, I am a current member of the LDS faith. I agree that they push all of those things, and that it can definitely bring on a high sense of anxiety regarding marriage. However, it need not be that way. Mt parents (who got married at 19 and were not at the time LDS) have always told me that I need to get married, but explained that I need to get married to the right person and at the right time. Those things they pushed on me (and most teenagers in the LDS faith) are in large part backed up by the numbers regarding marriage. Those that abstain from sex until after marriage are more likely to stay together, as are those who marry a partner with the same beliefs. Marriage has been shown through numerous studies to be beneficial in regards to each partner's health, financial status, social status, mental health, etc.
May I suggest an additional reason for young people these days not wanting to get married? I think that a large part of it has to do with the fact that my generation is used to getting everything they want. Marriage carries with it a large amount of sacrifice. You might not get to watch that football game you've been waiting for, play video games as much as you'd like, or go hang out with the guys as much as you used to. By and large, my generation knows nothing about sacrifice.
Obviously, marriage is a personal decision and is different for everyone. Some (like my parents) are ready to be married at 19. Others are not. Part of the reason the LDS church pushes marriage is because it is the most important decision of your life. Part of the reason they push it at a young (for our culture) age is that we are more open to compromise when we are young than after we have a set routine that we don't want to deviate from.

Mary Anne Mohanraj | March 4, 2007 04:38 PM

I think people (including John) are conflating some things that shouldn't be conflated. Most specifically -- long-term commitment and legal marriage. I don't have time to write this out properly (masses of grading due tomorrow, sadly), but a few quick thoughts:

- my understanding is that in most countries with socialized services than the U.S., there is little financial incentive to legally marry. Unsurprisingly, then, there is less social incentive, and as a result, legal marriage rates are declining. But long-term cohabitation and child-rearing are not necessarily tightly linked to legal marriage. As a friend of a friend put it, when asked whether she and her male partner (who had two kids together and had been co-habiting long-term) had any plans to marry -- "But why would we? We're not religious." Living in Switzerland, they had no strong legal or social reasons to legally marry, and were bewildered as to why they would choose to.

-- my own partner and I (of fifteen years) are now expecting our first child, and have chosen not to legally marry, although we could. We do plan to live together until we keel over, and raise a child together, and our finances are completely merged, and we have filed other separate paperwork that merges our lives in other ways (living wills, wills, power of attorney, etc.). But we prefer to have those be conscious and deliberate private choices on our part, rather than part of the overall political/cultural entity that is marriage in America, which comes with a host of both comfortable and uncomfortable accommodations and assumptions -- legally, socially, etc.

- We'd also prefer not to join a club that excludes others; personally, it would feel not just a little bit like joining one of those private clubs that doesn't let black people join, and enjoying the privileges thereunto. (There are arguments one could make about changing the system from the inside, rather than the outside, certainly. But for us, trying to change it from the outside feels easier to live with.)

- For me, personally, that argument applies not just to gays and lesbians, but to the polyfidelitous as well -- and hell, to any set of adults willing to make long-term plans together legal commitments to each other. Obviously, government has a stake in its population maintaining stable long-term relationships and hopefully ensuring that any children produced are financially supported -- it's good for the economy.

- But why those relationships should be limited to two people who are supposedly having monogamous sex together, seems to me a historical/religious/cultural artifact that holds within it a host of other social ills, and has led to, among other things, appalling treatment of women/wives as legal entities over the centuries. "Yes, you can beat/rape your wife -- as long as you financially provide for her and the kids and we don't have to."

Mary Anne Mohanraj | March 4, 2007 05:03 PM

I suppose I should have said what I *would* support --

A system in which any number of adults (of whatever race, gender, etc.) could enter into legal partnerships to share financial and social responsibilities, said responsibilities to be specifically defined as desired -- i.e.:

- joint child-rearing (regardless of the biological parentage of the children involved, said commitment to continue whether or not the partners remain otherwise involved)
- financial entanglement and responsibility (to whatever degree they choose to specify)
- legal decision-making (power of attorney, health decisions)
- shared residence in the countries of their citizenship
- fidelity, if desired
- whatever other traditional privileges and/or responsibilities of marriage seem appropriate
- all of the above to be term-limited as desired (one-year, five-years, until the children are eighteen, until death do us part, etc.)

You could have a bunch of standard templates, to make all this easier, but I think it would only do "marriages" good if people had to actually think about exactly what they were signing up for when they signed those pieces of paper.

Lisa | March 4, 2007 05:14 PM

Count me as another who has not been afforded the ability to marry the father of my children due to health insurance. If we married, he would lose his, and also part of his income, and he would be dead. End of story.

Aside from that, though, I wonder if the increase in the status of women and their ability to be financially independent has somehow affected marriage rates.

Just thinking outloud here, but marraige is not necessarily beneficial or needed as much anymore. Women can also have kids or adopt on their own. Although individual commitments may be very equalateral, overal, marraige is aninstitution of the patriarchy. Women tend to spend more hours working both inside and outside the home than men, despite the increase in equal working opportunities. I'd much rather be on my own, and have commitments with men that I've chosen and have been negotiated by me. Marraige to me feels too much like old time patriarchical ownership...despite the fact that the laws have given women more or less equal footing, at least on paper.

I second Claire's idea that the government should stay out of the marriage business altogether. If people want to commit to each other, they can. In a church, in a garden, on paper, financially, with children. Whatever works for them.

I think this has somewhat come out of gay culture and their value of chosen families. They know, and have made it more acceptable in the mainstream, to make your own family on your own terms that you commit to, instead of out of obligation.

In the short term, I support gay marraige, because that is just rediculous discrimination. But in the long term, I actually wish for no government sponsored marraige at all. Universal health care would help in that people wouldn't be tied to other people FOR the health benefits given by the spouse's job. The commitment would be solid and real and of ones own choosing. Not because of financial necessity or survival. The power implications from that are just to dangerous.

Annalee Flower Horne | March 4, 2007 05:14 PM

I think the people talking about how marriage can cost people state benefits have hit the nail right on the head.

I have a friend who's newly a father, and he's not marrying his girlfriend. He's not a deadbeat by any means: as soon as he found out she was pregnant, he transferred to a school closer to home and changed his long-term carreer plans so that he could get out of school faster and start supporting his new family (he's becoming a nurse).

But as a single mom, she qualifies for state aid that she'd lose as a wife. He tells me their plan is to get married when their daughter's a bit older and he and his girlfriend are in a better position to support her without state assistance.

I don't know if that's just health care, though. I'd chalk it up more to the general beaurocracy of a system that boils people down to equations. But I don't see any way we could possibly get the staff and funding to create a truly functional system (or set of systems, if we're being accurate) unless we had a shift in national priorities that put it on par with military spending, and I don't see that happening any time soon.

Mary Anne Mohanraj | March 4, 2007 05:20 PM

One more point that I don't have time to look up -- but I believe that studies show that married men live longer than single men -- but that single women live longer than married women. :-(

Sad implications there about the costs/benefits for marriage for the respective genders.

Nikitta | March 4, 2007 05:25 PM

Alex R: not getting married doesn't have to mean living alone and when you do live together, you have to make compromises, whether you have legal papers or not, and you do see a lot of people living together without being married, so I don't really see the connection with not wanting to compromise.

It probably has a lot more to do with that it's now more accepted to live together without being married than it used to be. It's not *that* many years ago that such a thing was frowned upon and it wouldn't surprise me to hear that it still is in some places.

Lugo | March 4, 2007 05:27 PM

How can it be "cheaper" to live together and have children outside wedlock than to do the same thing in the married condition? That makes no sense. I know plenty of people who spent next to nothing on the ceremony itself.

"lots of people of marriageable age right now are the products of divorce, so any excuse not to screw up like their parents did is a good one"

That makes no sense either! People who live together without getting married are just as likely (if not more) to argue, fight, and make each other miserable.

"I don't want to mix my financial life with someone else's."

You are STILL mixing your financial life if you live together and have kids out of wedlock. Moreover, you can get married and keep your financial lives reasonably separate (or at least parallel, which is what my wife and I do).

"It sounds like they have the whole "family values" thing worked out a lot better, actually. Longer maternity leaves, paternity leaves, much more flexibility about taking off work when a kid is sick, etc."

Yet marriage is dying in Scandinavia, too.


the total first marriage rate is useful in comparing countries at a given time point, and I have selected the nations in figure 3 to illustrate the variation in this rate in the developed world. The value of 715 for the United States—-the highest of any country-—implies that 715 out of 1,000 women were expected to marry. Italy had a relatively high value, while France and Sweden had the lowest. In between were Britain, Canada, and Germany.

"marriage is HARD work."

True, but why is it harder than living together and having children out of wedlock, as the article states that lots of lower-class people are choosing to do?

Chang, father of pangolins | March 4, 2007 05:43 PM

Ah, shit, I;m staying out of this one for the most part.

I will say I am married and happily so. It's taken work to get it to this point but it's been worth it. I suspect Mrs. Chang would say so, too.

Marriage is nothing like living together. I thought it was once but it takes alot of work to get it to work. Some people can't hack it.

I would be FUCKED if I wasn't married. I know and Mrs. Chang knows it. So as soon as she comes back from the market with my dinner I will hug her and kiss her and thank her for marrying me and buying meatloaf.

I suspect Mrs. Chang and I would agree on one thing: marrying each other was one of the smartest things we ever did.

It sucks that this institution which should be something to work for has so little benefits to it. I'm sorry that some of you are in a position where you're screwed if you do get married. That seems ass backwards to me, especially from this bullshit fundamentalist administration.

P.S. Our wedding cost about $20K. We had help. We'd have done it for $50 if we had to. It helped that we got our beer for free.

timelady | March 4, 2007 05:44 PM

i had a $500 wedding. the celebrant was originally going to charge us $400 - she charged us $200 for one of the funnest and quirkiest weddings she had ever been to. $50 for silk flowers - for me and bridesmaid, one for each mother in law and child there. $150 for purple medieval dress my husband wanted to see me in - who could resist tht kind of request?:) $100 for antique garnet rose gold engagement ring, and matching rose gold wedder - ebay rocks. It has history and warmth:)

Married in a park - no cost. House that faced the park was so entranced that they offered us large verandah if it rained, came out with a bottle of champers, and joined the party:) Kids played in the creek.

No gifts - byo food to share. AMAZING food as a result:)

Our vows we wrote ourselves, and we included bandwidth, linux, and other geek jokes, and ended with :wq (vi users will get this:) )*

Everyone piled into vehicles back to our place for an evening BBQ. And that was that.

People are still talking about it.

*Oh, and he proposed by wireless - he reset the ESSID of a wireless AP i was demonstrating at a community centre to 'will_you_marry_me'. I scanned in demonstration, said, "Awww, look at that", and there he was, with ring in hand...everyone there was touched, and how could I say no? Can you tell we are geeks?

mary ann | March 4, 2007 06:21 PM

One more point on the getting married = loss of benefits thing, both my fiance's mother and my own did not remarry until we were out of college. My mother had been dating my step-father for more than fifteen years at that point, and his mother had been with his stepfather for almost ten. They didn't get married sooner because lower income = more financial aid.

My mom wouldn't have asked her husband to pay for my education, but his income would've been considered by the government as a tuition source. She just couldn't afford to get married with two kids in private college.

Nancy | March 4, 2007 06:52 PM

In contrast to some others who couldn't/wouldn't marry due to the cost of health insurance, in my age bracket (50+) one of the most common reasons for finally marrying after years of co-habitation was to GET health insurance.

I might also say that we didn't marry for years primarily due to his legal problems with an ex-wife. I didn't want to expose my assets to her depredations. This might be a factor for a number of other couples with ex-spouses.

We've always, married or unmarried, legal problems or no legal problems, maintained totally separate finances and investments. We have a joint household account that we both into equally for running the house and other common expenditures.

And, yup, we finally married because he needed health insurance and I have a plan pretty much guaranteed for life although it doesn't and hasn't prevented premium increases.

mk | March 4, 2007 06:55 PM

mary ann said:
"A lower-income single parent is much more likely to meet the income standards for state insurance for their children, but also HeadStart and subsidized child care, reduced lunch at school, and the tax credits for low income families with children, among other benefits."

Yep. I know some single moms who are unlikely to marry men in their income bracket for exactly those reasons. Add in the expense of disentangling all the legal stuff should things go wrong - divorces can be messy and costly. A few hundred dollars is a lot if you are poor, and just getting the paperwork for a divorce taken care of starts at about $100. This is not to say that not getting married prevents expensive messes if a breakup occurs - in fact, not having certain legal protections can make things more expensive and messier - but the perception is there, and plenty of anecdotes about things like when X's spouse got a credit card in the mail and ran up a huge credit card bill when he/she left her for someone else, X became legally responsible for paying the debt because they were still married when it happened and it totally ruined X's life. It's comforting to think that instead, one could just up and leave and have no legal responsibilites to fulfill.

CoolBlue | March 4, 2007 06:57 PM

This doesn't surprise me at all. Much of the social welfare system is geared up to help single, unwed mothers. So what you see often is a mother and a father living together and not getting married because that way more government aid is available. Once they get married, even though everything else stays precisely the same with regards to income and expenses, most of that aid will be lost.

You see the very same trend happening in England. Only its been that way for much longer over there. We're just catching up.

MB | March 4, 2007 07:23 PM

I come at it from the opposite: why *would* I and my partner want to get married? Assuming that we both have equal access to healthcare (not an unreasonable assumption) and no particular religious pressures, I don't see why we would want to do so. Granted, getting married can take care of a whole slew of questions that would otherwise take some explicit action on our part (i.e., drawing up wills, durable health care powers of attorney, etc.), but that doesn't seem a particularly compelling reason.

Kirsty | March 4, 2007 07:26 PM

I think that a decrease in public pressure has a lot to do with the decreasing rates of marriage in certain Western countries. I'm sure that increased independence for women also makes a huge difference.

When my grandmother got married she was forced by her employers to give up her much-loved job as a teacher, although she was able to teach again during and after World War 2.

About 40 years ago, when my mum accidentally got pregnant with me, a shotgun wedding was very quickly arranged. My mum and dad had planned to marry anyway and they are still married but even at the end of the 60's, they certainly didn't feel that they could choose to live together.

When I got accidentally pregnant in my 20's, I was thankfully under no pressure from anyone to marry the disinterested father of my child. I was a single mother for a couple of years before I met my current partner.

People do still get married in Britain but generally they're doing so a bit later in life, often after a couple of other relationships and usually after living together for a while. Two of my brothers are currently living with their girlfriends and are engaged to be married. Both of them will be in their 30's by the time they marry for the first time.

As you can see, just from my own family history, marriage has changed a lot over the years and will undoubtedly continue to do so.

Frankly, it baffles me that people make such a fuss about marriage. My view is 'get married if you want to, don't get married if you don't want to' and I don't see that it's anyone else's business but the people involved.

Certainly you can have healthy and wonderful relationships without getting married - my own relationship is very strong and long-lasting even though marriage is not a legal option for us because we're a polyfidelitous triad who have lived together for 10 years and been together for even longer. But even though I don't have a bit of paper from the government, I certainly consider myself every bit as married as those who do and I've worked every bit as hard as someone who's 'properly' married. I'm also well aware that my relationship is stronger and more stable than the legally-sanctioned marriages of many people whom I know. Why should my stable, loving and nourishing relationship be considered socially inferior to the painful, nasty, sham marriage of a friend who has been having affairs for years but is staying with her unloved and unloving husband 'for the sake of the children'?

Scorpio | March 4, 2007 07:36 PM

Once I was divorced, I started getting back almost twice as much money from taxes as I had while married. I suspect that he was having his taxes withheld with deductions, while I had mine pulled at single-and-zero. When a refund came back, he divided it in half and I got back ... much less than I paid in compared to him.

John Scalzi | March 4, 2007 08:11 PM

Mary-Anne Mohanraj:

"I think people (including John) are conflating some things that shouldn't be conflated. Most specifically -- long-term commitment and legal marriage."

I can't speak for anyone else, but I was specifically discussing legal marriage in the United States. I have no moral, legal or philosophical objections to people having long-term relationships outside marriage; I just like the idea of marriage as a legal and laudable institution.

Congratulations on the upcoming child, Mary-Anne! That's very exciting.

Patrick | March 4, 2007 08:55 PM

Is it so much that "the couple" can't afford to get married, rather than one specific member of the couple can't afford to get married?

Saying that "we" can't afford to get married must, at best, refer to the ceremony.

But saying that "I" can't afford to get married, well, that can entail a whole list of other expenses. If you make 30k, and your prospective spouse makes 18k and can barely make ends meet, then when you marry you will have 48k for two people. The cost of equalizing your standard of living will create a drop in your own (already ungenerous) standard of living, even after economics of scale factor in.

So maybe that's what people mean.

Craig M. | March 4, 2007 09:08 PM

I am married ( with a child ) that is why it takes so long to check out my favorite blogs. Ahem, mild attempt at humor there. The folks who have responded are very thoughtful, there is no one universal situation. By 2s in the 90's all of our friends got married, so we did. We lived together first, so did our friends. The notion of spending 30 grand on any wedding is just crazy. Personally, other than for self-promotional reasons, ie. business reasons, there is no reason to blow an exhorbitant amount of cash. If two people are meant to be together the things they have in common out-mass all other superficial considerations. It's not very sexy but there it is. Demographics is what the entire discussion boils down to. Unless your personality is too extreme, we will all find our own level reflected in a partner based on core values and expectations that we share. As a rule the year of your birth explains more about your marital status, given your present age, than anything else.
For the record marriage is so profoundly different than "just" living together ( that is what my parents tried out,ewww.......just ewww. ), because in front of all your friends and the handsome tradition of marriage itself you and your partner are saying "I DO" -so there!
I could be wrong but I believe if one inspects history civil union preceded the later religious connotations/applications; marriage is always about economics first and foremost. A Proud Card-carrying Genxxer.

MWT | March 4, 2007 09:12 PM

I said: It sounds like they have the whole "family values" thing worked out a lot better, actually. Longer maternity leaves, paternity leaves, much more flexibility about taking off work when a kid is sick, etc.

Lugo said: Yet marriage is dying in Scandinavia, too.

Did you read the top half of what I wrote? Marriage is the wrong thing to focus on in Scandinavia. They have stable family units there, with children being raised by two parents that live together. They seem to care a lot more about prioritizing childcare than the U.S. does. The fact that the parents aren't legally married to each other is irrelevant.

What's the point of marriage and "family values" here in the U.S., if not to give children stable two-parent homes to grow up in? If one can cut straight to the point - stable two-parent homes - why does it matter whether the parents are legally bound to each other, whether they are of opposite genders, whether there are more than two of them, etc. etc.?

Claire said: I've read some stuff about how openness regarding finances correlates to the respect and honesty within a relationship. If people aren't getting married because their financial outlooks don't jive, perhaps that's just as well.

You can trust someone with your life. You can trust someone with your heart. You can trust someone with your money. These three things are not the same, and should not be confused with each other.

Anonymous | March 4, 2007 09:47 PM

I was speaking specifically about getting married or not, without saying anything about cohabitating. Obviously that would involve sacrifice as well. Very subtle dig at my religion, which is something very much appreciated, thanks.
Almost every study shows that those in marriages have higher degrees of happiness than those cohabitating. They don't worry as much about finances, what happens if they can't take care of themselves, etc. Its much easier to leave a house than it is to leave an institution. Again, studies are for generalizing for an entire population - obviously people will have different experiences.
I am not judging anyone's lifestyle. Frankly, what you choose doesn't matter in the least to me. Its simply that marriage has been around for a long time for a reason - it benefits man, woman, and society.

Alex R. | March 4, 2007 09:55 PM

Sorry, above comment is mine. Just forgot to put my name in there.

Patrick | March 4, 2007 10:11 PM

I disagree. Marriage has been around a long time because it changes with each generation to match that generation's needs, wants and power balances.

Marriage as a social structure these days has little resemblance to marriage a century ago, or further.

Dana King | March 4, 2007 10:58 PM

Krissy was a step down from a writer? What was she, a musician? (Written with all affection by a recovering musician who is now trying to be a writer.)

Jenny Rae Rappaport | March 4, 2007 11:10 PM

To all of those who are complaining above about the current culture of "princess" weddings, etc:

Have you tried to plan a wedding lately? Have you really sat down and looked at the prices for these sorts of things? Do you have any comprehension of what things cost?

I've been engaged for two months, and trust me, we're not getting married for a long time because we simply can't afford it.

Want a rabbi or cantor to marry you, if one partner is Jewish and the other isn't? (I am the Jew, in this relationship, btw.) You're talking $650-$750, minimum, and that's just for the officiant. That doesn't include the ceremony site, the chuppah, or any of the other things that you need for a Jewish ceremony. And you want to get married in temple, you say? Forget it, if you're an interfaith couple because I can't find a freaking temple that will do so.

So you're looking at the cost of having to rent a location, within your area since the rabbi's fees go up if they have to travel anywhere, plus a helluva lot of other things. Do you have any idea what kosher catering costs? $50/person for a cocktail reception only, $60/person for a dessert reception only, starting at $120/person for a buffet dinner (vegetarian only, to save on meat costs). I cannot find ANYTHING cheaper than that, and that's just for the food. That doesn't include a reception hall at all.

Before I rant further, I'll rest my case. It is damn freaking expensive to get married in America, and even harder, if you don't fit the stereotypical norm. I'd like to be married before 2009... we'll see if that actually happens...

Jenny Rae Rappaport | March 4, 2007 11:23 PM

Oh and one more thing, since I'm sure someone is going to read my above post and say, "Screw it all, Jenny. Just go get married by the county clerk. Why do you need all of that?"...

I want that Jewish wedding because it is my culture and my tradition and my heritage. I want it because I want to be married under a chuppah like my ancestors were. I want that religious significance to my marriage. I want to have a party, with as many of my family and friends as I can afford to invite, and I want to dance the hora and be lifted up on a chair.

I am willing to compromise on a large number of things, but I want the ceremony, I want the cake, and I want the dancing.

And to get even that, in NJ, is a very large amount of money.

Tolladay | March 5, 2007 01:15 AM

A short comment.

I can't speak for others, but I know I was not able to get married until I went into therapy. Undiagnosed, and untreated depression did a pretty good job of keeping me single until my mid 30s.

I'm married now, have a 5-year-old boy, and could not be happier. But marriage, and even more so, kids, will KICK YOUR ASS. Don't have your shit together, then your marriage will be hurt'n for certain.

And I'll note that the average IQ of the posters here is pretty high, while the average IQ of the poor (and apparently unmarried) is probably much lower. In my experience, poor people think differently, and thus any cost/benefit ratio they perform (if any) about the prospects of marriage, will be significantly stilted.

John Scalzi | March 5, 2007 01:26 AM


"And I'll note that the average IQ of the posters here is pretty high, while the average IQ of the poor (and apparently unmarried) is probably much lower."

Coming from poor white trash as I do, I will politely dispute this theory. On average, I have not found the intelligence between the classes notably different (although there is clearly a disparity between education).

Joe Crow | March 5, 2007 04:21 AM

My wife and I got married primarily so she could get on my insurance. That was 6 years ago, after about 4 years of cohab. We had our monkey about 3 and a half years ago. I dunno if we'd have gotten hitched if it wasn't for the insurance deal. Maybe, maybe not. Our marriage cost probably under a couple hundred bucks; pagan ULC officiant, my crafty wife made her own dress, held at my mom-in-law's boyfriend's house, about 25 guests. Pretty low key, all around, but a good time none the less.

Financially, as a couple, we're fuxxored, but we were fuxxored before we got married, so big deal. The taxes got better after the hitching, so that was nice. My wife comes from middle class divorce-land and I come from working class/poor divorce-land, so we've got a background of crap marriage to keep us honest with each other. I've got more actual college time than she does, but she's actually got a degree and I don't. All we've really got to show for that is school loan debt, though.

It's kinda hard to fit us into any particular socio-economic scheme, though.

Gareth Wilson | March 5, 2007 05:05 AM

I'm a bit skeptical about the benefits of marriage - I think we're confusing symptoms with causes. It reminds of the discussion in Freakonomics about whether black people given names such as "DeShawn" and "Tyrone" would do better in life if they legally changed their names to "John" and "Peter". The author guessed they would, not because the names were that much of a burden, but because going to such lengths would be a sign of ambition and determination that would help them in other areas. Likewise, maybe the people who choose to get married now are just demonstrating the kind of values that lead to success in life. Which implies that if people aren't choosing to marry now, encouraging them to do so won't help them at all.

Mris | March 5, 2007 08:46 AM

Universal health care will almost certainly change specific people's choices in one direction or another, and both directions have been discussed above.

But so far only Mary Anne seems to have considered what happens when you take someone who is not legally any relation to you at all to the hospital, and that doesn't depend on health insurance. Are you prepared to hear, "I'm sorry, ma'am, but you need to leave the room," or, "Sir, you'll need to leave that decision to her next of kin"? I strongly suspect that most of the people who are saying, "Why should we bother?" have never taken a loved one who was no legal relation to them to the hospital in a life-threatening situation, not knowing what medical decisions would need to be made on behalf of that person. Trust me, it's not a good time. If your healthy, young partner was hit by a car and did not regain consciousness for some time, who would make medical decisions? If your partner is your spouse, you would. If not, and if you haven't gone through the medical-legal paperwork, it's his/her parent, sibling, grandparent, etc.--whoever is the closest relative legally. If you're lucky, that relative will approve of your relationship and ask you what you want them to do. If not...well, let's say that people in this country have disagreed on how to handle the comatose before, and if you have no legal standing, your disagreement means nothing.

Sometimes even with some or all of the paperwork, you can run into all sorts of barriers thrown up by the combination of the legal system and the medical system. When you are married, most of those barriers melt away.

Getting the health insurance or keeping the health insurance is important, don't get me wrong, but when it comes to using the health insurance, marriage conveys benefits people don't seem to be thinking of. Obviously that doesn't mean everybody can get married to each other who would want to. And I think it's reasonable for someone like Jenny to weigh the importance of her cultural background in timing decisions, or for someone like Mary Anne to decide that doing the bits of paperwork separately is worth the time/energy/money if you need notarization or legal advice or etc. I just hear most people talking about health insurance as though it's the only health care problem related to marriage. I have helped my husband and non-legally-related people through medical stuff, and I can promise it was approximately a million times easier with my husband.

Matt McIrvin | March 5, 2007 09:02 AM

Marriage is nothing like living together. I thought it was once but it takes alot of work to get it to work. Some people can't hack it.

Everyone says this--that actually getting married is a bigger change than you ever expect--but for my wife and I, I don't think it's true. We lived together for two years before getting married, and actually being legally married really wasn't a big change for us, practically or emotionally. It made things a little easier by providing certain legal defaults and benefits, but that's it. We were a pretty deeply emotionally committed couple; maybe we were married-in-all-but-name to an unusual extent before the ceremony.

Having a baby, now, that's a big change! But it's not the thing we're talking about here; the article is comparing being-married-with-kids to cohabiting-with-kids.

I can sympathize with Jenny Rae Rappoport over the cost of the ceremony. We had the least princess-y wedding I've ever attended, basically a big family barbecue with my wife's old English teacher as officiant (technically it wasn't a legal ceremony; we got married by a JP a few days later). We had a wonderful time, but the party still cost a few thousand dollars, beyond the reach of many couples.

We could, legally, have ditched the whole thing and just had the inexpensive ten-minute ceremony with the JP, but I am sure that many people would have been offended. The fundamental financial problem is not so much the princess fantasy as the cultural expectation that your friends and family will all get to attend.

Of course, if marriage increasingly becomes the preserve of the well-off, the vicious cycle of expensive expectations will only get worse.

TCO | March 5, 2007 10:28 AM

1. Steve Sailor has written about this as "affordable family formation".

2. It's interesting to me that you see the solution here to be more and more government support. It's also interesting that women are more likely than men to see the government as an assistant in child-rearing (men are more into military and such). Same thing with Europeans versus Americans.

3. If you subsidize something, people will use more of it. Why should more and more college be subsidized? Why should the working class subsidize the middle class's children? Why shouldn't people make their own decision about "being crushed with debt", given that they get the enjoyment of school vice digging ditches, given that they get the earnings related to better education, and given that it is their decision anyway. Of course, one QUICK way to cut down on this "debt-saddling" would be to stop having the government subsidize student loans and instead let banks and students make their own deals (with students paying the higher rate based on the very real risk that they default). Of course, I bet instead that you want free education to the age of 27. Of interest, I'm not sure that making post high school education free (or reducing it's cost, sheesh, I'm discussing a concept, but will insert some caveats, as you seem more interested in finding sidetracks than in looking at the key concepts raised) will make people more likely to have children or to marry. For one thing, it encourages people to remain in school longer. And thus delays their entry to the working world, which is usually seen by most as a prerequisite to committing to a mate.

marciepooh | March 5, 2007 10:38 AM

My parents got married for the benies. They were engaged (They're fairly traditonal that way) but got married as soon as possible to get my mom benefits. They actually have two marriage certificates (the first one and the one from the ceremony with everybody; both JP-ceremonies) because they wanted to be sure that they were legal in all 50 states. (BTW: most years neither remembers either anniversary)
I think the difference in 'just living together' and being married comes from the level of committed to one another. A couple can be completely commited to each other without a legal document or barely commited with it. I believe the ultimate value of a wedding is standing up before your loved ones (and God if you so believe) and saying I love this person, want to spend the rest of my life with him/her, and want to make a life with him/her. It is in the pledge to be an US instead of two MEs. That commitment doesn't require legal standing or even the ceremony itself. But why not share the joy of finding that special someone with the people you love?

John Scalzi | March 5, 2007 10:46 AM


"It's interesting to me that you see the solution here to be more and more government support."

I'm not aware of saying anything of the sort. I said I'd like to make sure that primary and secondary education in the US is uniformly excellent, and that people leave higher education not burdened with overwhelming debt. How these things are accomplished I am open to. Moreover, if these things can be accomplished without additional cost to the taxpayer, I'll be delighted.

Of course, I'm not as phobic as you are about government playing a role in these things, TCO, so I suspect I'd be more willing to consider a government role in accomplishing these objectives than you might be. But I'm pragmatic; whatever works for achieving these goals is worth consideration.

TCO | March 5, 2007 10:50 AM

A very quick way to reduce the numbers of people "saddled" with debt is to stop subsidizing it.

John Scalzi | March 5, 2007 10:57 AM

Which is not particularly on point to my stated goals here, however, since it would likely reduce the number of people going to college. And if it didn't, it would saddle them with more, I suspect.

Personally, I see subsidized loans as a perfectly acceptable use of tax money, although I wish there were fewer loans and more grants, from whatever source. Or simply college being less expensive to attend, which is achievable, if difficult.

Sam | March 5, 2007 11:07 AM

Jenny Rae Rappaport

I feel your pain I'm getting married this Aug in Manhattan, and just to rent the place was $30K (we can't get married in a church because she is a Jew and likewise can't do the temple thing 'cause I'm a gentile). I personally would rather just get married in city hall but she wants the same things u do, the being thrown up in the air while sitting in a chair and going round doing the hora. I dropped a brick when I saw how much the band was going to cost (because I found out most Jewish weddings have to have a band and I guess a DJ was seen as trashy), then the cost of the flowers (apparently there is a transport tax that I never heard of but thats like 12-15% of the cost).

Long story short its excessive, I would have just rather put the money into a downpayment for a freaking mantion. But being the guy I was overruled. In the end this wedding is going to cost over $55k and to be honest its just a party!

TCO | March 5, 2007 11:11 AM

You're just transferring the cost of college from the people who get it (students, in theory at least adults capable of fighting for their country, swinging for murder, etc.) to society in general and to many people who don't even go there.

I think the problem is too many people going to college and the "Yale or jail" dillema where we think less of craftsmanship and where people become delayed adults and perpetually adolescent (not providing for themselves, being provide for...more "mommyism", less go out and kill mountain lions.)

John Scalzi | March 5, 2007 11:19 AM


"You're just transferring the cost of college from the people who get it (students, in theory at least adults capable of fighting for their country, swinging for murder, etc.) to society in general and to many people who don't even go there."

This is an apt description of how taxes work in general (i.e., my money going to fund a number of programs, many of which I do not personally find use with), so this is not surprising, nor do I find it in theory objectionable. In any event this is not the appropriate place to discuss general tax theory, so let's table that.

More to the point at hand, if you have an idea on how to transfer the costs wholly to private interests while at the same time creating and maintaining uniformly excellent public education and low cost of entry and completion for college and graduate work, I would of course be delighted to hear it, TCO.

I'm not a particularly big fan of people using college as a delaying tactic for avoiding the real world, either, although speaking for my own college experience, I didn't see too much of that. The large majority of people there were there to get degrees and move forward.

TCO | March 5, 2007 11:26 AM

1. John: That's not "how taxes work in general"...consider the difference in two types of programs, funded by taxes: one for a benefit (a road, an army, policemen) that is diffuse. One for a benefit which is specific (a student loan, food stamps.) Should everyone who wants a sailboat also have it paid for by society including those who don't choose to have sailboats?

2. Stop rebutting and the "tabling". Come on, dude.


John Scalzi | March 5, 2007 11:33 AM


"Stop rebutting and then 'tabling'. Come on, dude."

TCO, when you're on my site, you get to play by my rules. If you don't like the rules, then don't comment. This is all very clearly noted in the comment thread rules.

In this particular case a discussion of general tax theory is not germane to the specific discussion, as decided by me. If you want to talk about general tax issues, wait until I post a comment on general tax issues or, alternately, an open thread.

What I think is relevant here is a discussion on achieving the goals I stated as regarding education, and I invite you to try to craft a free-market tax-free plan to reach them. If you don't think that's possible, of course, that's fine too.

TCO | March 5, 2007 11:34 AM

"More to the point at hand, if you have an idea on how to transfer the costs wholly to private interests while at the same time creating and maintaining uniformly excellent public education and low cost of entry and completion for college and graduate work, I would of course be delighted to hear it, TCO. "

Ok...let's engage. In this and in your earlier comment that "Which is not particularly on point to my stated goals here, however, since it would likely reduce the number of people going to college. And if it didn't, it would saddle them with more, I suspect.", you are putting your cards on the table that to the extent that the AFF issue helps you with your objective of marshalling support for subsidized college and grad school, you like it. I'm interested in the point on it's own and am also think that there are aspects of it that go in the opposite direction of your thesis (as stated before).

To answer, your question:
A. "Cost" is not low becuase the government picks up the tab (transfer of payment from individual to society). Actually logic (supply and demand curves and incentives) argues that costs themselves will go up.
B. I'm not INTERESTED in having low student payments for college and grad school. I think a lot of it is a waste. And I think those who want it should pay for it. And loans are an EXCELLENT way of enabling those who want it but lack the money right now, to pay for it and make the decision as to how much they really want it.
C. I also think that there are plenty of people who screw around in college (despite "what you saw") and there are obviously gradations of how much people work, how valuable their courses are, and there is some component of college being fun. I don't want to pay for other people's fun.

Jenny Rae Rappaport | March 5, 2007 11:35 AM


Both of my male first cousins, over the last few years, have had Jewish weddings that cost about the same thing as yours. They were lovely affairs and I was a bridesmaid at both of them, but good lord... I will never, ever be able to afford anything like that. Which makes me sad, sort of.

We have a townhouse, we have a mortgage, we have the outrageous cost of my single-person health insurance per month... it all sucks up any money that could and would go to a wedding. And it's hard too, in terms of family relations, because both sets of parents want to financially help out with costs, yet neither set really can do so.

I'm waiting to win the lottery. =) Either that, or get a six-figure book deal... I can dream. =)

John Scalzi | March 5, 2007 11:38 AM


"I'm not INTERESTED in having low student payments for college and grad school."

That's fine. However, I am. So, fundamentally, we'll have to agree to disagree on the desirability of this goal.

TCO | March 5, 2007 11:39 AM

Scalzi: Of course it's your site. The comment was an appeal. It's bad form to raise than table. In any case, I think I can make my points without the "this is what taxation means" red herring that you raised (and then tabled). Simply put, my point is that those who want a benefit should pay for it. There are lots of people who don't want college, aren't smart enough for it, etc. Why should they pay for others to enjoy such providence. Especially others that are 18 years old and ought to be responsible adults, not wards.

John Scalzi | March 5, 2007 11:46 AM


"It's bad form to raise than table."

I didn't raise it the topic, you did. And I said, that's not on point, let's discuss that another time. I think you may be objecting to me getting in the last word, or making a comment you wished to debate further. Naturally, if you see it as raising an entirely new issue, I see your complaint. However, I saw it as a continuance on a subject you raised, which I was not interested in pursuing further because there were more relevant things which to discuss.

TCO | March 5, 2007 11:50 AM

How about a taxation benefit for "over the top Jewish weddings"? All of us singles, non-Jews, and non-overthetopweddingers could chip in and pay for those who want an over the top Jewish wedding but hold back because of cost. Heck we'll even pay for those who would have paid for it anyhow, but prefer to get it done for them!

Look at all the marriages we'll be promoting. I can't wait to go to work to earn money for that...and to have someone extract it from my paycheck. Let me go out and work harder to produce for society. I'm really motivated now.

Amitava D. | March 5, 2007 11:51 AM

"What I think is relevant here is a discussion on achieving the goals I stated as regarding education"

I wonder that TCO would dispute that such goals should be the govt.'s business in the first place.
Are you a Libertarian, TCO? I'd be curious (not necessarily here) to hear your opinions regarding abortion, drug legalization and other such social issues.

John Scalzi | March 5, 2007 11:54 AM


Don't be a dick, please.

Amitava D:

Yes, not on this thread, please. You can take it into e-mail.

Sam | March 5, 2007 12:03 PM

Jenny Rae Rappaport

I hope u one day get the wedding you want (and soon), but it seems to me as if you already have a life going for you. You don't need a weeding to validate your relationship with your significant other. I guess I'm not female and don't really understand the emotional underpinnings of having a day devoted to yourself, like a wedding would do.

Someone way above stated that the reason why people don't get married as often as in previous yrs is because they don't want to sacrifice their time to someone else (ie playing video games or some other trite thing). I would agree most of my friends in their 20's and now even in their 30's dont want to marry because they dont want to be tied down to one particular person (sexually). I think having sex with as much people as possible before u get tied down is a factor.

TCO | March 5, 2007 12:16 PM

I was being funny, I thought, John, and making a point in a different manner so that at least you see where I'm coming from. I will try not to be a dick. You too, big fella. ;-)

John Scalzi | March 5, 2007 12:19 PM

Heh. It's entirely possible my humor meter is off today. Thanks, TCO.

Ray | March 5, 2007 12:31 PM

In relation to all these other posts this may sound stupid but I'm going for it anyways.

1) Wedding cost.
This is as expensive as you want it to be. When me and my wife got married we picked a nice place in the Mendecino botanical gardens, invited about 50 friends and family. My good friend Bob was our Minister (ULC) and when all was said and done the total cost was about 2k.

2) Marrying for the sake of children.
When me and my wife actually married (now here is the maybe stupid part) our driving reason was we all wanted the same last name.

As a family we have had our ups, downs, sideways and every other variation of good, bad, and ugly. But in truth marriage has taught me my biggest lesson. Lessons about trust, tolerance, compromise, and honesty. It really takes stamina and strength for marriage to endure. I figured after a 6 year courtship that there would be no more mysteries. But another thing I learned was the mysteries of love are never ending.

Mary Anne Mohanraj | March 5, 2007 01:18 PM

I just can't resist one more note.

I really think it would help this discussion if folks could try *not* to assume that 'not getting legally married' = 'not making a serious commitment to each other'.

I know for some people, getting married felt very different for them than living together did. I'm guessing that's because their attitude about the relationship changed at that point. Try to understand that for lots of people (including most of my friends who did get married), getting married didn't make any real difference in their personal relationship -- all it got them were some legal benefits, because they were already thoroughly committed to the relationship before the wedding.

For me, the transition point was when Kevin and I decided that we were in it together for the long haul. And yes, that felt very different than when we were just dating and/or living together. But we didn't have to get legally married to make that shift.

Several people seem to be saying that marriage is different because you're making vows in front of your family/society. But you can stand up in front of friends and family and make whatever kind of commitment you like without getting legally married. Gays and lesbians have been doing it for a long time -- it's called a commitment ceremony, and my friends who have gone through them certainly take them seriously.

Kevin and I did a modified version the 13th year we were together -- we didn't feel the need to make public vows as such; we were happy with our own private promises to each other. And in fact, we're both uncomfortable with society's pressure to validate certain relationships and give them an official stamp or recognition and approval, and public vows seem part of that (at times oppressive) tradition.

But that said, we did want to celebrate our joy in each other, and let others share in that joy -- so we threw a big anniversary party, inviting friends and family from around the world; I had a gorgeous dress made, and we generally had a festive good time. (I think we spent about $5K total, on dress and flowers and table/linen/dishware rental and fabulous food, for about 75 people.)

PLEASE try to understand that 'marriage' is made up of many parts, and you can at least try to take the good parts without signing up for the bad. Even if society makes it very very difficult to do so.

Jeremiah | March 5, 2007 01:29 PM

Like others have said, the "marriage is expensive" line of thought is only because people look at the $30,000 weddings.

Mine is going to be less than $5k. Believe me. It's still going to be a normal looking and awesome wedding, just not glitzy and crazy.

Jenny Rae Rappaport | March 5, 2007 01:32 PM

Mary Anne:

"PLEASE try to understand that 'marriage' is made up of many parts, and you can at least try to take the good parts without signing up for the bad. Even if society makes it very very difficult to do so."

I agree completely.

Putting aside the fact that I would just like to be married (personal preference), if I could get on my fiancee's health insurance without needing to be married... this wouldn't be as big of an issue. But I can't, even though NJ now has laws that allow same-sex couples to enjoy benefits like that without marriage; it's not applicable to heterosexual couples, unfortunately. I pay $1100/month for health insurance, including prescription costs. It's a lot--marriage is a big financial incentive, even though we're still not sure how we're going to pull it off.


All Jewish weddings are not over the top. Yes, I know you're trying to be humorous, but you're really not in my financial or family situation. There are pressures and other factors at issue that you have no idea about. So yes, you are sort of a dick, hon. =)

Todd Stull | March 5, 2007 01:42 PM

For those interested, Marriage: A History... by Stephanie Coontz is a fantastic book. If you are interested in understanding how marriage has changed in the Western world, and how other cultures view relationships, you should check it out!

gerrymander | March 5, 2007 02:00 PM

"'We seem to be reverting to a much older pattern, when elites marry and a great many others live together and have kids,' said Peter Francese, demographic trends analyst for Ogilvy & Mather, an advertising firm."

Personally, I'd like to see some reference to what Francese is talking about. The majority of cultural histories I've read tend to indicate that marriages of some sort are the norm. Rich and poor alike tended to place a high value on (female, at least) chastity, and non-married cohabitation tended to be viewed as dishonorable/sinful.

Michael Ralston | March 5, 2007 02:22 PM

On the issue of government-subsidized student loans, I think there's a very valid argument to be made that increasing the number of people with a college education is good for our economy, and thus indeed is a public good akin to the highway system (which, after all, doesn't get a lot of use by inner-city working poor ...)

ordinarygirl | March 5, 2007 02:28 PM

I agree that commitment should not be confused with marriage. People can be committed without being married or married without being committed.

My husband and I lived together for 4 years before we got married. We talked about marriage a few times over the years, but I was content without being married. I was committed to him and to our life together.

The reasons we thought about getting married were:

1) Insurance Benefits - I had free family health insurance available through my employer which was tempting, but not a reason to get married in our opinion.

2) Tax Benefits - Married middle class couples usually pay less in taxes than they do when single. Of course, that can vary with income levels and tax brackets.

3) Legal ramifications in medical situations - See Mris's post.

4) Family expectations - My father gave me the "getting the milk for free speech". It made me ill. I think it was more insulting to Matt than me really, but it is insulting to compare me to a milk cow.

None of those seemed like reason enough to get married to me. Marriage seemed to me like it should be a private thing between the two of us. We already had what I thought was the important part. Neither of us desired a religious ceremony and neither of us felt the need to celebrate our relationship with friends and family. Every day is a celebration of our relationship and we celebrate it in small ways by being together among our friends and family.

The reason we got married two years ago is because Matt asked me. He didn't say why he'd made that decision, but making him happy is more important to me than being married or not being married to him. I knew that I was going to live with him the rest of my life whether we married or not.

I wasn't going to change my name because it's a hassle, especially if you're already established. But he wanted us to have the same name. And again, I wanted to make him happy. If it was something I strongly believed in then we would have worked it out without changing my name, but a hassle isn't that big of a thing really when it's important to someone you love.

In the two years we've been married our relationship hasn't changed, other than in the way that a relationship deepens over time.

We still keep our finances separate. That may change if we ever have children, but it works for us now. We split the housing bills evenly. I handle these bills because I'm more responsible about paying them on time. (I'm a little paranoid about it, actually.) And he likes not having the hassle.

All the bills we had before we moved in together are ours separately. He pays his and I pay mine. All other expenses we split pretty evenly, but neither one of us is very strict about it. I never feel that I'm taking advantage of him and he doesn't feel that way about me, even if things don't come out even all the time. It works for us.

The only thing different about being married is people's perception of us. But we haven't let that change us.

Alex R. | March 5, 2007 03:09 PM

It seems to me that there is an increasing percentage of the adult population that is taking a rather adolescent view of rebelling for the sake of rebelling. This time, its not against their parents, but against society (which I guess they view as trying to "force" them into a certain lifestyle). Can someone please explain this attitude to me?

Anonymous | March 5, 2007 03:13 PM

MWT said: You can trust someone with your life. You can trust someone with your heart. You can trust someone with your money. These three things are not the same, and should not be confused with each other.

Money plays a significant role in one's ability to take care of oneself, so I would still say that trusting someone with your money is also in large part trusting them with your life. It may not entail life and death decisions of the moment, but it can have far reaching consequences.

claire | March 5, 2007 03:13 PM

MWT said: You can trust someone with your life. You can trust someone with your heart. You can trust someone with your money. These three things are not the same, and should not be confused with each other.

Money plays a significant role in one's ability to take care of oneself, so I would still say that trusting someone with your money is also in large part trusting them with your life. It may not entail life and death decisions of the moment, but it can have far reaching consequences.

Sam | March 5, 2007 03:15 PM

I pay $75 a month for health insurance and its a PPO, best kind of insurance u can get. I'm always amazed how health insurance is soo expensive, my previous job I payed $250 a month for healt insurance and it really was a crappy HMO. I don't think that I marry someone on the bases of health insurance, but then again I've never really been sick.

Sam | March 5, 2007 03:34 PM

I used to work with a woman whose entire paycheck went to cover the cost of the family health insurance (family of 3, and she cleared 900 a check), they lived off her husbands checks. It seems to me had she been a single mother she probably would have to paid less and gotten better tax breaks.

Anonymous | March 5, 2007 03:37 PM

Alex R. - I think the reasons people marry less are not related to rebelling, but are related to issues already mentioned here.

1) Women's earnings - Women can now earn enough money to support themselves and a child more often than in the past. For some women, the result has been they decided not to marry an abusive partner, or even a partner they did not love.

2) Less social pressure - For many, being unmarried carries less stigma than in the past (especially for women). This is because more people are doing it.

3) A reasoned political statement - As one poster said previously, some people do not marry as a way to state "Hey, since same sex people can't get married, I don't want to support an institution that I find distasteful." Others don't marry as a political statement to their family or culture of origin.

And gerrymander - See my above post on the book by Stephanie Coontz. You'll have your evidence then.

earl | March 5, 2007 05:39 PM


is apropos. Basically, a realtor gets cancer. Her insurer drops her like she's hot the second they can. Her quote for insurance after having breast cancer? $27K / year.

She is not conforming to treatment protocol, avoiding the doctor, terrified of her future, and delaying getting married to avoid saddling a future husband with her medical bills.


Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers | March 5, 2007 07:08 PM

You can trust someone with your life. You can trust someone with your heart. You can trust someone with your money. These three things are not the same, and should not be confused with each other.

Agreed they're not the same, but if you intend to live with someone for a good fraction of your lifespan you'd best be ready to commit to all of them. I think the main reason that couples don't last is that they can't or won't make those commitments, whether marriage is involved or not.

And in the long term the question "Can I afford to be responsible for this person?" gets answered in the affirmative in both directions or the relationship will end anyway. There've been times when my wife worked and I didn't (computer software is seasonal work, for values of seasonal of about 5 or 6 years), and times when I worked and she didn't (she was a writer for awhile, you all know about that).

mythago | March 5, 2007 09:46 PM

My father gave me the "getting the milk for free speech".

To steal a quote from blogger Antigone, try asking dad "Why would you want to buy a whole pig when all you want is a little sausage?"

And, Sam? Your girlfriend is selling you a bill of goods. There is no rule that Jewish weddings "have to" have a band instead of a DJ, or have to cost a set amount of money. If she starts fussing about what "Jewish weddings" are supposed to have, you might point out that first of all they are supposed to have a Jewish bride and groom.

I don't understand the idea that the wedding is supposed to be the bride's special day. Implicit in that notion is that the rest of her life is going to be suck, and she's going to be a drudge for her husband, so she's only got the once to be special and happy.

Tolladay | March 5, 2007 11:57 PM

"Coming from poor white trash as I do, I will politely dispute this theory. On average, I have not found the intelligence between the classes notably different (although there is clearly a disparity between education)."

I'll be happy to stipulate education instead of inteligence, but I'm not completely convinced it's true. In fact, you yourself are an excellent example for my case, as you are no longer poor, and you are obviously intelligent.

But my point, missed by my poor word choices, is more about how poor people think (be it a dearth of education or intelligence, or both) than how much they make.

My experience with poverty introduced me to a lot of people with some very passive ideas about money and income. Chance is something that happens to them, not something they take, and luck is some ellusive thing, not a thing of their own making. They also have some very large misconceptions about wealth, and money management. Like how much it takes to be "really rich" and how to manage that money if they ever get a big pile of it (like winning the lottery). Again, very big generalisations here.

I'm just wondering (to finally drag this donkey back to the trail) if this kind of passive thinking is also a reason why less poor people get married. If you're passive about your financial future, are you also passive about your romantic future?

John Scalzi | March 6, 2007 01:25 AM


"In fact, you yourself are an excellent example for my case, as you are no longer poor, and you are obviously intelligent."

This is true; however, I am no more intelligent than other members of my family, some of whom are poor. There's more that goes into that equation. This is not to say that there aren't some people who are poor because they're not intelligent; merely to say that in my experience as I've gone through the classes that no one economic stratum has a lion's share of intelligence, any more than it has the lion's share of any other human quality.

Anna Feruglio Dal Dan | March 6, 2007 01:32 AM

Sorry to butt in as one of those lazy selfish people who don't have their shit together and are therefore not in a relationship, but this whole thread is making me feel somewhat annoyed. I wonder why.

Matt Ruff | March 6, 2007 10:41 AM

TCO: It's interesting to me that you see the solution here to be more and more government support.

Scalzi: I'm not aware of saying anything of the sort.

You're talking about providing "universely excellent" schooling -- somehow -- not just as an end in itself, but as a means of increasing marriage rates among the poor and working-class.

Which does sound a lot like a government project.

John Scalzi | March 6, 2007 10:45 AM

Matt Ruff:

"Which does sound a lot like a government project."

Which is not the same as "more and more government support" if one is able to achieve the objective without additional cost. Which may be possible; I don't know.

Matt Ruff | March 6, 2007 10:46 AM

...and my spelling of "universally" is kind of like a government project, too...

Matt Ruff | March 6, 2007 11:20 AM

Matt Ruff: Which does sound a lot like a government project.

John Scalzi: Which is not the same as "more and more government support" if one is able to achieve the objective without additional cost.

I get the distinction, but if you expand the government's already large role in providing schooling and insist that it actually do a great job, I think it's a reasonable guess that costs will go up, a lot. (And I for one would be cool with that, if I could get myself to believe that insisting the government do a great job would cause it to do a great job.)

Mike Brown | March 9, 2007 05:16 PM

Punctuating a fundamental change in American family life, married couples with children now occupy fewer than one in every four households -- a share that has been slashed in half since 1960 and is the lowest ever recorded by the census.

I read this statistic and my first reaction was, "is what's being measured here really what the article implies?"

The statistic doesn't say that only 25% of couples with children are married today, as opposed to 50% in 1960. It says that households with children are now 25% of all households. The rest of the households include unmarried couples with children or people living together without being married, sure, but it also includes people whose children have left home, widows and widowers and other random people who live alone for any number of reasons, people who haven't started families yet (married or not) and so on.

And let's look at the points which were chosen - 1960 and now. 1960 was the peak of the baby boom, which was an unrepresentative surge in the number of kids. All the people who had kids right after WWII were raising them, so the number of households with children was much higher then than now. Conversely, 1960 was very early in the medical revolution which has let people live much longer, so that the number of households made up of people in their 70's and 80's (and more) was much lower. Today, people are commonly living into their 80's as independent households. Add that number of older people who would not have been around in 1960 to the unrepresentative surge of 1960's kids who are now forming an unrepresentative surge of adult households from which the kids have grown up and left, and you get a real skew in the statistics.

Compare an artificially inflated number to an artificially deflated one, and you get a really big difference.

I'm not saying that this whole discussion of why and when people get married, or not, isn't interesting - but I'm not sure that the statistic which started the thread has much to do with it.

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