Friday, December 16, 2011

Is Marriage Dying as a Useful Social Institution?

"Times are a changin' . . ."

Who wrote that? Bobby Dylan? I think I hear his nasal twang in the background . . . crooning about life and girls like a lovesick foghorn.

The factuals amongst you will be impressed that I have a statistic for you this morning instead of an opinion. A recent survey in the United States reported that the percentage of married adults has declined to 51%. It was 72% in the 1960's.

That is a fact.

The analysts figure an increase in divorces brought the number down, but it is not the whole story. The divorce rate has held steady recently, but the married rate continues to decline. And it is the youngsters who are establishing the trend, living together outside the confines of official marriage.

Why is that? Why are they establishing households, maybe even having kids, but choosing to do so outside the legal instrument of marriage?

Here I must shift from facts to guessing. You can guess along with me, as one man's hunch is as good as another's, and a woman's hunch is often better.

For one thing, women in the U.S. are equal to men in every way, under the law. And many have taken up careers on their own. They no longer bind themselves to a man as a housewife with no basis for "survival" outside that marriage. Women are fully independent, and can be assured of doing fine either inside or outside a marriage.

Indeed, in that frame of thinking, marriage becomes a legal headache. It forces whichever worker is making more money to give their money to the partner in the case of a split-up. And it forces attorneys into the household.

Who needs them?

It is that simple.

Kids interject a complication, and marriage certainly provides a firmer legal foundation for whichever parent ends up with the kids after a split. But single-parent houses in the US are becoming common. They are no longer looked at as an aberration carrying the stigma of failure.

There are two kinds of legal foundation in the US. Written law and case-law established through an iteration of legal decisions.

It does not matter if a paper marriage exists or not. Living together establishes a contract, just as a verbal agreement is an agreement as solid as one stated on paper. The legal foundation exists to determine who is responsible for paying for a child in a defunct relationship, whether a marriage rite was performed or not. A written "marriage contract" is not required.

So why marry? To signify the commitment of one's heart? To sign, seal and deliver it?

I rather suspect that if the heart is true, a piece of paper will not affect it one way or another. The marriage ceremony is merely a show, more for the parents and guests than the couple getting hitched.

I know unmarried couples who have been together for 30 years as I was cycling through three marriages. Perhaps their commitment was STRONGER because they knew their relationship depended on THEM, and was not just some shared vows said before the congregation.

That brings me to the Philippines.

I think the Philippines is on this matter more advanced than the U.S., for it is common in the Philippines for man and woman to take up living together outside the official bond of marriage. Why? Poor people don't have the documentation or the money to execute a marriage according to the terms required by the State.

Indeed, people move easily from one "unofficial spouse" to another, and are called husband and wife even if unmarried. The children in some families are an absolute splatter of different parentage, and kids are moved to uncles and aunts as if they were the real parents, without official adoption. The kids are pushed toward such money as may be available.

In a poor family, there is also a certain gender equality. Both husband and wife don't make much money. They are equal as to wealth and means. Ain't got none.

So marriage is not required to protect the financial interest of one, over the other.

Marriage in the Philippines is only required for "show". It is the ritual, the surreal public fantasy that holds that the married couple is not sinful when having sex because they received God's blessing from the church. In fact  . . . no, that's wrong . . . in JoeAm's estimation, if one's heart is in the right place, God will understand.

No public show is required. No piece of paper is required. No Church is needed to certify God's blessing.

And attorneys can't help at all.


  1. The Philippines is more advanced in that we have never lost our family values. We have kind hearts and clean minds that Joe Imperialist often mistakes for immaturity or insecurity. But the truth is, America is proof that wealth cannot buy you happiness. Filipinos do not have much possessions but are infinitely happier and live more meaningful lives compared to that soul-less materialistic existence of the western world.

    That is the true reason why Joe Imperialist resides in the Philippines. He has had enough with the meaningless capitalist rat-race. He lives in the Philippines because he has found something more meaningful in the Pinoy way of life. If this is not true, then WHY IS HE HERE?

    And for that Joe, we say: Your welcome buddy.

  2. PP, I think you will find a higher percentage of Americans are happy with their lot in life than Filipinos. Indeed, I am here because I like it. However, most people in America won't visit here. You see, I am an eccentric, out of the norm, not a typical American. They prefer something cleaner, safer and more honest.

  3. People avoid marriage because it is so difficult to get out of it. Make it easy and people won't mind marrying as often and as many times as they can find someone who wants to marry them. So make divorces easy and you will get more marriages. That will be good for everyone specially the wedding planners and chapels.

  4. I am old fashion, I STILL BELIEVE IN MARRIAGE.

    I still believe in marriage between man and woman and having children ...

    I believe in marriage of the same sex.

    But I am still withholding my opinion on same sex couple adopting children.

  5. @Proud Pinoy: Common sense tells me that putting up with an abusive marriage is not a "family value." Never has been, never will be.


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