Attacking the Family

Church leaders remind us, on a not-infrequent basis, that the family is under attack, and that we, as members, have a duty to defend marriage and family.[fn1]

As faithful members, I believe that we have an obligation to take these warnings seriously and, more particularly, to actively strengthen the legal and cultural underpinnings of marriage and family in our respective societies.

But defending the family against attack requires us to first understand what is getting in the way of familial formation. 

The Problem

There is a real problem with familial formation today. In 2012, nearly 41% of births were to unmarried women. That’s up from 32.6% in 1994, and from 3.8% in 1940. That is, over 70 years, the percentage of nonmarital births increase by a factor of more than 10.

So what has caused this huge increase in nonmarital births? Have people (for whatever reason) given up on marriage? In 2012, after all, we had the highest percentage ever of adults aged 25 or older who had never been married (at about 20%). But giving up doesn’t seem to be the answer: 68% of Americans believe that it’s important for couples to marry if they intend to spend the rest of their lives together.

Are we just a more immoral society? In their book Marriage Markets, June Carbone and Naomi Cahn persuasively argue that the primary impediment to marriage is not lack of moral rectitude. And, in fact, today’s morality looks pretty good on most measures. Crime (both violent and property) in the U.S. has been declining over the last quarter century. Cigarette smoking among teenagers is at its lowest level in 22 years, as is teenage alcohol consumption. Teen pregnancy rates are also at historic lows.

And yet. And yet we have this huge, high rate of nonmarital births. What to do about that?

The Baseline

We seem to set our baseline for marriage and family somewhere around the 1950s. But the 1950s were an outlier; according to Professor Ann L. Alstott, “Sociologists have noted that the mid-twentieth century marked an unusual period in the history of marriage. In that era—in contrast to earlier and later periods—couples married young, had children soon after marriage, and remained married, typically for life.”[fn2]

The outlier nature of the 1950s is borne out by Census data, which shows that the median age at first marriage declined for both men and women from 1890 until 1950/1960, then rose again to its present level.

It’s also important to note that as early as the 1930s, people were having premarital sex. Census data tell us that from 1930-1934, one in six first births to women between the ages of 15 and 29 were conceived out of wedlock. (Note that that ratio had increased to one in two by the first half of the 1990s.)

There has been a major societal change, though, between the 1930s and the present: back then, if a boy got a girl pregnant, he married her, often before the baby was born. Today, not so much. (Specifically, in 1960, 60% of premaritally pregnant women were married by the time they gave birth; by 1980, that percentage had dropped to 29%.)

Still, I don’t think rampant immorality explains the changes we see in marriage. And I don’t think so based largely on one set of numbers.

My One Set of Numbers

See, although 41% of births in 2012 were nonmarital, that number doesn’t tell the complete story. Take a look at page 3 of this analysis of 2011 births.[fn3] Note that 57% of births to women with less than a high school education were nonmarital, as opposed to less than 9% of births to women with at least a bachelor’s degree.

Similarly, the nonmarital birth rate falls from about 69% for women with a household income of less than $10,000 to 9% for women with a household income of $200,000 or more.

The relevance? Unless we want to argue (and I certainly don’t) that the wealthy are more moral than the poor, and the highly-educated more moral than the less-educated, the numbers don’t permit us to tell a story based purely on moral failing.[fn4] Instead, it forces us to tell a socioeconomic story.

The Socioeconomic Story

In their book, Carbone and Cahn argue convincingly that one of the big changes in marriage has been in the stratification of the marriage market. In prior generations, marriage was could serve as a socioeconomic stepping-stone. The executive might marry his secretary; high school sweethearts (who may have had significantly different economic paths) would marry. In fact, between 1940 and 1960, the likelihood that spouses had the same level of education fell from 59% to 45%.[fn5]

Then women began to enter the workforce. “And,” according to Carbone and Cahn, “as they did, they looked for men who valued the careers they had chosen and had lives that fit with theirs.”[fn6] Today, marriage has become economically assortive. Men with a college degree are now much less likely to marry women who only completed high school, and vice versa. Carbone and Cahn again: “[T]he woman from the working-class background who makes it into Emory often must choose: give up the boyfriend from back home or see him undermine her prospects for later success.”[fn7]

This market segmentation has real effects on marriage prospects. At the higher income levels, men outnumber women, while, at lower income levels, women outnumber men.[fn8] To the extent that marriage functions like a market, then, and the market is largely stratified by socioeconomic status, that means that men at high income levels have to compete for women, while at lower income levels, women have to compete for men.

This story is reinforced by recent Pew survey data indicating that, in choosing a spouse, most women (78%) look for a partner with a steady job. Unfortunately, for every 100 never-married women between the ages of 25 and 34, there are only 91 never-married men in that same age cohort who have a job.

How much does that matter? Plenty. There’s a world of difference between a woman supporting herself and her child and a woman supporting herself, her child, and her un- (or under-) employed partner.

A Legal Story, Too

There’s also a legal story here, though that story is tightly intertwined with the socioeconomic story. Carbone and Cahn explain that our marital laws largely take for granted middle-class status. As such, in divorce, by default, property is split evenly and both parents get custody rights.

For a poor woman, this could be disastrous. Remember, men in this socioeconomic tier are much more likely to be un- or underemployed; it’s possible that, upon divorce, she would have to split assets she brought into the marriage with him. And he would have an ongoing relationship with their child.

Without marriage, she keeps her property. She keeps the child. She can control his access to the child. Sure, there’s no divorce proceeding requiring the father to pay child support, but if he’s underemployed, she may not be giving anything up. Without marriage, if she wants support payments, she can condition access to their child on those payments. But Carbone and Cahn’s anecdotal evidence suggests that many of these single mothers are able to make a go of it, even without support from their child’s father.

Maybe Even a Cultural One

Elite marriage today is one of equality, interdependence, and shared parenting.[fn9] That’s definitely how I—and everybody I interact with in my age cohort—views marriage. (And interesting side note: many of my friends—most of whom aren’t members of the church—have young children, and a stay-at-home parent, generally the wife. But we get there in a different way: it’s a personal and economic choice, not a cultural demand.) This is, I submit, a better way to view marriage, but it’s also intimidating when you can’t do it. As Carbone and Cahn say, “The men and women did not marry because they associated marriage with the new model of equal, interdependent, and shared parenting, not because they rejected it.”[fn10]

So What’s the Solution?

Honestly, it’s probably to make it possible for men (and women) to get jobs that allow them to support a family. At this point, it’s fair to disagree about the best way to do that. Is it to enact protectionist policies that bring solid blue-collar jobs back to the US? Is it to provide a better safety net for the unemployed that provides job training in emerging fields? Is it better parental leave? Do we change the legal assumptions about marriage?

Note that I’m not asserting that my socioeconomic story is the whole story behind the problems we’re seeing with marriage and family. It’s clearly not—the problems are the result of a complex web of cultural, legal, economic, moral, and other considerations. But I do think the socioeconomic story is an integral one, and one that will respond to political action. See, we’re not going to roll back a lot of culture. That is, women aren’t suddenly going to exit the workforce en masse. People aren’t going to stop having premarital sex. (Seriously: even back in the good old days they did it.)[fn11]

But there’s widespread agreement that being employed, and being able to support oneself and one’s family, is a good thing. Even if we disagree about how to get there, I think that’s a goal we can all work toward. And if my socioeconomic story is correct—and more people than just me think it is—then improving the job prospects of young men and women will serve to strengthen marriage and the family—just what we, as members, are charged to do.

International caveat: I realize that my analysis has been tremendously US-centric. Other countries may have different issues surrounding marriage. My main point is not that socioeconomics is the universal solution (though it may be). My broader point is, if we want to defend marriage and family, we need to take a close look at what problems they’re facing. Otherwise, our proposed solutions may not do any good.

[fn1] For more examples, Google site:lds.org “family is under attack.”

[fn2] Anne L. Alstott, Updating the Welfare State: Marriage, the Income Tax, and Social Security in the Age of Individualism, 66 Tax L. Rev. 695 (2014).

[fn3] Note that this is 2011, not 2012, so the numbers are slightly different. The story they tell, though, is the same as what I’ve seen, but can’t currently find, for 2012.

[fn4] Also, the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Book of Mormon would be pretty uncomfortable with the assertion that somehow the wealthy are inherently more righteous than the poor.

[fn5] Marriage Markets at 62.

[fn6] Id. at 43.

[fn7] Id.

[fn8] Id. at 66-67.

[fn9] Id. at 122.

[fn10] Id.

[fn11] Note that I’m not advocating premarital sex here. I think it should be avoided and, as members, we have even stronger incentives to avoid it. But we’re, what, 2% of the US population? Meaning that, even if every single Mormon was having premarital sex and they all stop, it wouldn’t make a huge difference to the larger culture.

Comments

  1. .

    This is a problem so closely connected to education and poverty that if we really want to defend the family, we need to think about how to support living wages, access to education, etc.

  2. This is one of the funniest things I have ever read: “It’s also important to note that as early as the 1930s, people were having premarital sex.”

  3. Thank you, Owen. It may be that they were having premarital sex even earlier, but the Census data I have just goes back to the 30s.

  4. A fantastic post, Sam.

    >improving the job prospects of young men and women will serve to strengthen marriage and the family

    This.

  5. I may or may not be a BritLit nerd who knows that British parish registers show that more than 1/3rd of registered marriages in the first half of the 1800s featured pregnant brides. Amongst the poorer classes, marriage was also much less common – there were economic disincentives then as well. There was never any golden age of superior morality – humans have generally always been the same, once you strip away cultural specifics.

  6. I have to read more to comment more, but this stuck out:
    “For a poor woman, this could be disastrous. Remember, men in this socioeconomic tier are much more likely to be un- or underemployed; it’s possible that, upon divorce, she would have to split assets she brought into the marriage with him.” In my community property state, assets brought into a marriage remain the separate property of that spouse, so in the event of a split, the property brought into a marriage by a woman would not be split with the dead beat husband. Plus, quite frankly, the “poor” don’t bring much into a marriage, anyway. Maybe a car, a bed and a couch and some dishes. Not what most of us would consider to be real assets.

    I think a lot of the child born out of wedlock stuff comes from the lack of stigma associated with illegitimacy. Once laws were changed to recognize the property rights of illegitimates, the social stigma fell by the wayside, so that now it’s “cool” to have kids outside of marriage. I have performed about 120 civil ceremonies a year for the past 18 years. I am still amazed at the number of women who come to a ceremony with two and three kids in tow. I don’t have the feeling that it’s the women’s preference to be single mothers to a long term baby daddy. It seems to me the men just haven’t been willing to take ownership and responsibility for a family. I do agree that socio-economics does play a significant role, though I can’t quite yet determine why. It’s seems like plenty of women are still willing to have unprotected sex with men that are un/under employed, and who then end up pregnant.

  7. Great post, Sam. It accords with a number of articles in The Atlantic in the last eighteen months or so, all showing that growing income inequality and lack of access to opportunities for education are primary reasons for the decline in the rate of marriage.

    Richard V. Reeves recently wrote that

    American marriage is not dying. But it is undergoing a metamorphosis, prompted by a transformation in the economic and social status of women and the virtual disappearance of low-skilled male jobs. The old form of marriage, based on outdated social rules and gender roles, is fading. A new version is emerging—egalitarian, committed, and focused on children.

    There was a time when college-educated women were the least likely to be married. Today, they are the most important drivers of the new marriage model. Unlike their European counterparts, increasingly ambivalent about marriage, college graduates in the United States are reinventing marriage as a child-rearing machine for a post-feminist society and a knowledge economy. It’s working, too: Their marriages offer more satisfaction, last longer, and produce more successful children.

    The glue for these marriages is not sex, nor religion, nor money. It is a joint commitment to high-investment parenting—not hippy marriages, but “HIP” marriages. And America needs more of them. Right now, these marriages are concentrated at the top of the social ladder, but they offer the best—perhaps the only—hope for saving the institution. . . .

    Women with at least a BA are now significantly more likely to be married in their early 40s than high-school dropouts . . . .

    During the 1960s and 1970s, it looked as if the elite might turn away from this fusty, constricting institution. Instead, they are now its most popular participants. In 2007, American marriage passed an important milestone: It was the first year when rates of marriage by age 30 were higher for college graduates than for non-graduates. . . .

    In fact, we can see marriage persisting among the most affluent and educated Americans. But they’re not going back to the old model their parents rejected. They are creating a new model for marriage—one that is liberal about adult roles, conservative about raising children.

    The central rationale for these marriages is to raise children together, in a settled, nurturing environment. So, well-educated Americans are ensuring that they are financially stable before having children, by delaying childrearing. They are also putting their relationship on a sound footing too—they’re not in the business of love at first sight, rushing to the altar, or eloping to Vegas. College graduates take their time to select a partner; and then, once the marriage is at least a couple of years old, take the final step and become parents. Money, marriage, maternity: in that order.

    By delaying childbearing, these new-model spouses can actually get the best of both worlds, enjoying the benefits of a romantic marriage, before switching gears to a HIP marriage once they have children. This means the relationship has some built-in resilience before entering the “trial by toddler” phase–and also, that emotional investment in the children can take priority for the next few years, following years of investment in each other. Many couples manage a “date night” every week or so–but every night is parenting night. Indeed, there is some evidence that there is less sex in these egalitarian, child-focused marriages. But least for this chapter of the relationship, sex is not what they’re about. . . .

    When it comes to the most basic measure of parenting investment—time spent with children—a large class gap has emerged. In the 1970s, college-educated and non-educated families spent roughly equal amounts of time with their children. But in the last 40 years, college-grad couples have opened up a wide lead, as work by Harvard’s Robert Putnam (of Bowling Alone fame) shows. Dads with college degrees spend twice as much time with their children as the least-educated fathers.

    Although college graduates tend to be a reliably liberal voting bloc, their attitudes toward parenting are actually quite conservative. College grads are now the most likely to agree that “divorce should be harder to obtain than it is now” (40%), a slight increase since the 1970s. Although we can’t be sure why, this is likely connected to the accumulating evidence that single parenthood provides a steep challenge to parenting. . . .

    Simply engaging with and talking to children has strong effects on their learning; reading bedtime stories accelerates literacy skill acquisition; encouraging physical activity and feeding them balanced meals keeps them healthy, strong and alert. Marriage is becoming, in the words of Shelly Lundberg and Robert Pollak, a “co-parenting contract” or “commitment device” for raising children . . . .

    The [high-investment parenting] model of marriage, then, is built on a strong, traditional commitment to raising children together. But in other respects it differs sharply from the traditional model. Most importantly, the wife is not economically dependent on the husband. HIP wives have a good education, an established career, and high earning potential. We cannot understand modern marriage unless we grasp this central fact: The women getting, and staying, married are the most economically independent women in the history of the nation. Independence, rather than dependence, underpins the new marriage. . . .

    But HIP marriages are actually recasting family responsibilities, with couples sharing the roles of both child-raiser and money-maker. There will be lots of juggling, trading and negotiating: “I’ll do the morning if you can get home in time to take Zach to baseball.” Since the 1960s, fathers have doubled the time they spend on housework and tripled their hours of childcare. . . .

    So: College grads are highly conservative when it comes to divorce and having children within marriage; but the most egalitarian about gender roles; and the most liberal about social issues generally. . . .

    Why then is the institution atrophying among those with least education and lowest incomes?

    A lack of “marriageable” men is a common explanation. It is clear that the labor market prospects of poorly-educated men are dire. But the language itself betrays inherent conservatism. “Marriageability” here means, principally, breadwinning potential. . . .

    If a man can’t earn—and that’s apparently his only authentic contribution—he becomes just another mouth to feed, another child. But men with children are something more than just potential earners: They are fathers. And what many children in our poorest neighborhoods need most of all is more parenting. . . .

    By continuing to see the male role in such constricting terms — as breadwinner or nothing — we are inadvertently contributing to the slow death of marriage in our most disadvantaged communities.

    In many low-income families, it is the mother who has the best chance in the labor market. But this doesn’t make men redundant. It means men need to start doing the “women’s work” of raising kids. Although there is a lingering determinism about parenting and gender roles, recent evidence — in particular from Ohio State University sociologist Douglas B. Downey — suggests that women have no inherent competitive advantage in the parenting stakes.

    The children who can benefit most from high levels of parental investment, from both mom and dad, are the poorest. HIP marriages are an elite invention that could make the greatest difference in the poorest communities, if only attitudes can be shifted. Our central problem is not the slow retreat of the idea of traditional marriage. It is the stubborn persistence of the idea of traditional marriage among those people for whom it has lost almost all rationale. . . .

    Against all predictions, educated Americans are rejuvenating marriage. We should be spreading their successes. Given the implications for social mobility and life chances, we should be striving to accelerate the adoption of new marriages further down the income distribution. . . .

    HIP marriages are based on a new virtue, appropriate for the modern economy: heavy investment in children. . . .

    What we need is a not a Campaign for Marriage, but a Campaign for Good Parenting, which may, as a byproduct, bring about a broader revival of marriage. (emphasis added) (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/02/how-to-save-marriage-in-america/283732/)

    Derek Thompson: “As marriage has shifted from opposites-attract to like-attracts-like, researchers have found that sorting has increased all along the educational scale. College graduates are more likely than ever to marry college graduates, as Charles Murray has written. High school dropouts are more likely to marry high school dropouts.” http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/03/the-decline-of-marriage-and-the-rise-of-unwed-mothers-an-economic-mystery/274111/

    Derek Thompson again:

    The rich and educated are more likely to marry, to marry each other, and to produce rich and educated children. But this virtual cycle turns vicious for the poor. . . .

    As women closed the education gap, the very nature of marriage has changed. It has slowly become an arrangement pairing similarly rich and educated people. Ambitious workaholics used to seek partners who were happy to take care of the house. Today, they’re more likely to seek another ambitious workaholic. . . .

    Single moms and single dads are more likely to be poor, not only because they don’t have help in the household, but also because they didn’t have much money to begin with.

    In a strange twist, marriage has recently become a capstone for the privileged class. The decline of marriage, to the extent that we’re seeing it, is happening almost exclusively among the poor. The lowest-earning men and women (i.e.: the least-educated men and women) have seen the steepest declines in marriage rates, according to the Hamilton Project. (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/10/how-americas-marriage-crisis-makes-income-inequality-so-much-worse/280056/)

    Eleanor Barkhorn:

    College-educated women are unlikely to have a child before getting married. For college-educated women, the average age of first birth (30) has risen along with the average age of marriage (27). Only 12 percent of births by college graduates are to unmarried women.

    Women without college degrees are very likely to have a child before getting married. Less-educated women have a much different experience with marriage and childbirth. For women without a college degree, the average age of first birth has not risen apace with the average age of marriage. The average age of first birth for this group is lower than the average marriage age. For women who dropped out of high school, the average age of first birth is 20, while the average marriage age is 25; 83 percent of first births in this demographic are to unmarried mothers. For women who graduated from high school and went to some college, the average age for first birth is 24 and the average marriage age is 27; 58 percent of first births are to unwed mothers.

    Couples who are not married when they have children are far more likely to split up When couples are married when their first child is born, there’s a 13 percent chance they’ll separate within the first five year’s of the child’s life. When couples are cohabitating, their chances of breaking up within that period are 39 percent. (emphasis added) (http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/03/getting-married-later-is-great-for-college-educated-women/274040/)

    In spite of mountains of research, surveys, and analyses by very informed people about these problems, our discourse on the threat to marriage in the Church remains very impoverished, focusing primarily on gay people, the free love movement of the 1960s, and criticism of divorce (with pornography as a related topic to the latter). I cannot recall hearing a Church leader focus on the socioeconomic facts you highlight in this post and that are analyzed in great detail by many researchers and reported in places from The New York Times to The Economist and everything in between.

    But even if Church leaders are not directing their and our attention to this primary threat to marriage (growing income inequality and lack of opportunities for education, see also 3 Nephi 6, especially 3 Ne. 6:12), apparently politicians of both parties in the US and UK are beginning to see and take these threats (and not merely the clichéd threats of hippie free love or no-fault divorce) seriously. In an informative essay by Michael Wear just published today, he writes:

    A commitment to building a stable family is not the deal it used to be in America. The average American family is poorer than it was 10 years ago. As Stephanie Coontz has pointed out, over the last 40 years changes in the workforce and growing socioeconomic inequality have conspired to stoke familial instability. Our policies have failed to address this new landscape, and because of it we are inhibiting one of our nation’s greatest contributors to the public good, and Americans’ most personal aspirations: family. . . .

    These benefits of family are certainly evident to the president. Obama’s experiences as a father and a husband are essential to understanding Obama the politician. His first book, Dreams from My Father, is driven by his search for identity not just through the prism of race, but as a man who hardly knew his father. He has addressed some of the most important moments and causes of his political life through his perspective as a father and husband: his speech on race in April 2008 and his remarks about Trayvon Martin, his case for the Affordable Care Act, and his advocacy for women. He has made promoting fatherhood a signature issue of his presidency. As someone who personally knows the “hole in the heart” that a child has when a father is absent, Obama has withstood criticism from some on the left for focusing on the role of fathers in children’s lives. In private prayers I’ve shared with the president, and public moments where he leads through his perspective as a son, husband, and father, Obama’s value of family has always been clear and moving to me. . . .

    The White House continues to appreciate the value of approaching economic and social issues through the lens of family. The president hosted a Summit on Working Families in late June that packaged a mixture of tax reforms, women’s rights, and workplace policies under the banner of supporting working families. Obama told attendees that these issues are “personal” to him: As the husband of a “brilliant woman who struggled” with work-life balance issues, as the son of a “single mother” who “had to take some food stamps” to feed her family, and as a father of “two unbelievable young ladies … I want them to be able to have families.” . . .

    The summit promoted a slate of policies that progressives put forward as supporting working families, including equal pay, raising the minimum wage, paid leave, child and elder care, and fighting workplace discrimination. . . .

    Hillary Clinton recently called for “family-centered economics.” In fact, it is the Democrats that have dominated the policy conversation around families since 2008 as the GOP has retreated to a radical individualism in rejection of the Democrats’ more communitarian politics. . . .

    That is beginning to change. An emerging group of reform-conservative leaders is pushing a more family-focused economic agenda is emerging from top conservative leaders and thinkers. As Ross Douthat explained: “The immediate reformist priority, the raison d’etre of the movement, is serving the interests and winning the votes of those ‘middle class parents with kids’ (and people who might want to be middle class parents with kids) on economic issues.” These conservatives understand that people neither live, nor want to live, in isolation from one another—and certainly not members of their own family.

    “Room to Grow,” the “reformicon” manifesto, features a chapter on pro-family policies by W. Bradford Wilcox, which includes reforms to the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, eliminating the “marriage penalty,” and looking at job training and vocational education through the lens of the family. National Affairs has advanced family-friendly tax reform. Senator Marco Rubio tied the strength of the family to the strength of the American economy in remarks at Catholic University in late July. . . .

    In a widely read article in May, E.J. Dionne previewed the two central progressive critiques of the reformicon vision should it take hold in the GOP:

    “Who can disagree that the breakdown of family structures has been a tragedy for low-income Americans? And why would these reformers not entertain interventions in a marketplace that has failed to secure a modicum of equity? Setting aside the novel notion that the Founders had family life rather than property rights in mind when they edited Jefferson’s language, the more interesting question is what sorts of families the reformicons have in mind; surely not those composed of same-sex couples with children produced by in vitro fertilization.”

    Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig recently made a similar critique of “Room to Grow,” suggesting that reformicons have chosen the sanctity of the free market over a robust family-leave policy that would help women and families proposed by congressional Democrats in the FAMILY Act.

    These are serious charges. Ultimately, Dionne and Bruenig suggest, conservatives will value their ideology over the security and prosperity of families. But these are debates that conservatives have proven they can win. Reformicons are hoping they can convince Americans that the Republican Party once again cares not just for family values but for families’ realities. It would be a good thing for America if we had that debate. . . .

    The 2014 midterms are shaping up to reflect the most vapid of our partisan sniping over the last year and a half . . . . [but] [t]here is also a growing consensus that the help families need includes both promoting family stability and cohesion, and providing economic supports. “Today, it is harder and harder to be good parents and good workers for many working families. That’s a tradeoff that is neither good for our country or our families,” Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, told me. “That’s why policies like paid leave, sick days, and child care are so vital, because they support families as they create economic security for their families.”

    But Tanden also noted that “it’s important to have two parents involved in the life of a child whenever possible. As progressives, we see both greater economic support and support for family stability as key ingredients for success. We just wish conservatives saw both issues as well.” . . .

    The insecurity families are facing and the barriers to creating new families, acknowledged across the partisan divide, demand attention. The upcoming midterm should be about which party supports policies that best promote stable, secure and thriving families.

    British Prime Minister David Cameron has recognized the new burdens families face. He recently announced that policies in the U.K. must pass a “family test,” which means “every single domestic policy that government comes up with will be examined for its impact on the family.” As British MP and economic expert Mark Hoban told me, “We look at equalities and business impact of policies—this adds vital new dimension.” Obama should announce a similar policy and call on Congress to do the same.

    Congress can move forward on some specific areas of reform where there is general bipartisan agreement: expanding the Earned Income and Child Tax Credits, eliminating the marriage penalty, promoting workplace flexibility, expanding paid family and medical leave and addressing the high cost of child care. Dionne recently suggested in his column that some of these reforms could be part of a “plain vanilla bipartisanship” set of proposals Congress could pass right away. (emphasis added) (http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/10/the-family-is-making-a-comeback/380956/3/)

    And, of course, marriage has never been stronger than it is now among the wealthy, college-educated demographic:

    One of the most disturbing facts about American marriage today is that while divorce increased at similar rates for the wealthy and the poor in the 1960s and ’70s, those rates diverged sharply starting around 1980. According to the sociologist Steven P. Martin, among Americans who married between 1975 and 1979, the 10-year divorce rate was 28 percent among people without a high school education and 18 percent among people with at least a college degree: a 10 percentage point difference. But among Americans who married between 1990 and 1994, the parallel divorce rates were 46 percent and 16 percent: an astonishing 30 percentage point difference.

    The problem is not that poor people fail to appreciate the importance of marriage, nor is it that poor and wealthy Americans differ in which factors they believe are important in a good marriage. The problem is that the same trends that have exacerbated inequality since 1980 — unemployment, juggling multiple jobs and so on — have also made it increasingly difficult for less wealthy Americans to invest the time and other resources needed to sustain a strong marital bond. . . .

    The bad news is that insofar as socioeconomic circumstances or individual choices undermine the investment of time and energy in our relationships, our marriages are likely to fall short of our era’s expectations. The good news is that our marriages can flourish today like never before. They just can’t do it on their own. (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/15/opinion/sunday/the-all-or-nothing-marriage.html?_r=0)

    Stephanie Coontz writes that

    But rumors of the death of marriage are greatly exaggerated. People are not giving up on marriage. They are simply waiting longer to tie the knot. Because the rate of marriage is calculated by the percentage of adult women (over 15) who get married each year, the marriage rate automatically falls as the average age of marriage goes up. In 1960, the majority of women were already married before they could legally have a glass of Champagne at their own wedding. A woman who was still unwed at 25 had some reason to fear that she would turn into what the Japanese call “Christmas cake,” left on the shelf.

    Today the average age of first marriage is almost 27 for women and 29 for men, and the range of ages at first marriage is much more spread out. In 1960, Professor Cohen calculates, fewer than 8 percent of women and only 13 percent of men married for the first time at age 30 or older, compared with almost a third of all women and more than 40 percent of all men today. Most Americans still marry eventually, and they continue to hold marriage in high regard. Indeed, as a voluntary relationship between two individuals, marriage comes with higher expectations of fairness, fidelity and intimacy than ever. . . .

    Until the 1970s, highly educated and high-earning women were less likely to marry than their less-educated sisters. But among women born since 1960, college graduates are now as likely to marry as women with less education and much less likely to divorce.

    And it’s time to call a halt to the hysteria about whether high-earning women are pricing themselves out of the marriage market. New research by the sociologist Leslie McCall reveals that while marriage rates have fallen for most women since 1980, those for the highest earning women have increased, to 64 percent in 2010 from 58 percent in 1980. Women in the top 15 percent of earners are now more likely to be married than their lower-earning counterparts.

    Similar changes are occurring across the developed world, even in countries with more traditional views of marriage and gender roles. The demographer Yen-Hsin Alice Cheng reports that in Taiwan, educated women are now more likely to marry than less educated women, reversing trends that were in force in the 1990s. High earnings used to reduce a Japanese woman’s chance of marrying. Today, however, such a woman is more likely to marry than her lower-income counterpart.

    Until recently, women who married later than average had higher rates of divorce. Today, with every year a woman delays marriage, up to her early 30s, her chance of divorce decreases, and it does not rise again thereafter. If an American woman wanted a lasting marriage in the 1950s, she was well advised to choose a man who believed firmly in traditional values and male breadwinning. Unconventional men — think beatniks — were a bad risk. Today, however, traditionally minded men are actually more likely to divorce — or to be divorced — than their counterparts with more egalitarian ideas about gender roles.

    Over the past 30 years, egalitarian values have become increasingly important to relationship success. So has sharing housework. As late as 1990, fewer than half of Americans ranked sharing chores as very important to marital success. Today 62 percent hold that view, more than the 53 percent who think an adequate income is very important or the 49 percent who cite shared religious beliefs. (emphasis added) (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/23/opinion/sunday/coontz-the-disestablishment-of-marriage.html?pagewanted=all)

    This weekend at General Conference, will we hear Church leaders talk about and denounce income inequality and lack of equal access to chances for learning (3 Ne. 6:12) and call for socioeconomic policies that address these specifically in the various political systems around the world where families are facing these threats? (Or are such concerns considered “liberal” concerns and therefore either consciously or subconsciously seen as off limits by Church leaders who in their own private political lives endorse “conservative” or “libertarian” political preferences, separate and apart — and existing prior to — their calling and stewardship in their respective offices of Church leadership?)

  8. Great post.

    I do disagree with some of the “legal story” details however.

    Yes, in divorce some property is usually split equally. But the vehicle/home/401k that wife brings into the marriage remains her own. What’s split is the money that was added to the 401k, etc. during the marriage. The wife typically doesn’t need to worry that the home she owned prior to the marriage will somehow become her ex-husband’s after they divorce. If it was her house before, it will usually be her house after.

    As far as child support goes, if the mother or child are on any kind of state aid (and I’m betting many if not most of these families are), the State will typically initiate child support proceedings. The State has an interest in the matter because the State is providing Medicaid, food stamps, etc. for the child, as well as paying for the child’s birth through Medicaid, and so the State tries to get that money back from the father.

    And quite often, the father will want to be involved in his child’s life, and will initiate a child custody case if needed, in order to do so–fairly easy to do, even if they were never married.

    I think only real advantage here to not marrying is so the mother doesn’t have to support the father also, and so the child’s father doesn’t form any kind of attachment with the child (and so will be less likely to seek visitation).

  9. “As such, in divorce, by default, property is split evenly and both parents get custody rights.
    For a poor woman, this could be disastrous. Remember, men in this socioeconomic tier are much more likely to be un- or underemployed; it’s possible that, upon divorce, she would have to split assets she brought into the marriage with him. And he would have an ongoing relationship with their child.
    Without marriage, she keeps her property. She keeps the child. She can control his access to the child. Sure, there’s no divorce proceeding requiring the father to pay child support, but if he’s underemployed, she may not be giving anything up. Without marriage, if she wants support payments, she can condition access to their child on those payments. But Carbone and Cahn’s anecdotal evidence suggests that many of these single mothers are able to make a go of it, even without support from their child’s father.”

    As a divorced woman and an attorney, I feel this bears some clarification. First, any assets brought into the marriage, property or wealth acquired before the marriage, do not get divided in a divorce. State laws vary on this, but generally things acquired prior to the marriage or wealth inherited even after the marriage are not considered marital property. Marital property, meaning the wealth or property or debt acquired after the date of the marriage, are what is divided up in divorce proceedings. This is true in both common law and community property states.

    Second, even without a marriage and subsequent divorce, the father of the child can petition for visitation of the child, and he can even petition to PAY child support himself (I personally know someone who did this). A mother can petition to establish paternity and child support payments. A mother legally cannot prohibit the father of the child from seeing that child without some evidence of harm, and almost all visitation can be conditioned upon receipt of support payments, whether there is a divorce or not. Simple matter of court documentation.

    Third, I could easily find a much larger and more comprehensive amount of data (and anecdotal evidence) that shows that many single mothers have tremendous trouble “making a go of it” without support from the child’s father. That is why there are so many single mothers and children in poverty and extreme poverty. If their anecdotal evidence is only looking at one subset of single mothers, I don’t think they have a very good argument or foundation.

    Again, state laws differ. In Nebraska where I currently live, the courts operate with a presumption that in a divorce, primary custody of the children should be given to the mother, and visitation given to the father, but that is changing. There have been a very vocal group of men soliciting the legislature for 2 years now trying to get that changed to a presumption of equal parenting time. The 1950’s mentality is (HOPEFULLY) on its way out in a lot of our institutions, even if it is moving very slowly.

    Also, I have read several sources (I would have to look them up, it has been a number of years) that indicated there were approximately 25-30% of brides pregnant at the time of marriage in the Victorian Era, when EVERYONE was supposed to be a virgin. I think people have been having pre-marital sex since the beginning of time.

  10. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Thank you for this, Sam. I get tired of listening to church leaders tell us that the family is under attack, so we must defend the family by making our families look the way families used to look. If that’s what families are supposed to look like (and there is a different discussion there) we can’t just will ourselves there, by choice. The conditions that led to those families must be recreated. You outline one very important factor. There are others, and I would love to hear our leaders discuss social policies on employment, equality, and education as part of protecting the way of life they espouse.

  11. Tim, that’s probably right, but it requires engaging the legal system. Without marriage, the father has to actively pursue parental rights, while with marriage, it’s just part of the dissolution. (That said, Carbone and Cahn aren’t entirely favorable to the state’s pursuit of fathers when the state is offering welfare benefits.)

  12. A problem with the “non-marital births” stat is that it doesn’t distinguish between “girl gets pregnant, guy splits, girl raises baby as single mom” and “girl and guy are in a committed long-term relationship raising their baby together in a two-parent household, but just haven’t gotten married.”

    Obviously that distinction makes a big difference for judging the child’s circumstances and potential future. (And although the survey doesn’t include that info, it’s a safe bet the former skews more common for lower-income women and the latter for higher-incomes.)

  13. Sam, you’re right of course. Plenty of fathers never pursue parental rights, and that’s going to be more common where the parents were never married. Of course, many divorced (and even some married but separated) fathers are just as uninvolved.

  14. The book I recently read and reported on here about the history of marriage also discussed this phenomenon. The male breadwinner model that emerged after WW2 was the anomaly. Families used to all contribute financially, kids, wives, all of them. Building an economic model about only the adult man working was a very short-lived ideal. The only pathway back to that is to bar female entry to high paying jobs (which was how it worked the first time – women were chided for taking a wage away from a father), and to prevent women from being able to support themselves or their children if they divorce. Of course, that’s the path back to higher levels of domestic abuse and female suicide, too. Doesn’t seem like a good trade off to me.

  15. John Mansfield says:

    The Charles Murray “Coming Apart” argument is that declines in marriage have been happenning over the last decades when the economy is good and when it is not. There’s probably a counter-argument to that that’s been made.

  16. “But even if Church leaders are not directing their and our attention to this primary threat to marriage (growing income inequality and lack of opportunities for education,”

    I think that Church leaders have directed our attention to the need to obtain education. Over and over and over again we have been counseled to seek all the education that we can, to continue to obtain knowledge and skills that will enable us to earn an income and support our families. The church allocates significant resources (BYU, CES, the PEF, etc.) toward education; bishops and YM and YW presidents have specific responsibilities for the youth that should help them to see the need to do well at school and seek opportunities for greater learning. There should be in every ward and stake employment specialists who assist people to find employment opportunities and on and on. Maybe this work doesn’t get the attention of other topics spoken about at conference, but I suspect it demands more of leaders’ time in the local congregations and stakes of the church than those topics.

    If our attention isn’t directed to that threat, it’s because we haven’t been listening.

  17. I can’t recall having heard them connect the need to get as much education as we can to addressing the ubiquitously discussed threat to marriage. And I can’t recall hearing them tie income inequality to the decline in marriage among the poor (and denouncing it) while praising the strengthening of marriage that is happening among university educated people in the middle class (and up) who are marrying a little later but still having children and entering marriage with the mindset that they are equal partners in all aspects of it, including child nurturing and rearing, and “bread winning”, with the result being stronger marriages in that demographic than ever before.

  18. MikeInWeHo says:

    It always struck me as deeply ironic that conservative politicians have been able to leverage “defending the family” rhetoric to get Christians to vote for them, when in fact they support economic policies that are the real drivers of the social trends they claim to abhor.

  19. The conditions that led to those families must be recreated. You outline one very important factor. There are others, and I would love to hear our leaders discuss social policies on employment, equality, and education as part of protecting the way of life they espouse.

    The problem is we must first ask ourselves, “who ruined society? Who caused these conditions — a change from a stakeholder mentality of wealth and society, where CEOs and corporations viewed it as beneficial to themselves to treat their workers right, as an essential part of the effort, to a shareholder vision of society in which CEOs and corporations view their function as maximizing profits to shareholders, among whom their workers are not represented, and who do not view it as immoral to make 800 times what their workers make (up from 40 times in the 1950s) — in which marriages are being crushed by the socioeconomic realities on the ground?” Well, who shaped economic and government policies between the 1950s and 1980s (when these negative trends about marriage for the poor really started becoming manifest) and based on what ideological/political bases?

  20. A Happy Hubby says:

    Very insightful. It did finally explain something that was puzzling me quite a bit. I have heard the statistic several times that “around half of births are to unwed mothers” and I kept wondering – why do I have such a hard time thinking of even ONE person that I know of that fits this? (and I live in the bible belt – not the jello belt). I do live in a quite well off suburb and you mention the statistic of education and salary level dropping that down to less than 1 in 10.

    But it still leaves me wondering if there must be some inner-city district that is poverty stricken that almost every single baby is born out of wedlock. I have a hard time comprehending that I live in such a bubble.

  21. There are other correlates — I think an increase in atheistic/mechanistic explanations for human behavior and societal development would be one of them. For example, premarital sex in the 1930’s was generally considered immoral whereas nowadays it is generally looked upon as merely natural.

  22. I can’t recall having heard them connect the need to get as much education as we can to addressing the ubiquitously discussed threat to marriage.

    I can’t either, but it is and has been spoken of in terms of being able to provide for one’s family. And, again, this is something for which action counts much more than talk–and it’s action in the wards and in the quorums and the Relief Societies where most of that work gets done.

    Also, I think, john f., that you’re taking a rather short view of the relationships between labor and capital. I don’t think that the owners of the textile mills in Lancashire or the steel mills in Pittsburgh were paragons of concern for worker well-being. I don’t know what multiples of worker income Andrew Carnegie or John D. Rockefeller earned, but I suspect it was much higher than 40X. (But what lovely libraries and universities they established!)

  23. Bollix, John. Marriage is for the poor as well as the privileged.

  24. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Happy Hubby – Actually, there are a number of inner-city districts where nearly all babies are born out of wedlock. Not sure that means you live in a bubble, but there are many communities where marriage is not the norm, and births to unwed mothers is quite common. And, yes, these areas are quite impoverished.

    john f. – I’m definitely not advocating a return to former times. You’re correct that a change from stakeholder to shareholder mentality has significantly contributed to what we are experiencing today. I’m disappointed that many in the church, and so many in leadership positions, perpetuate that mentality and celebrate those who successfully benefit from it. I don’t think they need to refute it (would be nice, but…), just that it would be good to hear them discuss inequality and greed in a way that is real, acknowledging the real-life manifestations of it, and the real-life consequences that MOST church members suffer, as a result.

  25. Mark B., the touchstone that these sermons point to is 1955, not 1885. The new robber-baronism indicates the loss of moral thinking among our citizens — CEOs not only not finding it morally wrong to earn 800X what their workers make but actually thinking they are entitled to it because “I built this.”

  26. Exactly Jack. So don’t we need addresses aimed at the reasons that poor people are having such difficulty marrying and staying married (whereas middle-class people and up are having a more successful time at it now than at any time in the last several decades)?

    For example, as Reeves wrote in the article I cited upthread,

    By continuing to see the male role in such constricting terms — as breadwinner or nothing — we are inadvertently contributing to the slow death of marriage in our most disadvantaged communities.

    In many low-income families, it is the mother who has the best chance in the labor market. But this doesn’t make men redundant. It means men need to start doing the “women’s work” of raising kids. Although there is a lingering determinism about parenting and gender roles, recent evidence — in particular from Ohio State University sociologist Douglas B. Downey — suggests that women have no inherent competitive advantage in the parenting stakes.

    The children who can benefit most from high levels of parental investment, from both mom and dad, are the poorest. HIP marriages are an elite invention that could make the greatest difference in the poorest communities, if only attitudes can be shifted. Our central problem is not the slow retreat of the idea of traditional marriage. It is the stubborn persistence of the idea of traditional marriage among those people for whom it has lost almost all rationale. . . .

    Against all predictions, educated Americans are rejuvenating marriage. We should be spreading their successes. Given the implications for social mobility and life chances, we should be striving to accelerate the adoption of new marriages further down the income distribution. . . .

    HIP marriages are based on a new virtue, appropriate for the modern economy: heavy investment in children. . . .

    What we need is a not a Campaign for Marriage, but a Campaign for Good Parenting, which may, as a byproduct, bring about a broader revival of marriage. (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/02/how-to-save-marriage-in-america/283732/)

    This is an example of a start to discussing the roots of the problem. This is based on research and analysis. It is by all means contestable. It relies on a few “liberal” assumptions, it is true. If that is the reason this isn’t being discussed in General Conference, that is too bad. We should be about doing what is morally right, regardless of whether it happens to correlate in this or that instance with this or that “liberal” or “conservative” policy in the American political landscape (“liberal” and “conservative” mean different things in different political landscapes).

  27. I don’t think they need to refute it (would be nice, but…), just that it would be good to hear them discuss inequality and greed in a way that is real, acknowledging the real-life manifestations of it, and the real-life consequences that MOST church members suffer, as a result.

    That is such a great comment and insightful contribution — thanks!

  28. J. Stapley says:

    Solid write-up, Sam. And thanks John F. as well.

  29. This is a great post, Sam.

    I’m heartily in the “this is a socio-economic poverty-education based problem, not really a moral problem”. Treating is as a moral issue when looking at the statistics is wrong. Straight up. We do need to hear greed, poverty, inequality, racism, sexism and classism all addressed.

    {I’ve got a whole host of personal experience (of course it’s all anecdotal, but it completely supports your musings. My life is an object lesson?) based on having been married an uneducated woman, divorced, living as a single unsupported mother of three, finally a college graduate, a grad-school student, and re-married.}

  30. Hawkgrrrl, what book is this you speak of?

  31. Thanks, Sam. I agree with you. Families are hurting, strong families make for strong societies, and therefore we should take very seriously the counsel to defend the family.

    Unfortunately, in my experience, “defend the family” is Mormon rhetorical shorthand for “prevent gay people from getting married.”

    It feels, pardon the melodrama, almost sinister to me that as a people the considerable resources of our collective attention are being diverted from doing the things that really would strengthen families and are focused instead on a cause that is, I feel, ultimately harming families.

  32. While I wouldn’t argue the rich are more moral than the poor, I certainly wouldn’t attempt to argue that their values or behaviors are the same either. The wealth and education of a society correlates very well with decreased birth rates, and even in the US, the wealthier and more educated tend to have fewer children

  33. Tracy, this is a moral problem — is not income inequality and lack of chances for learning a moral problem? By saying it is not a moral problem, you seem to be falling into the idiosyncratic Mormon use of the word “moral” or “morality” to refer exclusively to sex and related issues.

  34. even in the US, the wealthier and more educated tend to have fewer children

    source?

  35. the touchstone that these sermons point to is 1955, not 1885.

    Source?

    The new robber-baronism indicates the loss of moral thinking among our citizens — CEOs not only not finding it morally wrong to earn 800X what their workers make but actually thinking they are entitled to it because “I built this.”

    There’s plenty of loss of moral thinking about our citizens–I don’t think any one socioeconomic class has a corner on it.

  36. Are you contesting that when church leaders talk about the world being worse now than it was a few decades ago or how it’s getting worse and worse, they’re not referring to the 1950s when they were kids and marriage was at an all time high in the post war, economic boom times? That they’re actually referring to the age of the robber barons as a more moral time?

  37. Mike Taylor says:

    “Unless we want to argue (and I certainly don’t) that the wealthy are more moral than the poor, and the highly-educated more moral than the less-educated, the numbers don’t permit us to tell a story based purely on moral failing.[fn4] Instead, it forces us to tell a socioeconomic story”

    It has been well documented and there are countless studies showing that there is a strong inverse relationship between socioeconomic status and morality. This author doesn’t know what the heck he’s talking about.

  38. Mike–cite one of those countless studies, please.

  39. John Mansfield says:

    A couple pieces of data to consider:

    From Married-Couple and Unmarried-Partner Households: 2000 issued by the Census Bureau in Feb. 2003, had the lowest portion of coupled households headed by unmarried opposite-sex partners, 4.4%, half the national rate of 9%. it also had the highest portion of coupled households.

    In the CDC’s National Vital Statistics Report, vol. 56, no. 6, Dec. 7, 2007, you’ll find that Utah had the smallest portion of illegitimate births of those children born to white non-hispanic mothers in 2005, 17.7%, again half then national rate of 36.9%.

    (I would include links, but my comments are always embargoed when I do.)

    What is so different about Utah that its rates for those things would be half the national average, while Colorado had rates in these two things of 8.5% and 27.1%? I don’t think it was economic opportunity.

  40. “Note that 57% of births to women with less than a high school education were nonmarital, as opposed to less than 9% of births to women with at least a bachelor’s degree.

    Similarly, the nonmarital birth rate falls from about 69% for women with a household income of less than $10,000 to 9% for women with a household income of $200,000 or more.”

    I look forward to the revisions in the YW curriculum, emphasizing education, career & financial planning to increase our daughters’ likelihood of successful marriage!

  41. John Mansfield says:

    In my comment at 5:19, Utah had the lowest portion of coupled households headed by unmarried opposite-sex partners. Sorry for the bad typing and any confusion.

  42. John Mansfield says:

    I kind of mangled a few of the numbers above, could the above comment be taken out and replaced with this one? Again, sorry for the ugliness.

    A couple pieces of data to consider:

    From Married-Couple and Unmarried-Partner Households: 2000 issued by the Census Bureau in Feb. 2003, Utah had the lowest portion of coupled households headed by unmarried opposite-sex partners, 4.4%, half the national rate of 8.1%. It also had the highest portion of coupled households.

    In the CDC’s National Vital Statistics Report, vol. 56, no. 6, Dec. 7, 2007, you’ll find that Utah had the smallest portion of illegitimate births in 2005, 17.7%, half the national rate of 36.9%.

    (I would include links, but my comments are always embargoed when I do.)

    What is so different about Utah that its rates for those things would be half the national average, while Colorado had rates in these two things of 8.5% and 27.1%? I don’t think it was economic opportunity.

  43. John M., a couple things: first, I didn’t claim that the economic were the sole cause of declining marriage rates and rising out-of-wedlock births (viz.: “the problems are the result of a complex web of cultural, legal, economic, moral, and other considerations”). It is, however, an incredibly important and relevant factor.

    As for Utah vs. Colorado: even if I had claimed that it rested solely on economics (which, I reiterate, I didn’t), you haven’t given me comparative educational and income pictures. Moreover, as snapshots of entire states, those pictures would be relatively meaningless in any event: I suspect there are significant intra-Utah differences, too.

    And more: what, then, is the relevance of Utah’s lower rate of out-of-wedlock births? You (I suspect) attribute it to Mormonism; I suspect (though I don’t have data on this) that Mormonism has something to do with it. But “Mormonism,” frankly, isn’t a scalable solution—convert baptisms aren’t rising in proportion with the increase in the missionary force. So even if Mormonism is the solution (and it may be a helpful factor), it won’t relieve the pressure we see on marriage nationally.

  44. Geoff - Aus says:

    As someone who lives outside US, it has always seemed strangely 1984 type language to claim to be defending marriage while doing nothing to defend hetrosexual marriage just attacking anyone else.

    So many of the things that are seen as family friendly in other countries such as universal health care, 6 to 9 weeks annual leave, the 40 hour working week, and valuing trying to keep the relationship between the living standards of the poor and the wealthy as close as possible. etc etc are not family friendly to the leadership of the church.

    So how long before we stop using the discredited Proclamation on the family?

  45. Sam, this is very important stuff. Thanks for a careful look at an interesting question. I wonder to what extent this sort of analysis will be standard procedure in the church in another 5 years or so.

  46. . . . high school sweethearts (who may have had significantly different economic paths) would marry. . .

    Interestingly, Mormonism still promotes this sort of paradigm (or something relatively close thereto) by encouraging early marriage–and the drop in missionary ages may result in a drop in the typical Mormon marriage age (for males, at least).

    Elite marriage today is one of equality, interdependence, and shared parenting. That’s definitely how I—and everybody I interact with in my age cohort—views marriage. (And interesting side note: many of my friends—most of whom aren’t members of the church—have young children, and a stay-at-home parent, generally the wife. But we get there in a different way: it’s a personal and economic choice, not a cultural demand.) This is, I submit, a better way to view marriage, but it’s also intimidating when you can’t do it. As Carbone and Cahn say, “The men and women did not marry because they associated marriage with the new model of equal, interdependent, and shared parenting, not because they rejected it.”

    Assuming that there’s divine wisdom in the Church’s preferred arrangement that there be a full-time, stay-at-home parent: it sounds to me like you’re saying that it’s better if the couple reaches this arrangement after they have attained relatively similar education and independent earnings levels.

    The obstacles to this are 1) given the increasing cost of university education, this route will require a significant number of future-stay-at-home-parents to spend a lot of money on a formal educational process that may never pay for itself, and/or leave them saddled with debt that actually makes it impossible to drop out of the workforce during prime child-raising years; and 2) I think a lot of Mormons who take Church theology at face value would feel uncomfortable putting childbearing on hold while they solidify their educational and professional credentials as long as the Church is still teaching that there’s an innumerable host of spirits waiting to take possession of earthly tabernacles. We don’t push it as hard as we used to, but (subject to the stability of the marriage and economic self-sufficiency concerns) more is still “better” where mainstream Mormonism is concerned.

    The chart in the OP doesn’t show a significant spike in the age at first marriage during–say–the Great Depression. The spike (for males) occurs in the 1970-1990 period, when income in real 2013 dollars for the bottom fifth of households remained reasonably consistent (starting at $19,744 in 1970, going to a low of $19,469 in 1982 to a high of $21,941 in 1989). So I would conclude that while economic growth is tremendously important; it’s not the secret weapon that will save American marriage and/or family life–certainly not enough to compel the Church to abandon its traditional apoliticism in favor of a formal endorsement of Keynsianism or Marxism or (saints preserve us!) Milton Friedman and the Chicago School.

  47. Greg: Stephanie Coontz’s “Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage. http://www.amazon.com/Marriage-History-How-Love-Conquered-ebook/dp/B002I1XRZY/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=

    To confirm that this is a problem with those living in the lowest income families, there have also been studies that show that when charitable donations go to women, they increase child nutrition and education and go toward sustaining families. When those same funds go to male heads of household, they often go toward alcohol, gambling and prostitution. Given those dynamics, impoverished women and those just above the poverty line would do better to keep finances under their own control.

  48. JimD: “Assuming that there’s divine wisdom in the Church’s preferred arrangement that there be a full-time, stay-at-home parent: it sounds to me like you’re saying that it’s better if the couple reaches this arrangement after they have attained relatively similar education and independent earnings levels.” Either parent taking any significant amount of time out of the workforce will irrevocably reduce their earning power, especially given the rapid pace of technological change that requires continual upgrading of skills. Even trying to find a family friendly work arrangement to reduce hours, job share or take an extended parental leave would require much better protectionism than the US currently provides.

    The church’s current advocacy for women to stay at home with children puts enormous pressure on husbands to provide solo in an economy that isn’t built on that assumption, and women have far less desirable job options if they ever need to reenter the workforce.

  49. “My broader point is, if we want to defend marriage and family, we need to take a close look at what problems they’re facing.”

    Amen, Sam. This might be the only way to stop making up attackers who aren’t doing any real attacking.

  50. Great effort, Sam, and I’m glad to see this well-publicized information put into an LDS context. But, as you know, whether problems are properly blamed on personal moral failings or societal moral failings is a primary political fault line in our country, and the responses seem to break down accordingly.

  51. BethSmash says:

    Stephanie Coontz also wrote this book which y’all might enjoy. The Way We Never Were: American Families And The Nostalgia Trap. This one talks about how we remember the 50s differently than it was. Good book.

  52. Great article, Sam.

    Some of this stuff is pretty earth-shattering…maybe even before 1930’s, you say?!

  53. John Mansfield,
    In addition to Sam’s questions, I’m not entirely certain that the booms of the past 35 years or so have seem wealth distributed even amongst all socioeconomic classes. If there were booms that affected all classes equally (and if economics were the sole cause), we might expect to correlation in marriage rates across the board. But if the booms of the last 35 years or so disproportionately helped the wealthy and the upper middle class, then we’d probably see the sort of divergence that we actually do see. Not that economics explains it all, of course.

  54. Also, apparently, your lousy typing is infectious. Curse you, Mansfield!!

    (no joke, I had to rewrite this comment a couple of times due to typos)

  55. Sam thanks for there easy to read run down of this area of research. I think at this point the evidence is pretty overwhelming that economic considerations are driving the majority of the problem. The solutions that have some track record of working in other countries are basically anathema to the politically conservative orthodoxy that has arisen in the church (as most of us know we US LDS are the most politically homogenous religious group in the country and among the most conservative). This is hampering our ability to understand or articulate the underlying dynaics at play here. It is a prime example of how political diversity could make the church stronger and more robust.

    To me one of the most positive aspects of this otherwise incredibly sad situation is that revives a much more positive view of our fellow man. In my experience, most people want pretty good things for themselves and their families. They want to raise children in a supportive environment. They want to have a basic level of financial stability. Those with financial resources are actually choosing marriage more than in the recent past and are putting off kids until marriage or alternatively serious commitment (the census doesn’t really count the rise in unmarried but committed couples have children). These are our allies not our opposition in building a family-supportive and friendly society. It is too bad we too often can sound like we are treating them as the enemy.

    I will say the church’s large financial commitment to providing quality cheap undergraduate degrees for many Mormons does align with the particular perspective. I think it is one driving reason behind the investment in the BYU systems. They launch a lot of families into decent jobs with reasonble levels (or often even the absence of) debt. Credit where credit is due.

  56. I’ve seen a few mentions of the family-friendly policies of other countries and feel compelled to point out that those policies do not seem to be leading to higher rates of marriage and childbearing – quite the opposite, in fact. A quick Google search of “marriage rates in Western Europe” brings up lots of studies and statistics that bear this out. Of course that doesn’t mean that those policies per se are wrong or bad, but I think it’s a mistake to say that providing extended family leave and universal health care will suddenly (or even gradually) make marriage and having children more attractive and convince people to participate in these activities. As several other people have mentioned, there is a lot more than mere economics going on in this. Also, although I don’t condone cohabitation from a moral/religious point of view, there are quite a lot of successful families in which the parents are not legally married but have all the qualities of healthy relationships that we are supposed to embrace. If we expanded our definition of “family,” the situation might not be as bleak as it looks from just the numbers. Obviously, I see the perils of “defining the family out of existence,” as someone said in Conference a while back (Elder Nelson? can’t remember for sure).

  57. I think a very important economic reason for the decline in marriage is missing above. I employ about a dozen younger men who make around $20 an hour or 40k annually. Most of them have children. Some are married others have girlfriends they live with. Wives and girlfriends typically work part time. The Married Men typically that are actually married to the mothers of their children are less better off than those that live together. Calculation is the same for my female workers.

    Why? See my math……

    Married family
    40k plus 10k mom part time totals 50k
    family coverage from work $460 out of pocket. I pay $1500 monthly for their coverage
    food? Do not qualify for food stamps
    rent subsidy? No
    no medicaid for family

    non married family
    same 50k income plus….
    individual coverage from work for Dad. $80 month I pay $40 for this coverage
    Food stamps yes
    rent subsidy maybe
    medicaid for mom and kids. No deductibles or copay

    non married family has considerably more income. People can do math…. Less marriage.

    I typed this on a phone at a conference please excuse my grammar.

  58. I pay $400 and the individual worker pays $80 a month for health insurance. Dang phone

  59. I forgot to mention that at tax time the mom in the above scenario who is unmarried gets a larger return cause an unmarried family the Dads income does not count in calculating the child tax credit.

  60. I really like your analysis, Sam. As others have already pointed out, what seems most insightful to me isn’t even so much the content as your general approach. Your idea of asking the question of what conditions might encourage or discourage marriage seems so much more potentially fruitful than so much of the rhetoric that we hear over the pulpit, which ignores conditions and essentially just tells us that if we’re righteous, we can will whatever outcome we want to, circumstances be damned.

  61. John Mansfield says:

    Regarding the web of culture etc., race and ethnicity is an interesting thing to look at. It’s interesting because CDC reports “Birth rates for unmarried women vary widely by race and ethnicity,” and because that variance itself varies between states. The percent of births to unmarried mothers nationally in 2005 were: non-hispanic whites 25.3%, non-hispanic blacks 69.9%, and hispanics 48.0%. One in four, two out of three, and half. In states where the black population is low, the black percentage of births to unmarried mothers was much closer to the white percentage for that state. The most extreme leveling was in North Dakota where the 1,713 births to unmarried white women and the 31 births to unmarried black women were both 25.4% of births to women of each race. Some other states with similar levels for whites and blacks were Hawaii (24.6% and 27.1%), Vermont (32.4% and 40.8%), Idaho (19.5% and 26.7%), New Hampshire (27.1% and 37.4%), and Montana (28.0% and 43.1%). The portion of births to unmarried Hispanic women was much more consistent across the states than the white or black percentages were. In Alabama the hispanic percentage, 21.5%, matched the white percentage, 20.9%, but the next lowest rates only dip to 34.7% in Vermont and 35.2% in North Dakota. Alabama was quite an outlier.

    Speculation: even in matters of sex and marriage, people respond to cultural cues about them, and that response can be substantial. Also, hispanics in America have a separate culture going on, more consistent from state to state than the blacks and whites around them, even where their numbers are fairly small. That isn’t surprising since half of hispanic adults were born in other countries, up from a third in 1980. More numbers: In 2005, 24% of births in America were to hispanic mothers, and in 1990, 15% were. That alone alters the rate of illegitimacy, and doesn’t mean something wrong happened; now and the past are just have different populations with different characteristics.

  62. I think the solution is to call all the men to church positions so they can be away from the family for an extra 20 – 30 hrs per week.

  63. John M.,
    Race and poverty are closely correlated. I suspect that if poverty was factored in, the race issue would play an insignificant role.

  64. @ Hawkgrrrl:

    Either parent taking any significant amount of time out of the workforce will irrevocably reduce their earning power, especially given the rapid pace of technological change that requires continual upgrading of skills.

    And yet, for childbearing, it is necessary unless a) the parents can effectively stagger their work schedules (which would, as a side effect, minimize the parents’ time together and therefore be an additional stressor on the marriage); or b) the parents subcontract out a significant portion of the actual raising of their children.

    Financial stability and a thriving economy are important. A more comprehensive Church-funded safety net for stay-at-home-parents who followed the Church’s counsel and nevertheless find themselves divorced with no professional skills or significant means of income, seems especially desirable. But there almost seems to be a “family prosperity gospel” emerging in some quarters–that to be truly stable and/or useful to the Lord, a family must also be wealthy. To this I would join President Obama in asserting that “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.” The data I cited earlier indicate that, with some sacrifice, financial stability (as opposed to wealth) is just as attainable for a single breadwinner family now as it was four decades ago.

    And as Villate points out, even societies with stronger state-funded safety nets, paid vacation, etc. don’t seem to have significantly higher marriage rates or birth rates. This, in conjunction with the household income figures I posited early, lead me to believe that the decline in marriage/birth rates and increase in average age at first marriage are primarily due, not to economic pressures which have always existed, but in the relatively new attitudes with which we confront those economic pressures and the resulting decisions we make as we adjust our individual conduct and family structures so that we–quite frankly–don’t have to delay the gratification we think we need now.

  65. Jimd. I agree with your last paragraph. It’s both economic and cultural. Cultural first and then economic. My employees that marry their kids mom’s and walk away from government programs tend to be from evangelical or catholic families. There is pressure from the grandparents to get married. Men without the cultural/religious/family pressure tend to keep absorbing government benefits. This is all anecdotal of course.

  66. “And yet, for childbearing, it is necessary unless a) the parents can effectively stagger their work schedules (which would, as a side effect, minimize the parents’ time together and therefore be an additional stressor on the marriage); or b) the parents subcontract out a significant portion of the actual raising of their children.” A being a stressor depends entirely on the marriage. Time apart help some couples. B has been the time tested method since forever, usually through extended families. With urbanization, extended families no longer live together, but day cares do a great job during work hours. Calling that “a significant portion of the actual raising of their children” is a bit over the top. The parents are still the parents. Day care facilities and child care providers don’t usurp that role. They just care for them for a set time during the day. Many kids thrive with the structure and socialization of those arrangements. The real issue is that the poor who have less marketable skills are not generally in a position to afford B. IOW, their earning doesn’t exceed the cost of supplemental child care.

  67. Is the Church actually concerned about marriage rates? If marriage rates rebounded to their 1950s levels but the vast majority of those marriages were preceded by cohabitation, would the Church no longer cry, “the family is under attack”? I guess I’ve always understood that as a shorthand way of saying that (hetero) sex, marriage, and children should all be a package deal and that society suffers if they dissociate in any way.

  68. we don’t say “sex”, Jake, we say “procreation”

  69. Anonymous says:

    I’ve noticed a definite marriage gap among my LDS-raised friends, active and inactive, born from about 1983 to 1989. In other words, age 19 to 25 when the economy imploded. I think, however, that our marriage rates will rebound and we’ll simply follow the model of “the world:” marriage in late twenties/early thirties, then kids, but certainly not the 8 of two of my female coworkers’ parents. (One married for a couple years, no kids. One not married. Both born in the early ’90s and past the trend I saw. I have two second cousins, about 23, who got married a year ago. One managed a divorce already.)

    Now that my cohort is 25 to 31, it can be difficult when the Utah culture sees you as a “lost cause,” and the wider culture still thinks you’re on the young side of wanting to “settle down.” It’s a strange period in life to go solo, but I do think that most of us, at least the ones with college degrees (I realized I have essentially zero close friends without one), will be okay.

    I’d love to match the U.S. average and be married at 27, have three years with my husband, then have a kid (one and done would be great) at 30. We’ll see. Those of us who aren’t active LDS lose the sex bargaining chip, to look at it cynically.

    I know quite a few LDS-raised folks who would like to be childfree, partnered and not. The active ones don’t feel the freedom to follow that choice, but a lot of them wait a long time. Among my friends that got hitched at 21 – 23, only one woman had the proverbial honeymoon baby that I suspect Gen X and the Baby Boomers still expect of young Mormons.

  70. John Mansfield says:

    M Miles, I suspect you are right about the poverty correlation, and in case it needs to be said, within those group statistics, there are large portions of every group that have children within marriage and large portions that don’t. My main curiosity was with those places where the correlation between race and illegitimacy attenuates.

    You led me to look up the Census Bureau report Social and Economic Characteristics of Currently Unmarried Women With a Recent Birth: 2011. What catches my eye there is the breakdown according to household income percentages of nonmarital births for each bracket were: under $10,000, 68.9%; $10,000 to $14,999, 61.1%; $15,000 to $24,999; 52.8%; $25,000 to $34,999, 46.5%; $35,000 to $49,999, 39.4%; $50,000 to $74,999, 29.6%; $75,000 to $99,999, 22.1%; $100,000 to $149,999; 18.3%; $150,000 to $199,999, 13.8%; $200,000 and above, 9.0%. For those lower brackets where most births are nonmarital, a story about economic limitations interfering with marriage but not child-bearing seem plausible, but there’s cause and effect to wonder about; a path to becoming a mother in an under $25,000 household would be dating one of bbell’s nonmarrying employees; if you dated the marrying kind then you would land a couple brackets higher where the nonmarital birth percentage is lower. It’s not quite a tautology, but it comes close.. Also one in eight mothers in household with incomes from $150,000 to $199,999 also weren’t married, one in five with incomes from $75,000 to $99,999. There the story is more about what is accepted culturally than what is possible economically. I suppose those are mostly young women living in their parents’ households.

  71. “But there’s widespread agreement that being employed, and being able to support oneself and one’s family, is a good thing. Even if we disagree about how to get there, I think that’s a goal we can all work toward. ” I think church leaders have been beating the “get an education/be self reliant/stay out of debt/do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay” drums for a long time, but for good reason have not got involved at a law making or policy level. That’s what we’re supposed to do as good citizens. As noted by bbell, there is plenty of good reason to stay single, and national efforts vis-a-vis tax policy, health care, medicare/medicaid benefits, welfare benefits, are all combining in such a way that it seems the government really does want each of us to be an island unto ourselves. Hence, those policies combined are a “threat” to the family. Look at the EU-28 nations of Europe. ‘http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php/Marriage_and_divorce_statisticsA quick search shows they collect high taxes, many require mandatory vacation and family leave, have universal health care, and yet their marriage rates are as bad or worse than ours. Maybe we’re moving towards a tribal community concept.

  72. Anonymous says:

    “but for good reason have not got involved at a law making or policy level.”

    Yeah, no time after persecuting gay* family formation.

    *mostly upper-middle-class, educated, well-to-do gay folks

  73. I have some more back of the envelope calculations on married bbell employee with 2 kids vs nonmarried with 2 kids.
    unmarried family is getting roughly $2000 monthly in free Healthcare
    plus say $500-800 in food subsidy
    plus a extra couple grand at tax time

    To gain this much money back if you are married vs being unmarried requires an income north of 60k for the numbers to work out.

    So in the end the unmarried father gets a large 25 to 35k annual subsidy from the government.

  74. A being a stressor depends entirely on the marriage. Time apart help some couples. B has been the time tested method since forever, usually through extended families.

    Being apart for sixteen hours out of a twenty-four hour day, over a period of years, isn’t a stressor on a marriage?

    With urbanization, extended families no longer live together, but day cares do a great job during work hours. Calling that “a significant portion of the actual raising of their children” is a bit over the top.

    Why? If a kid sleeps eight hours per day, (s)he has sixteen waking hours per day; and (assuming two parents working identical full-time schedules with a half-hour commute) is in surrogate care for nine of those hours. So of 112 waking hours per week, the child is away from a parent for 45 hours or just over 40% of the time.

    How is putting a child in surrogate care for more than 40% of his conscious hours, not effectively delegating a “significant portion of the actual raising” of those children? Do we flatter ourselves that the caregivers are merely “tending” while only a parent is actually “raising” the child?

  75. I’m not convinced that economic disparity is the root cause. If we had stuck to our guns and valued marriage as we ought the market would certainly have followed.

  76. bbell, I suspect that your employees’ alleged advantages of not being married, for TANF purposes at least, are illusory. Though I’m not entirely familiar with the law, my research suggests that cohabiting couples who live with their biological children are treated as a single family unit for purposes of TANF eligibility in all 50 states, irrespective of whether they are married. (The calculus is different for cohabiting couples where the children are the mother’s, but not the fathers.)

    Which is to say, your employees may believe that there are financial advantages to remaining unmarried, but those advantages may be less than they believe, or may, in fact, be nonexistent.

  77. And Jack, you’re welcome not to believe, but the evidence is pretty compelling. Do you have anything to back up your intuition? And, for that matter, do you have any definition for what it means to “value marriage as we ought” or how we can implement that valuing in a way that will help increase the availability and rate of marriage?

  78. I think modern educated women find it harder to get married because they don’t want to marry down (nor should they per se) . Less educated women have the economic incentives not to marry as described by bbell, which were inverted in past eras.

  79. jpv, but the data indicate that the exact opposite has happened. In 1950, one-third of all white 55-59-year-old women with a college education had never been married; by 2008, the never-marrieds in that age cohort were down to 9 percent.

  80. Sam. The girlfriends names will be on the lease agreement, utility bills etc. They are getting all of these benefits. Its a different world than what most upperclass people imagine. They game the system on matters like this.

    I actually have sat down with multiple employees and gone thru the scenarios. There are huge compelling financial reasons not to get married if you make under 60k. It’s not an illusion.

  81. bbell, at this point I’ll confess I’m not sure what your point is. You seem to be arguing against providing economic benefits to encourage people to marry because maybe those benefits will be abused in a way that discourages marriage? Because, whether or not your employees are right,[fn] any regime will, at the margins, discourage some from marrying and encourage others to marry. (See, e.g., Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson, Wharton economists.) That evidence exists that certain programs do not encourage every single person to marry doesn’t, in my mind, work against that program; if we demanded 100% success, we’d be paralyzed.

    Of course, it’s also possible that I’m misunderstanding your point, in which I invite you to reexplain what you’re saying, or otherwise productively add to the discussion of how we can defend marriage and the family.

    [fn] (they’re not)

  82. “In their book, Carbone and Cahn argue convincingly that one of the big changes in marriage has been in the stratification of the marriage market.”

    I guess I have to read the book, but I find it very, very, nigh unto impossibly hard to imagine that marriage was non-assortive prior to women entering the workforce. There’s a reason European aristocracy is inbred, and that’s because they inbred! Rich girls went to finishing school so they could attract a similarly situated mate. Poor farm girls married poor farm boys. We have never been non-assortive in mating.

  83. Cynthia, you’re certainly right that marriage wasn’t purely non-assortive prior to women entering the workforce. There were clearly racial, economic, class, religious, and even geographic constraints. Their point more is that, back then, a rich (or educated) man might marry his less-rich, less-educated secretary, or that two high-schoolers, one of whom would eventually graduate from college, while the other wouldn’t, got married. Marriage, then, could serve as a (limited, at least) stepping-stone across class lines, at least for some people. Today, by contrast, that doesn’t happen (occasional anecdotes notwithstanding).

  84. And Jack, you’re welcome not to believe, but the evidence is pretty compelling.

    Why is it more compelling than the “evidence” that for five decades kids have grown up hearing that out-of-wedlock births are no big deal and that marriage is something you get around to–maybe–after your twenties? Don’t recent polls indicate that about 50% of Americans don’t consider out-of-wedlock births to be “wrong” (and that Iceland, with a 65% unwed birth rate, the number approaches 95%)? Hasn’t this very blog played host to dozens of commentators who excoriate the Church for encouraging its youth to marry “too soon”?

    I have cited figures suggesting that household income for the lowest quintile of Americans did not significantly diminish in the period from 1970 to 1990, when average marriage ages and unwed birth rates were skyrocketing. Villate has noted that marriage and childbearing rates don’t seem to have rebounded in countries that have built strong safety nets. Class inequality is certainly rising, and is a problem (especially when families don’t move across class lines over decades or generations); but does the mere knowledge that the Koch brothers have so much more money make the rest of us delay our own wedding dates or suddenly fall pregnant?

    This post naturally resonates both with people who are predisposed towards redistributionist economic policies and those who are uncomfortable with the Church’s teachings on family life. But really, I think we could all stand to ask ourselves why–now that the parade of horribles that social conservatives have predicted these past five decades is finally coming to pass–we’re suddenly so all-fired convinced that, not only are unwed births and late marriages a bad thing after all; but their modern prevalence is somehow the conservatives’ fault..

  85. JimD, I’m not sure what evidence you’re referring to. Anecdotally, I’ve never seen any suggestion (before yours) that for five decades children have been told that out-of-wedlock births are no big deal; in fact (as I’ve blogged about before), Brookings Institution writers have asserted that only having children in marriage is one of three prongs necessary to get out of poverty (and that particular book was coauthored by a political liberal and a political conservative). I have personally not heard a bad word about marriage.

    That is, I think you’re swinging at a straw man: I’ve seen no evidence (and you’ve presented none) of a culture the is opposed to marriage, or of a culture here of persons opposed to the church’s teachings on marriage. But we’re not discussing the church’s teachings on marriage; we’re discussing how to protect and encourage marriage in the broader culture. And to do that, we need to find the root problems. And one significant root problem—one that liberals and conservatives broadly agree on—is that the economics of marriage don’t work in today’s world for a lot of people. And that’s a problem that can be solved.

  86. Sam. My point us that the state has policies and benefits that discourage family formation by working class people.

  87. That’s a very good point Sam, however, this sounds like a very tiny demographic (“in 1950, one-third of all white 55-59-year-old women”) to extrapolate to modern educated women–a demographic vastly larger demographic now than in the 50s. However, the point isn’t that educated career women marry less than in the past, but that demographic has exploded comparatively (one that does not need marriage for economic reasons).

    Poor women without careers in previous generations generally married for economic support, the state has taken that role in almost every developed country.

  88. I’m just glad to see bbell around again. It seems like it’s been a while.

    My guess is that Sam and bbell are in agreement, re: state policies discouraging marriage. They might, however, disagree regarding how to change the policies.

  89. JimD, I’m not sure what evidence you’re referring to. Anecdotally, I’ve never seen any suggestion (before yours) that for five decades children have been told that out-of-wedlock births are no big deal;

    With all due respect, Sam; I think you’re ignoring pop culture. Do you listen to popular music? Do you watch television? Do you think the people who have delivered conference addresses since the 1970s are just inventing things?

    Dan Quayle’s comments about Murphy Brown were over twenty years ago–and back then, society as a whole concluded that he was nuts (and hateful). Fast-forward to 2013 and sixty three percent of Americans are now saying that sex out of wedlock is morally acceptable; and sixty percent of them also say unmarried parenthood is morally acceptable. (Source: http://www.gallup.com/poll/162689/record-high-say-gay-lesbian-relations-morally.aspx?utm_source=alert&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=syndication&utm_content=morelink&utm_term=All%20Gallup%20Headlines)

    It’s really not that complicated–People are not as likely to do things that they think are wrong. That doesn’t mean that the problem is easy to fix; but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to at least identify the problem.

    I’ve seen no evidence (and you’ve presented none) of a culture the is opposed to marriage,

    I think, in a secular discussion, “apathetic to” would be a better phrase than “opposed to”; but the results are similar: more unwed births (http://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2014/demo/p20-575.pdf), fewer overall births per mother (Ibid.), higher percentages of Americans in every age bracket who have never married (see, e.g., http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0763219.html), and later marriage ages for those who do marry (your graphic in the OP).

    . . . or of a culture here of persons opposed to the church’s teachings on marriage.

    Here’s one I found in less than thirty seconds of Googling: https://bycommonconsent.com/2013/01/22/the-implications-of-encouraging-early-marriage-in-a-global-church/

    And one significant root problem—one that liberals and conservatives broadly agree on—is that the economics of marriage don’t work in today’s world for a lot of people.

    But census data shows–and I’ve quoted it in a previous comment–that, in real 2013 dollars, poor families from 1970-1990 were not getting poorer. It is extraordinary to me that most here seem absolutely determined to ignore the explanations and warnings of conservatives (including prophets and apostles), and then blame conservatives when it turns out that the breakdown of American family life is in fact empirically verifiable and undeniable. I can’t help but admire the tactic–this is revisionism at its finest.

    And that’s a problem that can be solved.

    What country, specifically, has “solved” it and seen marriage rates and family size rebound (and unwed births drop) as a result?

    Has Iceland’s government-funded social safety net brought its unwed birth rate to, or below, American levels?

    Has Sweden’s?

    Denmark’s?

    Norway’s?

    Great Britain’s?

    (See http://www.unmarriedamerica.org/unwedint.html).

  90. Why do you have to wait to hear a “bad” word about marriage, when there is evidence all around you that there are a helluva lot of people who don’t take it very seriously? For whatever benefits no fault divorce brings to the process of unwinding unsuccessful marriages, it sends an unfortunate signal–probably as loud a signal as the economic issues you point to–that marriage just isn’t that important, and that it can be abandoned for any reason, or for no reason, by any party at any time.

  91. Sam, I submitted a couple of observations re your 7:12 post a couple of hours ago, but the page keeps telling me I’ve already submitted it without the comment actually showing up. If you could check the spam filter/moderation queue/whatever, I’d be very grateful. If you’d rather not hear from me anymore on this topic, I’ll happily bow out.

  92. Thanks for the post, Sam. I also agree with john f. that inequality in education and income are moral issues.

  93. @Mark B. No-fault divorce does not send the signal that “[marriage] can be abandoned for any reason.” It allows one to exit a bad relationship without having to label the other parent as the bad guy/gal. There is generally sufficient ‘blame’ to go around, so let’s figure out how to deal with the fallout instead of figuring out who is most at fault.

  94. Even more, “no-fault” divorce allows women out of abusive marriages or marriages to philandering spouses who would be impossible to divorce in the absence of no-fault divorce without (usually) virtually automatically losing custody of children as a consequence of initiating a divorce. Absent no-fault divorce, a divorce would only be granted in the first place if adequate admissible evidence proving affairs or abuse could be produced at trial. It might be easier (though devastating for the victim) to produce admissible evidence of physical abuse, but it is virtually impossible to produce admissible evidence of emotional or psychological abuse, or of adultery.

    This is why no-fault divorce was introduced in the first place and not, as the alternative reading of history put forward by some culture warriors would have us believe, because: Free Love, Hippies, Beards, etc.

  95. mgy401, I don’t know what the glitch is, but I can’t find your comment anywhere. I don’t want you to bow out, by any means, but I’m afraid I can’t restore your comment.

    And JimD, for what it’s worth, no, I don’t listen to a ton of pop music (unless it’s being covered by Postmodern Jukebox). Mostly jazz and classical. But honestly, if you think pop music today’s much different content-wise, than pop music from the early 20th century, or surrealist art, or literature from the early 20th and late 19th centuries (and even earlier), well, it’s not.

  96. *raises hand* Beneficiary of a no-fault divorce here.

    I don’t comment much here because I’m auto-moderated after standing up for myself once, and it’s generally not worth it anyways. But this is something I know quite a bit about.

    When my lawyer insisted I file no-fault, I had a very, VERY hard time with it. Even now, the thought of it lodges like a lump in my heart. However, at the time I trusted him to do what I was paying him to do. Looking back, I know that if I’d tried to prove the abuse it would have dangerously escalated things for me and for my children. It was bad enough as-is. And that is WITH his guilty plea to domestic violence in order to plea down the charges regarding DV in the presence of my daughter.

    But I hate no-fault divorce, even having one myself.

    However, the main thing I find missing in that half of the argument to support marriage is that getting rid of no-fault divorces will also put victims of domestic violence in far greater danger. So yeah, no-fault might “send a signal” that marriage isn’t that important. It might raise divorce rates. Not finding a good man to marry might decrease marriage rates. But you know what that’s called? Women voting with their feet.

    Do you think that the advent of no-fault divorce has caused an uptick of domestic violence? Or do you suppose that domestic violence has (at the very least) maintained the same rate as before no-fault divorce?

    I think that previously, women were forced to stay—not only in uncomfortable marriages, or marriages that “didn’t work out”—but in dangerous marriages because they had no way to prove the things that only happened behind closed doors.

    You want to stop attacking the family? Stop men from attacking women, either physically or emotionally. Stop the cycle of control. Stop the life of fear. Teach men to respect women as people and not as wish-fulfillment or sexual objects or appendages to their men. Teach them to not cheat on their wives by stepping out with a woman who will perform her function to their satisfaction. Teach them to stop adopting pornographic views of sex and the use of women. Teach them to master their own bodies and not expect someone else to satisfy them. Teach them to support their wives in their divine callings as much as she’s supposed to support them. Teach them to be help meet for their wives. You manage that, I’ll bet marriage rates go up and divorces go down.

    If marriage cannot be sustained in a world where women have power over themselves, that ought to make the message loud and clear that it’s time for men to step up to the plate. Be men of honor. That is something the Church teaches well.

  97. *raises hand* Beneficiary of a no-fault divorce here.

    I don’t comment much here because I’m auto-moderated after standing up for myself once, and it’s generally not worth it anyways. But this is something I know quite a bit about.

    When my lawyer insisted I file no-fault, I had a very, VERY hard time with it. Even now, the thought of it lodges like a lump in my heart. However, at the time I trusted him to do what I was paying him to do. Looking back, I know that if I’d tried to prove the abuse it would have dangerously escalated things for me and for my children. It was bad enough as-is. And that is WITH his guilty plea to domestic violence in order to plea down the charges regarding DV in the presence of my daughter.

    But I hate no-fault divorce, even having one myself.

    However, the main thing I find missing in that half of the argument to support marriage is that getting rid of no-fault divorces will also put victims of domestic violence in far greater danger. So yeah, no-fault might “send a signal” that marriage isn’t that important. It might raise divorce rates. Not finding a good man to marry might decrease marriage rates. But you know what that’s called? Women voting with their feet.

    Do you think that the advent of no-fault divorce has caused an uptick of domestic violence? Or do you suppose that domestic violence has (at the very least) maintained the same rate as before no-fault divorce?

    I think that previously, women were forced to stay—not only in uncomfortable marriages, or marriages that “didn’t work out”—but in dangerous marriages because they had no way to prove the things that only happened behind closed doors.

    You want to stop attacking the family? Stop men from attacking women, either physically or emotionally. Stop the cycle of control. Stop the life of fear. Teach men to respect women as people and not as wish-fulfillment or sexual objects or appendages to their men. Teach them to not cheat on their wives by stepping out with a woman who will perform her function to their satisfaction. Teach them to stop adopting pornographic views of sex and the use of women. Teach them to master their own bodies and not expect someone else to satisfy them. Teach them to support their wives in their divine callings as much as she’s supposed to support them. Teach them to be help meet for their wives. You manage that, I’ll bet marriage rates go up and divorces go down.

    If marriage cannot be sustained in a world where women have power over themselves, that ought to make the message loud and clear that it’s time for men to step up to the plate. Be men of honor. That is something the Church teaches well.

  98. JimD, I don’t understand your thing about “blaming conservatives.” Are you (1) equating LDS General Authorities with “conservatives” in the American political context and then (2) saying that it would be surprising to “blame” them (though no one is blaming them for the decline in marriage rates, I don’t think — can’t recall seeing anyone do that on this thread, in any event) because you believe that they have been delivering sermons denouncing income inequality (as a result of greed and the “I built this” entitlement mentality) and lack of chances for learning as among the primary threats to marriage in our society (as compared to the 1955 touchstone of the golden age of marriage, setting aside the unavailability of no-fault divorce at that time, meaning that many women were forced to stay with abusive or philandering men — yet the statistics still look good on paper) the whole time?

  99. SilverRain, aren’t you auto-moderated because for a stretch of months or years, every single one of your comments was more or less a denunciation of BCC, offering snarky dismissals of BCC as a project but little of substance to the particular discussion at hand?

    I can certify to you that BCC does NOT moderate or prevent comments by people who are simply disagreeing with a post or who are making substantive disagreeing counterarguments as part of the discussion. That is the purview of some other Mormon blogs, who make frequent use of that tactic.

    But if all a comment adds is some snarky condemnation of those heathen BCC bloggers (who happen to be faithful Mormons) then, yes, there is a risk of moderation.

  100. john f.—No. That links to what happened when I was auto-moderated.

    You’re probably thinking of someone else. I don’t think I’ve ever dismissed BCC like you’re talking about. It’s a group blog with a variety of outlooks. Though there have been times I’ve addressed the tenor of the Bloggernacle in general on my own blog, I don’t THINK I’ve ever done what you say.

  101. Sam, I usually post under JimD but my account name is mgy401; I forgot to correct it in my 11:38 post. Many thanks for your acknowledgment; the post I was worried about is showing up now. As to your point: My preferred music genre is big-band and crooners of the late 20s-mid 50s, and my experience is that even the edgier stuff had a certain degree of ambiguity/”plausible deniability” that isn’t even bothered with today. Your mileage may vary, of course.

    John F., to address your questions: 1) yes; on the whole the rhetoric of the LDS leadership regarding the family has been extraordinarily socially conservative over the past few decades; and 2) while I recognize that the overlap between social conservatism and (for lack of a better term) fiscal conservatism isn’t perfect; there is a pretty healthy correlation between the two and you’ve got to admit that the LDS leadership who have gone on record about on the issue over the past few decades, with a couple of exceptions, haven’t been particularly fond of welfare states.

    But that’s a little beside the point. The point is–the LDS leadership has spent half a century warning about the destructive consequences of the increasingly cavalier attitudes towards marriage and child-rearing. Now that those consequences are becoming undeniable, lots of y’all are bound and determined to find some other cause. And some participants seem to be gravitating towards an economic explanation based on income levels that aren’t really falling and a poverty rates that have never exceeded their 1959 level of 22.4% and haven’t topped 20% since 1963 (source: https://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/data/historical/hstpov2.xls), in order to justify expansion of a welfare state that–the experience of foreign nations tells us–won’t solve the problem.

  102. expansion of a welfare state? Are you referring to maternity leave and other family-friendly policies as expansion of a welfare state?

  103. I would say they are. They won’t help either.

  104. I knew that mention of no-fault divorce would elicit the knee-jerk reactions that it did from people who either didn’t read what I wrote or who assumed that I meant something I did not write. In that I have not been disappointed.

  105. Mark B., I think you might just be mistaken about what no-fault divorce actually means to people who get divorced. Note that everyone who objected to your characterization did so on the basis of personal experience.

    I live in the no-faultest of no-fault divorce states. When I attended the state-mandated course on divorce’s effects on children (yes, you read that right), it was abundantly clear that NO ONE there had blithely entered the process of divorce because the legal process just wasn’t complicated or difficult enough to impress upon them that marriage is important.

    Believing that people get divorced because they don’t care enough about marriage is a luxury enjoyed mostly by people who have never needed to get divorced. It’s condescending in the extreme to believe that wise married people should be trying to “send signals” by arranging the legal system to help us poor immoral idiots who don’t understand that marriage is serious business.

  106. Wow, Kristine. OK, I’ll give you some of my personal experience. As a child I a went through three divorces — and they were all because people didn’t care enough.

  107. But Jack, would a difference in the legal regime around divorce have made them care more?

    (I wasn’t trying to start the pain olympics, just questioning the logic behind the argument about the “signaling” value of no-fault divorce.)

  108. not mentioned here, how very many women who are unable or disinterested in becoming married desire very much to become mothers and single parent by choice via adoption or invitro fertilization through sperm donation. I am a married adoptive mother, but every single one of my close friends (five) is a single by choice adoptive mother. Women are sick of waiting to parent children because they can’t find a guy with their crap together who will commit.

  109. PS. I think single parenting is morally acceptable. Married parenting while abusing drugs, children, a spouse= immoral. Parenting while single in love= moral. Period.

  110. scoopy, back about 25 years ago I was aware of a single sister in my then ward in Britain who adopted a disabled child.

  111. John Mansfield says:

    “every single one of my close friends (five) is a single by choice adoptive mother”

    That’s unusual. Do you have something against close friendship with other sorts of heads of household?