Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Impending Extinction of Marriage (Part 1 of 2)

Everyone falls in love with wedding days, but few of us fall in love with marriage.


Marriage is dying. Studies show that marriage is on the decline all over the world. More and more people are opting out of being married. The number of people who are married in the most developed societies around the world are at an all time low. But as you'll note from the above linked article, this is not a cyclical trend. Marriage has been on a steady decline since the 1950's. What gives? I explore this phenomenon in this post about the slow death of love.


It is no secret that divorce rates are at an all time high. It's even less of a secret that more and more people are opting to cohabit, but never taking that extra step to get married. In some developed societies, they're not even falling in love any more. The situation has become so dire that in many European states, the death rate exceeds the birthrate. There's even a campaign in some parts of Europe with the slogan "F_ck for life." Just what is going on here?

The effect that we see of many folks (mostly younger people) slowly drifting away from the walking the isle is merely an aggregation of a number of social factors that are directly linked to cognitive evolution. Our world has changed dramatically over the last five decades. This is particularly true in the western world, where there are ten key reasons why marriage is dying:

10. Declining desire for Children

Let's face facts: College tuitions are not going down. Even if you don't factor college tuitions into the mix, children are an expensive undertaking. That's why you need to be in love to have them. That's technically the whole point of being in love. The Oxytocin intoxication that you feel when in love is supposed to neutralize the logic centers of your brain, thereby facilitating the hot sex needed to knock up your wife (or girlfriend for that matter), thereby having children.

I would acknowledge that the economic situation these days doesn't exactly lend itself to the favourable hosting of children. However, despite all of this, poor folks are still having children. If they can make it work (despite the fact that they struggle through it all), how much more so are those of us who make this complaint? It suffices to say then that our complaints are not necessarily because children are expensive, but that we prefer not to make such a sacrifice.

Genetic laziness aside, there are actually some places in the world where the move to control population worked far too well. Consider South Korea where after an aggressive campaign to encourage couples to have fewer children in the 1950s, now they have started a campaign to do just the opposite as their population recedes. A similar situation exists in Singapore, where many couples are simply finding it too expensive to have children, and so opt out altogether.

So what does this have to do with marriage? Well, everything — especially if you consider this in the context of developing countries (which make up most of the world). More developed nations don't have this social restriction for reasons I'll discuss later in this post. However, marriage is the preferred precursor to having children in most parts of the world. Being less developed nations, conservative views are more prominent. So if there's no marriage, there will likely be no children. The two constructs are almost inextricably linked in these places.

Whenever education becomes more ubiquitous and consciousnesses are raised in developing countries (especially among women), the nature of the society shifts from a subsistence driven culture (like those based on farming) to a technology driven culture. This means that people will rely less and less on the emergence of children as a core part of their survival and more on social services. Children become less important to subsequent generations as society evolves.

Even if you exclude all the women who don't want to have children because they dislike kids (or don't think the glory of having a child is worth the toll on their bodies), you are still left with a vast number of those with faulty reasoning based on this perceived link between marriage and children. They either don't see the point of getting married if they don't want kids or find themselves very frustrated with repeatedly running into potential mates who do want children.

The resulting effect is a growing cynicism among younger generations towards marriage. Once thought to be only affecting a fringe sector of more modern societies, this trend has become fairly common in Europe, where there are appears to be a strong co-relational link between the dramatic drops in both marriage and birth rates. As people have evolved into creatures of comfort, their disinterest in children tends to also coincide with their feelings about marriage.

09. Divorce is a powerful deterrent

Well over 50% of marriages end in divorce — particularly in developed countries where the rate is as high as 60% (and we will discuss the reasons for this later in this post). Divorce is such a common element of society that I even run into people in developing nations who are getting divorced with great frequency. People are not even trying to stay married anymore.

So others don't even bother.

The reasons for divorce range from serious issues like infidelity and money problems to pettier things like personal habits and even snoring. More often than not, the real cause for divorce (especially ones that occur shortly after marriage) is due to poorly researched mate selection. However, when longer term marriages come crashing to a halt, it is cause for serious doubt.

This is especially true if the marriage of a couple that represents a particular group of people within a particular context fails. The rumoured failure of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith's 13 year old marriage for example, will carry a particularly powerful blow to African American celebrities and African Americans at large. The failure of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman's 10 decade long marriage had a very similar impact for young hopefuls in the much wider American populace.

What's worse is that as marriages fail with regularity, people tend to notice the frequency with which the loss of property and custody of progeny becomes a recurring heated issue in the proceedings, not to mention the fighting with the in-laws that inevitably follows. The nightmarish experience is a powerful enough of a deterrent to those who were on the fence.

The resulting effect is not only a resounding cynicism about marriage, but now the institution is becoming more and more saturated by legal wrangling as more non-standard marriage contracts emerge that succinctly guard the assets of the husband from the wife (and vice versa). While it would be fairly surprising that wealthy people don't always have prenuptial agreements, the truth is that even they marry for love, even if it may ultimately prove foolish.

08. The digital devaluation of relationships

It is remarkably easier these days to find and hookup with someone on the internet. With the advent of smart phones and tablet computers, finding an empty liasion for a night of hot sex and herpes is literally only a few clicks away. Now that young people are constantly inundated with the emotional trials (and failures) that come with relationships by the media, it is no small wonder that fewer and fewer people want to deal with this sordid part of being human at all.

The previous generation had no choice but to deal with their immediate lover when problems arose. Replacing your lover would normally take awhile — until a new paradigm took off on the internet: Social Networking. Now with people's ridiculously lengthy list of friends (half of whom they've never met, but they look cute) there are many more available options for rebounding after a failed relationship. All you have to do is send off a virtual "poke" to get things started.

Now that the paradigm of Social Networking has become so ubiquitous on the internet, the inevitable engineering for sex made its début. There are now literally hundreds of internet sites online that cater to the need for a quick hook up. Some even help you cheat on your spouse. I'm not kidding. With the power of the internet at one's fingertips, just about anyone can skip straight to the sex. There is no courtship. There's no dating, no dinner and no movie.

If relationships have become this disposable, why would anyone want to bother being in one for the rest of their lives? Women are far more likely to retain this sentiment than men. While there is evidence to suggest that men burn out much of that testosterone by the time they hit 25 (and thus, engender the desire to marry), they tend to lose interest for another reason:

07. The liberated woman

While women still desire to have a man in their lives, their reasons are far different now than they were 50 years ago. Today's women have their own voice, are their own backbone, have their own jobs, drive their own cars, buy their own homes, take vacation whenever they feel like and utilize the sperm bank to have children if they don't meet a man that fulfils their many petty exacting standards. The only thing men can still offer women, is their biological appeal.

In fact, only in poor third world countries will one still find women who marry for economic reasons. Developing and developed nations feature women who are highly educated and highly independent. More of these women are having children in their 40s, while women in the third world are still getting pregnant as teenagers. This is not to say that teen pregnancy doesn't occur in the first world (it does). However, it is not as prevalent as in the third world.

This is a major contributor to why women in the third world are considerably less likely to get divorced. They would lose a lot more than just their husband. However, women in developed nations have a lot less to lose, thanks to western divorce law, a lot more to gain, a lot more independence, a lot more options and so have far fewer reasons to fight for their marriage.

Why would a woman in today's world subject herself to the will of a man who by virtue of being male often doesn't find himself obligated to return the sentiment? Just ask the wives of NBA players. They are treated like options, (nay, even assets) in the wake of their super star husbands. Men in these positions have women throw themselves at them on a daily basis. Sooner or later, they're going to have to decide between their marriage vows and their penis.

(Hint: Penis always wins)

The thing is that men aren't afraid of marriage. They're afraid of having to stand up to their own penis. This is especially true of men with money. The truth is that a man with that kind of money and power doesn't need a wife — not unless he's searching for a way to very quickly lose half of his fortune. You would think that after Michael Jordan lost half of his that Tiger Woods would know better. But men drunk with power forget they haven't married sheep.

With that said, the court tends to find divorce proceedings disproportionately in favour of the woman. So many men are patently frightened off the marriage track, especially if it involves dealing with a vengeful woman. They could lose a lot more than just their house in the divorce process. They could also lose their sanity. There's little worse to a man than being stripped of house and personal pride by an ex-wife who didn't even help with the mortgage payments.

That's why some husbands simply kill the soon to be ex.

Even if that's not the case, women have become so independent these days, that one of the traditional purposes for marriage as it pertained to many women in the past has now become obsolete. Gone are the days when women couldn't speak for themselves, were second class citizens and were financially dependent on a husband. But this is no longer the case. Today's husbands are mostly for show or for emotional gratification and enviable social status.

This is not to say that women have stopped marrying for love. However, women no longer need marriage as a means of survival. Therefore whereas husbands of the past could get away with being an ass (their women would stick by them because they had no other choice), today's women wouldn't think twice about getting a divorce, especially when they can get half of the money they never lifted a finger for. Divorce has never been so lucrative for women.

Furthermore, now that women are educated, gains such as reduced incidences of unwanted pregnancy were achieved. The counter point is that the more educated women become, the less likely they are to get married. There is a shifting trend among educated women to be pickier about their love interests, many of whom eventually find their niche as single women.

06. The Liberalization of Society

There is a growing number of people in the world that are shedding their religious upbringing. This is particularly true among younger people. As marriage has inextricably religious origins (even though the entire affair is now tightly bound in secular law), the religious prerequisites for marriage and intercourse have all but evaporated, while the sanctity of the marriage vows have been reduced to an expensive social ritual overshadowed by the prenuptial agreement.

Marriage is no longer considered a necessity for the rearing of children and is generally seen as a way of formalizing a relationship for the gain of a few additional social benefits, which vary from country to country. In fact, in places like China, marriage is something done at a government office. There is no wedding ceremony unless the couple wants to put on a show for family and friends. China has since distilled marriage down to its most basic components.

In fact, do you notice that while divorce is actually the reverse of marriage, the process is exactly the same? You sign a document in front of two witnesses. This time however, the witnesses are your respective lawyers (and not your family members). People don't have the pomp and circumstance for divorce like they do with marriage, simply because divorce is an unpleasant occasion. If you distil the pomp and circumstance from the wedding event, you will still be just as married as if you drop 200 large on your wedding. You just won't have photos.

Since marriage is really just a legal process that could potentially go terribly awry, we now have pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements to round out the love contract. Yes, that's what marriage ultimately is: a legal contract. Your love is ultimately secondary to the law of the land. The law cares little for the intangibility of love. Marriage vows can't control human nature — but a legal contract can. This is why your precious marriage vows are ultimately irrelevant.

So your incredibly expensive wedding is a sham whether your marriage works out or not. The divorce of couples who spent many lavish sums on their wedding day only accentuates that fact. The alienation of friends by the bride turned bride-zilla only accentuates that fact. The fact is that while everyone falls in love with wedding days, few of us fall in love with marriage.

End of Part 1

We have an odd habit as humans to continue doing something that we've done for centuries because we have always assumed that it is good in and of itself, even if by the very nature of that thing, it also makes us miserable. Consequently, that's why the story doesn't end here. In the next post, I will conclude the discussion with the top five issues now affecting marriage.

E-mail: accordingtoxen[at]gmail[dot]com

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