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Declining divorce

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I’m sure most of our readership is sufficiently well-informed to have not fallen prey to the “half of marriages end in divorce” and “divorce is on the rise” myths that have been so persistent (I’ve taken to asking some of my classes about this, I’ve yet to encounter a student who doesn’t believe both these things to be true), but this article presents the story of our declining divorce rate with one of the best visualizations of the data to present it I’ve seen.

Obviously, one reason the myth persists is that is serves the purposes of social conservatives, and they promote it. First, in their search for a reason to deny marriage rights to same sex couples, they largely settled on “marriage is a fragile institution in crisis, and worked to make it immune from new evidence. Second, though, and more importantly I suspect, it demonstrates rather clearly that to the extent that they were narrowly correct about a relationship between feminist advances and rising divorce rates, more recent trends show that those same advances are a big part of the story of the subsequent decline in divorce. Marriage was an institution that served men, and imposed extremely high exit costs on women. When those exit costs declined, men were less able to trap women in marriages that weren’t working for them, and they left in large numbers. Now, marriages are more likely to constructed in such a way that women get something closer to as much value out of them as men do, so divorce goes down. Feminism made marriage stronger, by creating the conditions under which women are more likely be in a position to marry, and construct their marriage, on their own terms.

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  • Obviously, one reason the myth persists is that is serves the purposes of social conservatives, and they promote it.

    Does it really? It their schtick is marriage solves everything, women who don’t marry are sluts or welfare moochers, and so on.

    Also, I always heard the level of divorce used to counter the people claiming that opposite sex marriage was this super special thing that was so important to society, do you have any examples of cons using divorce rates? I could use a laugh this a.m.

    • Derelict

      Maybe we need to talk to Rush Limbaugh or Newt Gingrich about this. After all, both have been married so many times that, by now, they should be experts.

      • Heh. Their names did come up a lot as the equal marriage movement really got rolling. Also Appalachian Sanford. Seems like there was someone else. Johnny Ejectomatic McCain, maybe?

        As I said, I don’t remember cons using divorce rates as an excuse to protect it from gay cooties, but maybe it got snarked out of existence and replaced by “Marriage = Babies.”

        I do remember some excessively stupid people bringing up the couple who got married in Massachusetts and later wanted to get divorced, because naturally it showed that gay people aren’t really sincere about marriage.

        • Derelict

          All of those names and more have been outspoken proponents of “family values” and held themselves forth as paragons of virtue. At least until their own private lives became public. David Vitter. Bob Livingston. Jimmy Swagert. Rudy Giuliani. The list goes on, and grows with each passing month.

          • Pat

            I think a big part of it also has to do with stigmatizing premarital sex. Adults are experimenting with relationships before they settle into one that meets their needs. Most of us don’t know what our needs are until we get into one, and most of us have to learn how to treat our partners well enough that they want to stay.

            But conservatives are against this kind of learning process. They want kids to marry the first person they’re hot for, and then have kids right away.

        • joe from Lowell

          Johnny Ejectomatic McCain, maybe?

          I still can’t believe they included a treacly video about the romantic meeting between McCain and his current wife during the 2008 Republican Convention. He just couldn’t take his eyes off her!

          Except that he was still married to his first wife when that happened.

      • Hogan

        “I don’t understand why people say the institution of marriage is dying. All five of mine have worked out.”

    • Gregor Sansa

      Intellectual consistency? What’s that?

      It’s perfectly possible to claim that Real Marriage solves everything, and simultaneously whine about all those other people (sluts, [racialslur]s, or both) who are ruining the institution with all their fake divorcey-type marriages. Or as NOM puts it:

      Isn’t divorce the real threat to marriage?
       “High rates of divorce are one more reason we should be strengthening marriage, not conducting radical social experiments on it.”

      • royko

        In three states (Arizona, Arkansas, and Louisiana) they even have Covenant Marriage, which is meant to be like Old School Marriage where there are more limited grounds for divorce.

        I do think that plays into it in the conservative mind: marriage can save women from being sluts, but only if you force them to stay in the marriage against their will.

        • Lee Rudolph

          I’ve never understood how that could stand up against the Interstate Commerce clause. I mean, talk about constraints on trade!

    • djw

      Does it really? It their schtick is marriage solves everything, women who don’t marry are sluts or welfare moochers, and so on.

      But the uses of the “marriage solves everything” narrative aren’t threatened by a “marriage is in crisis” narrative.

      • “Hey kids you should get married. It will work for 50% of you!”

        Not the best recruiting campaign. But G.S. answered my question.

        • NonyNony

          If you leave off the word “traditional” the stance makes no sense.

          If you put it on, you end up with “traditional marriage solves everything” and “traditional marriage is in jeopardy” which is why “everything in the US sucks” so we should “return to a focus on traditional marriage”.

          Facts on divorce rates going down don’t impact their narrative at all – because the marriages that are driving the divorce rates down are illegitimate non-traditional marriages in their eyes (i.e. marriages of equal partners rather than marriages of patriarchal superiority).

          • drkrick

            To be fair, facts on any subject generally don’t impact their narrative. Why should marriage be any different.

          • Pat

            But that means marriage is just part of the regular conservative mantra that the world is going down the toilet.

            If things are getting better they really don’t want to hear about it.

    • JL

      It was a big piece of conservative whining about feminism in the ’80s. I don’t have Faludi’s Backlash in front of me, but from what I recall, anti-feminists really really hated the idea of no-fault divorce and spent a lot of time proclaiming that it devastated women while citing shoddy numbers from Lenore Weitzman. Some of her profiles of leading anti-feminists (including the precursors to today’s MRAs!) touch on how much they dislike divorce.

      Patriarchal types like social conservatives hate divorce because, in man/woman relationships, it allows women to get out from under the thumbs of patriarchal men.

      • Pat

        True. Divorce also means that someone was questioning traditional values, too. And all that questioning shit is verbotin with the patriarchal types.

  • Derelict

    And yet, because feminism has not advanced in other significant ways, divorce STILL imposes disproportionate costs on women. We still pay women a whole lot less than men, which continues to trap women economically. And because of disparities in how we educate and acculturate women, far too few of them have the education and credentials to obtain solid middle-class white-collar jobs.

    Worse still, our society has developed a neat Catch-22 construct wherein women (especially single mothers) who do not stay at home and raise their kids are somehow morally deficient for undermining the Leave-It-To-Beaver fantasy family, while women who DO stay at home to raise the kids are worthless moochers who should get a job.

    • Pat

      Consistency is not a conservative virtue. The women who stay at home are also disproportionately damaged in divorce.

    • Fats Durston

      white women (especially single mothers) who do not stay at home and raise their kids are somehow morally deficient for undermining the Leave-It-To-Beaver fantasy family, while black women who DO stay at home to raise the kids are worthless moochers who should get a job.

      Fixt.

  • Denverite

    This is interesting djw. I didn’t see it in the article (but I just skimmed it because I’m doing the dishes and getting my kids ready for school — which I guess kind of helps prove the point!), but how much of the declining divorce rate is driven by the changing demographics of marriage? That is, it’s my understanding that marriage has been getting richer and more educated over the past decade or two, and those groups are less likely to divorce. What do divorce rates look like when you tease that out?

    • Murc

      That is, it’s my understanding that marriage has been getting richer and more educated over the past decade or two, and those groups are less likely to divorce.

      You’re correct, but bear in mind you have to control a little bit for the fact that people are marrying later; the average age of marriage hasn’t gone up a lot, but the “get married in your late teens/early twenties” outliers have dried up a LOT.

      And that’s going to make marriage richer and more educated just because two people who get married at 28 are almost certainly going to have more educational and financial attainment than the exact same two people marrying at 22.

      • Lee Rudolph

        And (to extend your last sentence), after six years those exact same two people who married at 22 are very likely not to have as much “educational and financial attainment” as they would have had they not married then.

        • Pat

          Often the parents of a married couple will tell them that they are on their own financially, whereas everyone I know with a single twenty-something kid is comfortable contributing to their survival if they’re asked.

          Also, people getting married at 22 are having kids at 24, whereas people getting married at 28 are having them at 30. That’s the big financial burden.

      • Rob in CT

        I wonder: didn’t any of the researchers studying class & marriage notice this and try to control for it?

        Rambly aside:

        I remember reading an article recently that pointed out that the shift in age at time of marriage has been more pronounced among women than men.

        I can’t remember where I read it. But I googled and found this chart:

        http://www.demogr.mpg.de/files/press/1813_Figure2.jpg

        You see a rise & fall for both genders, but it looks to me that the increase for women is a bit more significant, moving from a bit over 20yrs to almost 26, versus ~23 years to ~28 for men. The average gap in age seems to have narrowed a bit (from close to 3 yrs to close to 2).

      • MAJeff

        You’re correct, but bear in mind you have to control a little bit for the fact that people are marrying later; the average age of marriage hasn’t gone up a lot, but the “get married in your late teens/early twenties” outliers have dried up a LOT.

        But this tends to be a class-based issue. For example women who go on for a college degree are far more likely to marry later, while women who do not are more likely to marry younger, if they marry at all, and also more likely to get divorced.

    • ThrottleJockey

      Yes, that’s right. For college educated couples the divorce rate is declining, but the picture is gloomier for working class couples: The divorce rate for non-college educated couples is 1/3rd higher. Also, among working class parents the percent of children in single-parent homes has increased.

      So the story here is one of two Americas.

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        regarding children in single parent homes: any breakdown of how many of those single parent families were never married? ’round here that would be a significant number

      • djw

        I would put it this way: the good news is that advances in feminism have helped us see marriage and what it can do for us more clearly; it very much is an institution that can increase human happiness, well-being, etc etc but it’s not an institution that can fix the problems associated with poverty and insecurity, and it’s an institution far less likely to thrive under those circumstances. With this new and improved understanding of marriage and its limitations our “use” of marriage has improved. The bad news, of course, is that the circumstances under which marriage are likely to thrive are becoming rarer, a trend with no end in sight.

        • ThrottleJockey

          That’s an interesting formulation, djw.

          Bonus question: Aside from comprehensive sex ed (which is a never ending battle) and free birth control (which Obamacare helps provide) how do we reduce out-of-wedlock births?

          • djw

            Again influenced by that book I linked to earlier, I’d say there are some real, human-nature oriented limits on our capacity to use social policy to reduce them beyond a certain point. Knowing that marriage isn’t a great option given one’s circumstances doesn’t take away the desire to have children (and, as Edin and Kafalas show, a relationship with a child can be seen as providing some of what’s often missing in many low-income women’s other relationships). So while I think there’s still a lot of potential in improving the two you mention, beyond that I think any serious answer has to look to economic policy designed to make the conditions under which marriage makes sense more widely available.

            • DrDick

              I concur with this and have seen a lot of this among poor women. I have known a number of them who gave up on marriage, but still wanted to have kids. For many, they saw children (rather romantically) as someone to love who would love them unconditionally. It is also the case that poor women are more likely to belong to religions that prohibit or stigmatize fertility control (other than abstinence).

              • Murc

                I have known a number of them who gave up on marriage, but still wanted to have kids. For many, they saw children (rather romantically) as someone to love who would love them unconditionally.

                Poor women, hell, I see this all the time among men and women of all classes.

                It always baffles me. It’s like “Unconditional love? Have you forgotten everything about being a kid yourself? Have you forgotten about your own raftload of issues with your own parents? Would you describe the relationship you have with your own father as the kind of ‘unconditional love’ you want to perpetuate?”

                It seems a lot of people think their kids will essentially be intelligent, malleable pets who eventually turn into younger versions of themselves, only better. And it’s like, what the fuck?

            • Pat

              In our family, we have two sisters in their late teens, early twenties who are having children out of wedlock. I think a lot of it has to do with the low-wage, high-tedium jobs that they see as their future. They go to work and think, “If this is all I get I might as well kill myself,” and then they deliberately get pregnant.

              • DrDick

                I have seen quite a bit of that myself.

          • Keaaukane

            Why aside of the two things that might actually work? Sometimes reality has to trump ideology.

            • ThrottleJockey

              Two reasons actually. One, that’s well discussed terrain. Two, I’m more pessimistic than most liberals and feminists about the prospects for either working. I think those 2 factors at our stage of industrial development and education run up against “human nature oriented limits” (h/t djw) as well.

          • Rob in CT

            I can’t think of anything beyond re-rigging the economy such that things are better at the low end, resulting in gainful employment for more people.

            Easy, right? ;)

            • DrDick

              Universal subsidized daycare (like in much of Europe) would be a good start.

              • Denverite

                You could also do it through EITC-type tax credits (where you get money back if it’s in excess of your tax liability).

                I’ve always thought something along the lines of this would work:

                100% tax credit for all costs paid to a licensed day care or preschool in excess of X, where X is between $500 and $5000 based on your income. That would be widely popular among everyone except the very rich.

                • DrDick

                  The problem is that, even under those conditions, daycare is still unaffordable for low income workers.

                • Denverite

                  Just to be clear, I was talking $500 annually, so about $42 a month, or $2 a working day. I’m sure that that may be unaffordable for the very lowest income workers, but it would capture the vast majority of the working and middle classes.

              • Rob in CT

                Sure, that seems helpful, and I’d be happy to vote for it (or rather for politicians willing to push daycare/preschool expansion, like say Governor Dannel Malloy of CT). I also view it as a bit of a “band-aid” solution, in that the root cause remains. Certainly better than nothing and therefore worth doing, but I don’t think it would solve the underlying problem of labor having no leverage.

                Of course, I have no practical solution to labor having no leverage, so well, um, err…

                Providing daycare it is! Also ok with Denverite’s tax expenditure solution (though I’d prefer a cleaner tax code, so grr).

            • tsam

              That’s just crazy talk.

          • Why do we assume out-of-wedlock births are bad? It seems to me that if we can address childcare costs, and sex based pay differentials, out-of-wedlock births are a non-issue.

            • ThrottleJockey

              Even if you were to fix the issues you mention I think children benefit from having 2 caregivers. I learned different skills and values from each of my parents and I’m richer for having both of them. Even in a world of universal 247 childcare I don’t think its the same.

              • JL

                You can have two caregivers without a marriage. You can also have more than two caregivers, as happens with some polyamorous families, or with extended families that care for children. Similarly, with a marriage, you can de facto have one caregiver – one parent is in the military and keeps getting deployed, for instance.

                I think the question of “How do we reduce out-of-wedlock births?” is backwards. If you value encouraging marriage for its own sake, it seems like the question should be “Why isn’t marriage an attractive option for a lot of people and what can we do to address that?” If you don’t, it seems like the question should be “How do we ensure that different kids of families are protected and kids have opportunities to thrive?” or something along those lines.

                • djw

                  If you value encouraging marriage for its own sake, it seems like the question should be “Why isn’t marriage an attractive option for a lot of people and what can we do to address that?”

                  Right. A key finding from that book I keep mentioning is that these women do value and desire marriage. They have a better understanding of what makes for a successful marriage than the social conservative scolds who criticize them, they just don’t have kind of capital necessary to access such marriages.

                • Denverite

                  Dude, are you getting a cut of the royalties?

              • Pat

                In the case of the sisters I described above, they live in a red state. The only way they can get Medicaid to pay for the child is to be unmarried.

          • Origami Isopod

            how do we reduce out-of-wedlock births?

            Why should we? What’s so damned important about a marriage certificate that it trumps other factors in a child’s life — especially when, so often, the mother has figured out that the sperm donor would be a negative influence on the kid anyway? How about we support small children and their mothers, regardless of whether they’re “properly owned” by a man?

            “Let’s reduce out-of-wedlock births” = “Let’s reduce abortions.” Nope. Address the root causes, rather than tackle the symptoms that make patriarchs and peddlers of respectability politics uncomfortable.

            • Rob in CT

              I don’t think we really have to care so much about “out of wedlock” but “single parent,” which isn’t the same thing, is worthy of concern. Raising children is fucking HARD. Generally speaking, 2 parents makes it easier than 1 parent. There are always going to be individual situations in which that isn’t so, but generally, it’s gotta be true.

              Therefore, I think it makes sense to worry at least a bit about the rate of single-parent households. There’s just more strain on them, even if we managed to fix various other issues (the pay gap, for example). It’s about time & energy as much as money.

              • Denverite

                But isn’t this just another way of saying that [insert poor, minority, etc. here] women are too stupid to make the right choice about whether to have a kid alone?

                • Rob in CT

                  No, and here’s why, quoting Origami Isopod:

                  so often, the mother has figured out that the sperm donor would be a negative influence on the kid anyway

                  I respect that. So this isn’t an irresponsibility argument. My argument is that it would be better if the structure of our society (economic and otherwise) made it easier for women to look at potential partners and decide they’re more likely to be helpful than harmful.

                  Basically: I see single parent households as a largely rational response to circumstances, and think that there might be a virtuous cycle if we could improve the underlying circumstances.

                • SgtGymBunny

                  Seconding Origami Isopod. Most single-parent households do not exist in a vacuum of social support. Most two-parent households do not exist in a vacuum of social support either. Family and friends always provide back up when one or both of the parents are unavailable. Generally…

                  For example, the two single-mothers who live in my building each have another family member who lives with them–one, her mother; the other, her sister.

                  Also, when my brother and his wife were separated and he wanted custody of the children, WE–his family–argued against his getting custody. Why? We felt that if his out-of-state estranged wife maintained custody, the kids would at least have the benefit of not only her immediately family but also our family, because both extended families were geographically near her and the kids. Unfortunately, had my brother gotten custody of his kids, his only free baby sitter in close proximity to him would have been Yours Truly (and I ain’t no Mary Poppins). But if he had affordable access to day care and flexible parental leave, it wouldn’t have been a problem.

                  (And, no, I was not going to wish a new wife on him to even things out. I love my brother, but even I have to question the sanity of any woman who’d marry him.)

                • Rob in CT

                  SgtGymBunny –

                  Most single-parent households do not exist in a vacuum of social support. Most two-parent households do not exist in a vacuum of social support. Family and friends always provide back up when one or both of the parents are unavailable. Generally…

                  Yes, that seems true, but I don’t see how that counters what I’ve said. As you say, it is true for both single parent and 2-parent households. Now, generally, if both have family & friend support, which do you think generally has more support overall? The 1 or the 2 parent households? I think obviously the answer is 2 parent households. Not only do you have double the number of parents involved, but you potentially have a larger pool of family & friends to draw upon.

                  Generally, of course! There are, no doubt, 2-parent families who live far away from their extended families who have smaller support groups than 1-parent families with lots of local support.

                  I’m not arguing that single parenthood is, in general, some terrible mistake made by people, nor do I wish people to be forced into marriage. I think we all broadly agree that the real problems lie elsewhere.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  But isn’t this just another way of saying that [insert poor, minority, etc. here] women are too stupid to make the right choice about whether to have a kid alone?

                  I have a question. Why can’t we question the wisdom of choices that other people make? I see people on this blog question the choices of all kinds of people–conservatives, evangelicals, Southerners, plutocrats, etc–but when it comes to this discussion, its seems not PC to discuss the role that personal choices play in this.

                • djw

                  I have a question. Why can’t we question the wisdom of choices that other people make?

                  We can! However, sometimes we’re not very good at it, and “why oh why don’t those women marry the father of their children?” is one of those times. They very often have reasons–damn good ones–that are absent from the social conservatives’ dogmatic, ideologically motivated understanding of their situation. (And not just social conservatives–to push this book for a third time, reading it made me realize how little I understood the world of such women and the context in which they choose motherhood over marriage.)

                • witlesschum

                  I have a question. Why can’t we question the wisdom of choices that other people make? I see people on this blog question the choices of all kinds of people–conservatives, evangelicals, Southerners, plutocrats, etc–but when it comes to this discussion, its seems not PC to discuss the role that personal choices play in this.

                  Question away, but questioning the wisdom of choices people make is, like hope, not a plan. Telling people they fucked up doesn’t unfuck anything and just seems like piling on to people who’ve got enough problems. Especially in ares like this, where your yelling at people for being peopleish.

                  Also, if your social organization relies on people making good choices all the time, it’s a failure because the majority of us just aren’t going to do that. The non-perfectibility of individual human beings has to be assumed up front, or your just playing with fantasy time.

                  I don’t buy the idea that the difference between middle class people and poor people is the former’s good choices and the latters’ bad ones. The difference is the amount of insulation from bad choices the two groups have. I think the limited amount of social mobility we have in the U.S. bears this out. People don’t just bounce up and down the income spectrum based on our amount of bad decisions. If that was the case, I don’t think I’d be lazily working a middle class job where I can waste time posting on LGM.

                • SgtGymBunny

                  @Rob in CT:
                  I would caution against assuming that 2-parent families automatically have more support. What if of the 2-parent households, one of the parents is a single-, orphaned child (spitballing)? He hasn’t brought much human capital to the situation. Look at the example I provide about my brother’s estranged wife who had all the benefits of not only her family but also his family, simply because SHE was much closer to both families. She could have remained a single parent.

                  But she didn’t. They eventually reconciled, and she and the kids relocated to MD to be together. While they have gained the advantage of being 2-parent, they have lost the advantage of having nearby extended family. Their only extended family is ME now (as opposed to her eleventy sisters and three available maternal/paternal grandparents).

                  So I see where you’re going that more in-house parents means more extended care givers, but that’s if you assume that the extended families of unwed parents generally offer less assistance to the unwed parents, which I don’t think is the case (unless paternity is unknown/unacknowledged).

                • Rob in CT

                  I would caution against assuming that 2-parent families automatically have more support.

                  But I’m not. I’m saying that they’re more likely to in general. You can construct (or simply find in real life) all sorts of scenarios in which it isn’t true in the specific, while it can still be true in general. It’s a big country, so individual examples of just about anything can be found.

                  But single-parent families having just as much or more support for parenting than two-parent families? This I doubt.

                  Plus, support from folks outside the home is great – I love it – but it’s different than having another adult living there (and yes, that could be grandma instead of dad/mom).

                  Anyway, this is probably getting into how many angels can dance on the head of a pin territory. I don’t think we really disagree on too many things, and we’re debating minor stuff to death.

                • SgtGymBunny

                  @Rob in CT:

                  But single-parent families having just as much or more support for parenting than two-parent families? This I doubt.

                  But why exactly? What social mechanism would prohibit single-parent families from having just as much support for parenting as two-parent families?

                  Let’s take my brother’s marriage again: Had they divorced (or not even married), they would have still had his family and her family to offer assistance. His family would have never Not Existed if they never married–we would still be around to help. Her family would have never Not Existed if they never married–they would still be around to help. The number of assisting family members would stay the same regardless of whether they were married or not. And nobody is daft enough to penalize the children on account of the marital status of their parents.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  WitlessChum–I agree with much of what you write, particularly the part about the primary difference is that richer families have greater resources to buffer against human foibles whereas poorer families don’t. People of all classes make mistakes in judgement from time to time.

                  Where we might differ is that I don’t consider a mutual emphasis on personal responsibility as much as on a social safety net to be criticizing or shaming people. To me its about making sure the next generation doesn’t make the same mistakes as the prior generation.

              • Origami Isopod

                I’m with Denverite here. There are ways to address those problems without insisting everybody be shoved into the mold of the two-parent family, which isn’t even the norm over the course of human history. The extended family, rather, has been, but communal living situations with non-blood kin could also work for some. Better social services could work for all.

                • sparks

                  I don’t see a problem in single-parent homes than I haven’t seen in impoverished married couple homes e.g. leaning on relatives and friends to do unpaid work the parent/parents cannot handle themselves. In those cases I see marriage solving nothing except maybe providing a larger labor pool.

                • nixnutz

                  I would add that–as common and acceptable as it’s become to have children outside of marriage–one shouldn’t assume that a child whose parents aren’t married isn’t being responsibly co-parented. There are lots of viable family models, whether the parents are romantically linked or not, and simply fretting about single mothers seems out of touch.

              • DrDick

                Speaking as a long time single parent, there is some truth to this, but much of that is a reflection of the lack of other social support structures for parents and children in our society. As I say upthread, universal, subsidized daycare would be a huge help. Informal support structures, like extended family networks (common in Native American communities) or other social networks can help as well. It is our insistence that children are the exclusive responsibility of their parents that is a problem.

            • I think the key is to reduce unplanned and unwanted births rather than caring that much about the number of people raising the child or their marital status. I know more than a few single mothers who consciously and deliberately chose to have children alone, and whose kids turned out perfectly lovely. I don’t imagine that women who are compelled to have their babies because of limited access to birth control or abortion have as high a chance of success.

              (And as usual when someone brings up the 2-parents-good-1-parent-bad argument, I have to pop up to ask why it didn’t seem to be in society’s best interest to remove my brother and myself from our mother’s care after our father died, and give us to the two-parent family that would surely have done a better job raising us.)

              • DrDick

                This is definitely true. Open access to affordable and effective birth control and abortion on demand are vital to the well being of women and children.

            • ThrottleJockey

              “Let’s reduce out-of-wedlock births” = “Let’s reduce abortions.”

              Nope. Two different things entirely.

              • DrDick

                I actually think that there is a lot of overlap here. A large number of people promoting one also promote the other.

                • Pat

                  And it’s funny because more access to abortion is a simple strategy for reducing out-of-wedlock births!

                • ThrottleJockey

                  The more I read this blog the more I think there’s a huge difference in the frame of reference for black liberals vs white liberals.

                  Obama believes in reducing out-of-wedlock births. I’d be hard pressed to find a black liberal who didn’t in fact, and yet black liberals also support abortion rights. So, based on my own experience, the one has nothing to do with the other, but I concede that may greatly differ from your own experience.

                • Pat

                  TJ, I support abortion rights, and I think most of the white liberals on this blog also do. There’s an anxiety on our part that if we tie services to women with the abortion issue, we will enable the opposition to use their anti-abortion influences to smear other services for women.

                  That having been said, I have to agree with you that there is a monster difference in the way black liberals and white liberals talk about things, especially issues involving personal choices. It’s one of the reasons why your contributions are an important part of the sea of voices that populate this blog.

            • neomarxist_hunter

              ” so often, the mother has figured out that the sperm donor would be a negative influence on the kid anyway.” – wow the man-hating is extreme with this one.

              So people here want money for child caring so that sluts can fuck around with whoever and then decide not to deal with the other party. Forget it ! If you engage in risky behavior, deal with the outcomes – you shouldn’t have spread your legs until you vetted the man and your ability to take care of the kid – likewise for the man – don’t poke around until and unless you are ready to raise and care for kid for 20 years. I’m not paying for either males of females’ stupid behavior.

              what about the case where the man figures out the woman is the “negative influence” ? Who decides ? Clearly a very subjective assumption in most cases. If you have the kid- you have to deal with it 50-50 – you cannot exclude the father.

              Why is it so hard for liberals to understand this basic concept. You cannot put guns to peoples heads via the government tax and police force to pay for your lifestyle choices. You are free to fuck who and how you want, but then you pay for your actions, not me or the rest of society. The socialization of bad personal choices clearly results in lower outcomes for all of society – mis-allocations of resources, bigger government/ police state to enforce, dysfunctional parenting arrangements, etc…

              But this board is full of those you think that is ok – amazing.

              • sharculese

                You cannot put guns to peoples heads via the government tax and police force to pay for your lifestyle choices.

                I’m going to ignore the simple-minded blather about choices because it’s not even worth commenting on and say again, ‘yes, we can. That’s what a government is. I get that you bitterly resent being told what to do, but your petulant demands do not a reality make.

                You’ll be a lot happier when you let go and realize the world isn’t go to change just to get you to stop whining at it. Trust me.

      • TopsyJane

        I have heard that once the kids leave home, the divorce rate for the better-educated starts climbing back up.

        • Aimai

          Maybe its time we started admitting that coparenting is a different thing from being married, and that being married while parenting is a different thing from being married without children, or in the post child life. Marriage for life (which I am currently engaged in) has always been tied to social class, caste, social expectations and wealth. Living with someone or living alone is easier the more money you have: money buys you freedom from chores, it buys you more physical space (your own bedroom if you want it), it buys you vacation time, it buys you two cars (so cuts down on sharing issues). There are a million ways in which money makes people’s lives easier, as a couple, that poor couples can’t access. And this relates to the point TopsyJane is making because after the children leave couples with wealth can find that they have more options for living separately comfortably.

          People change as they age–their interests and goals change, their jobs change, their friend groups change. Margaret Mead observed that Americans tended towards “serial monogamy” which is to say choosing a spouse for a particular period of time/type of person that you are and then changing the spouse when circumstances changed. Marrying for life may simply be an archaic mode of marriage, like living in the same house your whole life instead of trading up or downsizing.

          I guess I’m trying to argue that although I don’t anticipate getting divorced at all, or after my children are grown and out of the house, I don’t see the idea that people divorce after raising children as particularly tragic. People change. If you think the two parent household is a good thing ( and I do) that still doesn’t mean that people can’t move on after the parenting portion of their children’s lives is over.

    • djw

      but how much of the declining divorce rate is driven by the changing demographics of marriage? That is, it’s my understanding that marriage has been getting richer and more educated over the past decade or two, and those groups are less likely to divorce. What do divorce rates look like when you tease that out?

      Later, too, which as Murc notes is a major driver in lower divorce rates. This is a big question, and my hunches are mostly just that, but I’d be inclined to argue there’s a good chance these three trends–that marriage is occurring later, in more financially secure circumstances, and on something approaching the terms of women entering into marriage–are interrelated and mutually re-enforcing. I’m influenced here to some extent by Promises I Can Keep (a sociological account of why young, poor women choose motherhood before (and in some cases over) marriage. Women are smarter than social conservatives give them credit for; they know better than to take the “magical marriage fixes everything” nonsense seriously and they’re capable of figuring out the circumstances under which marriage could be beneficial and rewarding, and that, according to my ad hoc comment-box theorizing, is part of what might be driving the changing demographics of marriage.

      • ThrottleJockey

        I don’t think single-parent, working class families generally work out well, but I do think you’re right about the mutually reinforcing nature of those 3 forces:

        First, the decrease in the divorce rate does at least in part reflect later marriages….While these later marriages are also more likely to last, economist Stephane Mechoulan found that the increase in the age of marriage in itself accounts for only a small part of the falling divorce rates. Instead, they reflect the increasing tendency of the well-off to marry similarly well-off partners and those marriages are more likely to last at any age.

        • witlesschum

          I don’t think single-parent, working class families generally work out well

          Seems to me concerns about out of wedlock births are just another way of saying “It sucks to be poor, we need to get poor people more money.” I’m not sure we can or should do anything about out of wedlock births other than provide birth control to anyone who wants to use it as cheaply and easily as possible. We need to make poor people less poor and with that little thing accomplished, we either dramatically lower the rate of out of wedlock births or dramatically lower the bad consequences of having a kid out of wedlock. (See also education.)

          Which seems a little like wishing for a pony, I realize, but I’m really not sure there’s some magic program or initiative that’s going to help here other than less poverty and less concentrated poverty. The conservative ideas about trying to scare people into not having sex or scaring them into getting married don’t work, because people aren’t mostly that dumb. The liberal ideas about making sure everyone has birth control don’t work if she’s trying to get pregnant. Telling someone who doesn’t think their material future is particularly bright that having a baby out of wedlock can harm their material future seems unlikely to work. Again, people aren’t mostly that dumb.

          Accomplishing something on reducing the rates of concentrated poverty is a huge task, but wasting effort on things that don’t work certainly doesn’t help that bigger goal and may hurt it.

          • Origami Isopod

            I agree with all of this. Trying to force everybody into a single mold doesn’t work.

          • DrDick

            Exactly, which is at the heart of my critiques here. The fundamental issue is a lack of resources and support structures. The professional class single parents I know do not really have these problems.

        • lizzie

          I don’t think single-parent, working class families generally work out well

          I grew up as the child of a poor single mother in the 80s, and oh my God did I get tired of the endless media and cultural blathering about how terrible single mothers are and how their children are doomed to failure. So my instinctive reaction to this is: STFU. My brothers and I turned out great.

          In fact I distinctly remember looking around me in high school and realizing that almost all the down-to-earth people I really liked were being raised by single parents and almost all the jerks were being raised by two parents. (Note that I am not saying that being raised by two parents makes you a jerk. Most people, regardless of their family situation, were not jerks. Nevertheless I found it an interesting correlation.)

          You know why I think my brothers and I turned out great, despite being raised by a poor single mom? Because, although poor, she started out with a lot of cultural capital. She was raised middle class and already had a college degree. So when my dad left her with three little kids and a baby, she was able — just barely — to go back to school to get a nursing degree and get a stable job afterward. And you know what made that possible? Welfare. This whole experience, among other things, is why I am a lifelong liberal.

          • Lee Rudolph

            And you know what made that possible? Welfare.

            Well, *that* loophole has been taken care of!

          • ThrottleJockey

            Yeah, lizzie, Al Sharpton has poignantly made the same argument (without the STFU ;-); he was apparently raised by a single mother. Listen half my family was raised by single parents and half of them are doing just fine; some are quite successful. Those who did it successfully, though, made huge sacrifices. Those who didn’t make huge sacrifices screwed up royally. Its just a shit load of hard work for a single person to do. No offense was meant, I hope none was taken.

            • lizzie

              The point is that it’s access to resources, not scoring political points off of liberals by pontificating about personal responsibility, that makes life better for single parents and their children.

              • Origami Isopod

                You’re talking to a brick wall, but hopefully the lurkers will take your point.

              • DrDick

                Exactly!

                • Aimai

                  Right now, this very minute, I’m watching the involuntary formation of a single parent household. The father of one of my daughter’s best friend just dropped dead, leaving two adolescent girls and his wife widowed just days before thanksgiving. Will the “single parents are bad for kids” people demand that she get remarried over the bier, as used to be necessary for sheer survival?

                  Also and maybe this thread is dead so there’s no point putting it there but all this handwringing about “single female mothers,” especially among the representatives of the black community, is really a way of displacing anger at their potential husbands, isn’t it? Or maybe I mean scapegoating the women for the choices their boyfriends are making. How are you supposed to marry your child’s father if he doesn’t want to marry you? The only thing you can control, if you can control even that realistically speaking, is your fertility and your decision to have the baby. You can’t control the economy, or your boyfriend’s willingness to marry you, or his ability/maturity to stay married to you for the long haul in a loving and supportive way. Being a single mother is not something that women are making happen on their own. I don’t understand how the choices and actions and abilities of the men in their lives don’t come in for as much or more attack than single women parents.

                • Origami Isopod

                  I don’t understand how the choices and actions and abilities of the men in their lives don’t come in for as much or more attack than single women parents.

                  Because women are responsible for men’s behavior. Men are capable of running the world but not capable of treating women well unless we “civilize” them somehow, so when they treat us poorly it must be our fault (or their mothers’ faults). QED.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  I can’t speak for anyone else’s motivations, but when I say “personal responsibility” its not short hand for “stupid women”. In my experience at least as many men do stupid shit as women do, and it seems we’re more often stupid. Its something of a thing in the black community for young black men to brag about how many kids they’ve fathered. One joker at my family reunion bragged about the 9 kids he had fathered with 7 different women. Not that he had bothered to bring a single one of them to the family reunion though, and since all he did was “hustle” I don’t know how he kept up with child support.

          • And you know what made that possible? Welfare. This whole experience, among other things, is why I am a lifelong liberal.

            I believe John Scalzi has made much the same point about his life.

      • Denverite

        Women are smarter than social conservatives give them credit for; they know better than to take the “magical marriage fixes everything” nonsense seriously and they’re capable of figuring out the circumstances under which marriage could be beneficial and rewarding, and that, according to my ad hoc comment-box theorizing, is part of what might be driving the changing demographics of marriage.

        This is a super interesting theory. Thanks.

  • Rob in CT

    There’s a huge class divide when it comes to marriage rates… is there a similar divide wrt to divorce rates? I thought so, but now I can’t remember if I’m conflating marriage rate with divorce rate.

    I think your argument is or rather could be correct, under the right circumstances, but: 1) feminism hasn’t quite won yet; and 2) economic problems (with an assist from the war on [some people who use some] drugs) seem to have resulted in a situation such that, now that women can marry on more or less equal terms they find fewer marriageable (guys with stable employment, basically, though that’s not the whole story by a longshot) men available.

    • SgtGymBunny

      The marriage trends aren’t entirely happy ones. They also happen to be a force behind rising economic and social inequality, because the decline in divorce is concentrated among people with college degrees. For the less educated, divorce rates are closer to those of the peak divorce years.

      From the article… So you’re on the right track. More educated (upper class?) folks are more likely to marry but less likely to divorce. But less educated (lower class?) are less likely to marry but more likely to divorce. Interesting…

      • ThrottleJockey

        Working class couples are more likely to divorce a number of reasons: 1) less income = more fights; 2) foregoing college tends to result in marrying at an earlier age with fewer coping/communication skills and less life experience; and 3) fewer opportunity costs to having children results in children at an earlier age which stresses out the relationship even more, etc.

        • Origami Isopod

          fewer opportunity costs to having children

          As well as more-restricted family planning options.

      • Rob in CT

        I think it’s pretty simple, really. Being poor, having difficult/unstable employment, etc: it’s stressful. Maintaining a marriage requires at least some work, even if you have some sort of fairy tale situation. The more stressed out you are about other things – work, your finances, your health, whatever – the harder it will be to put in the work required to keep your marriage strong. Particularly true if you’re also trying to raise kids, because they take the effort required up several notches (in my experience).

        My wife and fit in well with this narrative. We’re both college educated & make good money. We married at 29 (nearly 30) had had kids at 33 and 36. We’ve been married now for 9 years and are going strong. It’s not that we don’t have stress – her job can be quite stressful and 2 kids can be stressful no matter how generally good they are. But we have tons of resources, financial and otherwise, to deal with that stress.

        We never really argued, so it’s a bit much to say that the above is why we don’t. We really do see eye to eye on a lot of things, particuarly the most important things. And we’re both pretty even keeled folks. But having stable jobs, a nice house, no debt but a mortgage we can see the end of if we squint… these things really, really help.

        • Origami Isopod

          Particularly true if you’re also trying to raise kids, because they take the effort required up several notches (in my experience).

          Which means that if you’re a poor woman and you’ve chosen not to marry or even live with the father of your children, you’ve quite possibly decided that you don’t need a manchild to take care of, on top of your other responsibilities. But social conservatives insist you do, because respectability.

          • Rob in CT

            Entirely agreed.

          • sparks

            Excuse me, but is that a choice only borne by poor women?

            • Origami Isopod

              Hardly, but it’s poor women who are being scrutinized the hardest for this choice.

              • sparks

                I’m glad you put it this way, because I’ve known a boatload of manchildren with money. Some womanchildren, too.

              • DrDick

                Right and this is one of the things that really annoy me about this whole line of argument. As has been said repeatedly in this thread, the central issue is a lack of resources for the poor, especially for poor women.

    • djw

      There’s a huge class divide when it comes to marriage rates… is there a similar divide wrt to divorce rates? I thought so, but now I can’t remember if I’m conflating marriage rate with divorce rate.

      Yes, as the article indicates; don’t have the granular data handy, but it suggests that the overall modest decline in divorce rates is actually driven by a much more steep decline in divorce rates for people with a college degree.

  • Gregor Sansa

    It’s obviously the lead in paint and gasoline. That’s the main thing that has changed in the last 50 years.

    (Another statistic: over 50% of blog comments are sarcastic. This one is a representative sample.)

    • Derelict

      I thought it was 100% of blog comments, with some notable exceptions.

  • SgtGymBunny

    Sounds like marriage basically has become more self-selective–which appears to be a good thing. People better suited for marriage are marrying while people not-so suited for marriage are at least delaying. Even if the “divorce rise” meme does die, there’s always the “single mothers)/kids ain’t marrying” 2-for-1 standby to trot out for the obligatory pissin’-and-moanin’ festival to lament why things can’t be like they were in the olden days…

    The question won’t be “How can we make single parenthood less economically damaging?“, just like the question about divorces wasn’t “How can we make marriage less oppressive for women?“. The divorce-rise water carriers are just going to lament that not enough people are hitching up and our family value morals are still declining.

    • ThrottleJockey

      I don’t think you have to pine for Ward and June Cleaver to worry that the rise of single-parent families undermines stability and prosperity–especially for those who can least afford it. If conservatives make the mistake of denigrating feminism in order to trumpet traditionalism, then liberals make the mistake of denigrating personal responsibility at the expense of family stability. I, for one, look at the percentage of single-parent families in the black community and worry a great deal. And it doesn’t make me a social conservative for doing so. It makes me realistic.

      • Vance Maverick

        Wait, how does “denigrating personal responsibility” relate to single-parent families? I think in your account they rise together, but I can’t make out cause and effect. (Or indeed, think who’s saying “down with personal responsibility!”)

        • Origami Isopod

          Basically, if you’ve had sexytiemz and it results in children, you need to make social conservatives comfortable by marrying the father, no matter how unsuitable he might be. It’s irresponsible of women to go around with children but no imprimatur of proper male ownership.

          • SgtGymBunny

            Personal observation, but I’ll also that many (lower class) black women who do get pregnant do take a very “conservative” path by opting to give birth to the child rather than terminating. (Lower class black women tend towards being more religious than other liberal-leaning groups.) However, they may not show the slightest interest in actually marrying the father for probably good reasons (he’s un-/underemployed, he’s headed for jail, he’s already married, he’s abusive, some combination thereof, etc.–issues created by systematic disenfranchisement, no doubt). A lot of these women know that legally binding themselves to the father is about as good an idea as throwing grease on fire. They are exercising PLENTY of personal responsibility by doing a simple cost-benefit analysis on a potential cluster-cuss down the road.

        • ThrottleJockey

          What I see Vance is that most liberals (Denverite raises the point above) tend to think discussing the role individual responsibility plays in out-of-wedlock births means that you’re a conservative troglodyte. Unlike what Origami says above, I don’t you can do so without criticizing “sexytimze”. The common sense formulation would be that adults should utilize contraception until they find a partner they want to have a partner with and can afford to do so. And this isn’t about women. Men (obviously!) participate in this and as often as not its men who screw this up (eg, having a one night stand with someone you don’t know and then bitching–cough, cough, like my best friend did, cough, cough–that the woman doesn’t want the kid to have a relationship with you).

          • Aimai

            So criticize men for having sex and not being willing to settle down and marry adult women and form stable couples–whether parenting or not. No one is preventing you from doing that at all. Liberals certainly aren’t.

            • ThrottleJockey

              So, you’re saying, I should just criticize men?

              I criticize both men and women because two people make the choice. Dudes can choose to use contraception, so can women. Or, you can just say No!

      • Origami Isopod

        Ah, yes, “personal responsibility.” But you’re totally a liberal, right.

        I, for one, look at the percentage of single-parent families in the black community and worry a great deal. And it doesn’t make me a social conservative for doing so. It makes me realistic.

        If you want poor families of any color to be more stable, you’ll vote for them to get better social support and greater economic options. You won’t concern-troll women into marrying the first man who comes along or the last one they had some fun with just so the children can have “a name” (because, of course, only men’s surnames are valid).

        • Theobald Schmidt

          Because “checking your privilege” means “insulting the personal experiences of minorities when they disagree with your views.”

          Got it.

          • KmCO

            Oh hi, Theo.

          • Origami Isopod

            Your comments are as relevant and as insightful as they’ve ever been.

            • Theobald Schmidt

              Care to explain, then, why you’re jumping down the throat of someone who made a fairly harmless comment (that in their experience, they have concerns about single-parent households) that you happen to disagree with?

              You’re calling TJ a concern troll based on an honest disagreement, and assuming they’re a Republican, neither which seems to be the case based on their previous contributions. Why?

              • Origami Isopod

                neither which seems to be the case based on their previous contributions

                Ha. Ha ha ha ha ha.

                • It’s all about ethics in marriage journalism.

        • ThrottleJockey

          Marriage isn’t a rainbow unicorn. To me its more about keeping the horse from getting out of the barn, than from trying to corral the horse afterward. Ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure thing, you know? As ma beat into my head, safe sex, safe sex, safe sex.

          • djw

            I think you’ve lost control of your metaphor.

            • ThrottleJockey

              Yes, I’ve been up since 3a and haven’t had a thing except a single cup of coffee!

        • ThrottleJockey

          We’ve had awfully different experiences Origami. I’ve paid for abortions so that younger relatives of mine didn’t have to marry the jackass who impregnated them. I’ve also bought diapers/milk/food when they didn’t want an abortion. I’ve done this multiple times for different relatives. All this being said, I’d have much preferred that they simply not get pregnant to begin with and then life is much simpler. In fact I can’t remember a single instance of anyone in my family being pressured to marry someone because they were pregnant (or had gotten someone pregnant), hell if anything we’ve been too leery of them getting married in that situation.

      • SgtGymBunny

        Out of curiosity, what aspects of “personal responsibility” do you think is especially lacking in the (lower class) black community? I have the impression that your trying to mistakenly link lack of personal responsibility with liberal socio-political values, as conservatives tend to link male-centric traditionalism with anti-feminism. I think that’s a not-so-good analogy.

        Honestly, the things things that create and exacerbate single-parenthood in (lower class?) black families in communities are not the lack of Personal Responsibility. Access to healthcare; access to educational opportunities that lead to middle-class jobs; access to union-membership to protect blue-collar jobs; over-policing (which starts in k-12 schools!) that takes potential fathers out of the community and then stigmatizes them so that they can’t find gainful employment, etc., etc., etc. These barriers are not matters of Personal Responsibility. They are much broader issues. So maybe (lower class?) blacks could stop themselves from knocking their boots so dang much, but that really wouldn’t change the broader economic issues.

        djw mentioned above that traditional marriage is probably not best suited to fix poverty and insecurity. Personal Responsibility is rather a red herring: after all rich, white people do effed things and try to avoid personal responsibility all the time. But they have the financial/social resources for it to not become a matter of public debate.

        • KmCO

          You misunderestimate TJ’s tack: he’s basically claiming that, based on his premise that out-of-wedlock births are inherently a Bad Thing because reasons, women who have sex outside of marriage that results in children need to get married, because Personal Responsibility. If that sounds like an argument that social conservatives have been making since the late Triassic period, it’s because it is. Yet TJ also claims to not be in any way a social conservative, but is instead the only objective, rational-in-a-Platonic-ideal sense thinker here.

          • SgtGymBunny

            I was trying to be charitable with my Benefits of Doubt. ‘Tis the season????

            • ThrottleJockey

              I have the impression that your trying to mistakenly link lack of personal responsibility with liberal socio-political values, as conservatives tend to link male-centric traditionalism with anti-feminism.

              No, I don’t see the linkage that conservatives claim (eg, welfare causes women to get pregnant). And, I also think your macro-level view makes sense in many ways. However, I do feel that the ‘individualist’ nature of the culture today, though, leads young black people to behave in ways which undermine their own families and self interests.

              An example: In the course of a 1 night stand my best friend fathered a baby out-of-wedlock. First, he called the mother a liar for misleading him, and then a slut for sleeping with him. He then hid from her until his baby girl was 2 years old at which point the state caught up to him and started garnishing his wages. He then called her a harpy. After several years he slowly developed a relationship with his daughter but then suddenly ran off to Cali when he found some woman on the internet. Now he’s surprised that his baby’s mama doesn’t want his daughter to ever see him again because, to top it all off, he lost his job in Cali (because ‘the Man’) and stopped paying child support. So, of course he calls her bitch now. His behavior these past 10 years has been the height of self-centeredness, but he’s hardly alone. I have another hundred stories from around the ‘hood like this.

              • SgtGymBunny

                Yeah, I know many guys from the ‘hood who have fathered children out of wedlock who were decidely not the like crudbunny you’re friend is… A lot of the black guys that I have dated (and even white guys–they’re single fathers, too) have referenced or even shown me pictures of their children with a degree of pride.

                You’re friend is a dick… Ain’t no moralizing about Personal Responsibility in the Black Community going to change that. What you’ve described is not something especially “Black” in experience. I’m pretty sure white people can give just as many anecdotes of deadbeat parents who aren’t black… Just sayin…

                (Also I will note how ironic it is that you want to call attention to “hundreds of stories” of deadbeat black fathers in the hood, when just last week you were cautioning us against jumping to the conclusion about Cosby being a rapist because white people always think black men are dangerous. Now look at the drivel you just wrote.)

                • ThrottleJockey

                  Sarge, I’ve never said that just blacks do this. Its just that being black, and living in a black community, I’m both 1) very concerned about the black community; and 2) quite worried about the level of avoidable dysfunction I see daily. For me its not an academic or abstract issue, I take this shit personally.

                  Don’t mistake the fact that there are hundreds of these stories out there with the fact that I think this represents a majority of the black experience. Most blacks don’t engage in these self destructive behaviors, just a (too large) minority do so.

                  And if its irony you’re looking for its the fact that the majority of blacks avoid these situations that makes me think liberal ideology places too little importance on individual responsibility and somewhat too much importance on macro factors. In other words I think we get the balance wrong. If macro forces were the key issue then the majority of blacks would be dysfunctional, not a (too large) minority.

                  When I was young and in my twenties I used to try to defend the dysfunction I saw by blaming it on The System and institutional racism, etc, the same as many here do. While those are important forces, experience has taught me that when we utilize poor judgement we compound those forces many times over. So I think liberals need to take a page from Obama and talk about taking responsibility:

                  In January 2008, speaking from the pulpit where King had family ties at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Obama told a large congregation that King’s vision of a colorblind America is unrealized. But he raised some eyebrows when he said blacks bear some responsibility.

                  Months later, Obama took flak for chastising absentee dads in a Father’s Day speech at a black Chicago church. And there was muttering when the president, speaking at an NAACP banquet just after his historic 2009 inauguration, challenged black parents to take responsibility for their children by “putting away the Xbox and putting our kids to bed at a reasonable hour.”

              • lizzie

                So whose fault is it that your friend acted like that? Based on your posts in this thread, one could logically conclude that you would say it’s liberals’ fault, for not sufficiently demonizing single parents. Or something.

                • Pat

                  I get the impression TJ is blaming his friend for acting like that, and failing to see that the daughter’s mother is acting rationally.

                • lizzie

                  This is meant as a reply to Pat: Yes, I assume that, if ThrottleJockey were to answer this question, he’d say it’s his friend’s own fault. He can hardly say anything else, given what he’s been saying about taking personal responsibility.

                  But the thing is, who—other than possibly some MRA types—would contend that this man’s behavior is acceptable or excusable? Nobody. Nobody contends that. No liberals have ever contended that it’s acceptable for fathers (or mothers, for that matter) to disappear and not support their children.

                  So what is the point of all this blather about personal responsibility and how liberals denigrate it? It’s just not true.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  Yes, I blame my friend. My point is that liberal rhetoric, by ignoring the role of personal responsibility, lets my friend off the hook. He’s hardly the worst out there–he’s only fathered 1 kid. And while this was a story about a guy who blames others for his screw ups I’ve seen other cases where women do it. What I’m saying is that the on-the-ground reality is that personal responsibility is every bit as important as the social safety net, but personal responsibility doesn’t figure in most liberal critiques.

          • ThrottleJockey

            KmCO, there you go again making stuff up. I’ve never claimed that women should marry someone just because he impregnated her. The personal responsibility is in using contraception, or in foregoing activity if you don’t have it. Its as simple as that. That’s not socially conservative, that’s pragmatically liberal.

      • KmCO

        This is tangential, but TJ, for all your insisting that you’re not in fact a social conservative but are actually a liberal, you should be aware that throwing around terms and concepts like “personal responsibility” and all your talk above about unmarried mothers (as well as marriage as a magical panacea) are going to be regarded as “tells” for a lot of people here. I think that part of the reason you encounter such hostility and pushback is that your claims to be the purest, truest liberal commenter here–which would be annoying even if it were accurate–smack of blatant disingenuousness when you explicitly argue like a social conservative. If you hold positions that can be regarded as socially conservative (and you clearly do), then own that. If you hold positions that can be regarded as liberal (which you also do), own that as well. But don’t glibly and idiotically claim that you’re being “realistic” when your positions are influenced by factors that are entirely subjective to you and are to some degree a product of your social conservatism.

        • ThrottleJockey

          Oh, I’m sorry for giving you the impression that I thought I was the most liberal person here. I’ve never (remotely) thought that and didn’t mean to convey that. On both economic and social matters I’m to the right of most people here. What I have said (and this is where I may have been confusing) is that I’m “pretty liberal”. But I only mean that relative to the general population. On most polls I’ve taken I’m to the left of 70-80% of the population. Most people here are probably to the left of 80-90% of the general population.

          Shorter me: By Chicago standards I’m comfortably liberal, by San Francisco standards, I’m just center-left.

          The other thing to note is that the black liberal tradition (influenced as it is by Martin Luther King) differs in many respects from the white liberal tradition. And I’m ok with that difference.

      • witlesschum

        Explain what ‘denigrating personal responsibility at the expense of family stability’ means in practice?

        • ThrottleJockey

          I don’t see Aimai around to defend herself but I’ll try to accurately re-state points she’s made. She’s said that personal agency drives very little in terms of outcomes and that macro-factors are overwhelmingly dominant. Part of this is her view on the social science, part of this view, though, is her reluctance to criticize the choices of the poor and/or minorities. I disagree with her on both counts, but the latter does real damage.

          By suggesting that poor minorities can’t win against these powerful macro forces we tell a lie. Just about every black person in the middle class today was in the working class (or lower) a generation ago. The way we overcame these macro forces was through personal responsibility: studied long hours, worked hard, avoided unplanned children, didn’t use drugs, didn’t commit crimes, etc. That describes 30-45% of black America.

          The reason I emphasize ‘personal responsibility’ is because that other shit is up to pols in DC, and pols in DC have never looked out for us.

          • Pat

            I have heard this attitude described as the “Do what you can” philosophy.

          • Aimai

            I don’t think that is accurate at all. So thanks for being a little hesitant to restate things that I have said in other threads on other topics since you were going to botch it.

  • NewishLawyer

    I always thought that there was a red state/blue state divide on this issue. Also a divide as you went up the educational ladder.

    People with college or advanced degrees are allegedly more likely to get married later and have lower rates of divorce. I am assuming that this is because they tend to marry when they are more economically secure and advanced in their careers.*

    Red States are having less divorce because they are simply having less marriage because the men lack steady jobs and the women see men as just another child to take care of. This is Rosin’s The End of Men theory. Her theory should probably be “The End of Blue-Collar Men because of Globalization.”

    *I notice a sharp difference in marriage weights between my friends who worked out their careers early and survived the Great Recession without too much difficulty and those who were still trying to figure out what they wanted to do at the time of the Fiscal Crisis and might still be effected by it.

    • joe from Lowell

      There’s a bit of a problem with this theory: Red states have higher divorce rates.

      • Jordan

        In case anyone is looking for a much more reliable source, here is Wikipedia’s list.

        • joe from Lowell

          I have no idea who “ranker.com” even is. I just posted the first one that came up, because they’re all just listing official numbers.

          Are they less reliable than wikipedia generally?

    • djw

      I always thought that there was a red state/blue state divide on this issue.

      Indeed there is, but you’ve got it exactly backwards, as Joe’s link demonstrates.

      People with college or advanced degrees are allegedly more likely to get married later and have lower rates of divorce. I am assuming that this is because they tend to marry when they are more economically secure and advanced in their careers.*

      I would also expect that later marriages are more stable because the personality, preferences, communication styles, expectations, etc. of the person you marry are more likely to be stable going forward.

      • joe from Lowell

        Or maybe we’re reading NL wrong, and he’s saying that red states are having less divorce than they used to, as opposed to than blue states.

    • Origami Isopod

      In addition to the links provided about red vs. blue state divorce rates, I really
      would not take Hanna Rosin seriously on this issue.

    • PSP

      We used to call a restraining order from the Probate Court a “Poor Persons’ Divorce” since the Court could order custody and child support as well as prohibiting further abuse.

  • calling all toasters

    So, more than half of marriages end with death? On the whole, I’d rather be divorced.

  • There’s another serious problem with the “half of all marriages end in divorce” statistic. Even if it were true, it would still be misleading.
    Consider Larry and Sally, Scott and Jill, and Adam and Steve, all happily married; and Rushton, divorced from Jane, Alice, Ellen, and Margaret. In this sample, 58% (N=7) of the marriages ended in divorce. Heaven forfend! On the other hand, the median person in the sample has been divorced 0 times and the mean person has been divorced 0.73 times (N=11). The high rate of marriage failure is due entirely to serial divorcer Rushton.
    The American population at large has the same characteristic: a minority of serial marry-and-divorcers account for a disproportionate number of divorces.

  • Origami Isopod

    I’m having trouble finding links, but one of the benefits of easier divorce laws, and concomitantly laws against domestic violence, was that murder rates for married men dropped precipitously. Women desperate to get away from abusive husbands had other options besides poison or the cast-iron skillet.

    • Denverite

      That would be really interesting if you do find a link.

      • djw

        +1

      • Origami Isopod

        I’m specifically having trouble coming up with search terms that are not commonplace on webpages discussing DV in general.

        • Rob in CT

          I found this:

          http://hsx.sagepub.com/content/3/3/187.short?rss=1&ssource=mfc

          Abstract

          This article explains the two-decades-long decline in the intimate partner homicide rate in the United States in terms of three factors that reduce exposure to violent relationships: shifts in marriage, divorce, and other factors associated with declining domesticity; the improved economic status of women; and increases in the availability of domestic violence services. The authors’ explanation is based on a theory of exposure reduction that helps to account for the especially pronounced decline in the rate at which married women kill their husbands. The authors test the theory with data from a panel of 29 large U.S. cities for the years 1976 to 1992. The results of the analysis are generally supportive of our exposure-reduction theory. The authors consider the importance of the results for subsequent research on intimate partner homicide and call for further evaluation of the efficacy of legal responses to domestic violence.

          • Rob in CT

            Better:

            http://www.ccjs.umd.edu/sites/ccjs.umd.edu/files/pubs/lasr_03701005.pdf

            The above studies reach an ironic conclusion: resources
            designed to protect women from violent men appear to have a
            stronger role in keeping men from being killed by their partners.
            Men’s homicidal behavior toward female intimates statistically
            remains the same regardless of the amount of resources available to
            battered women. Although there are clear social benefits to
            averting both the murder of men and the likely incarceration of
            the female perpetrator, the null female findings suggest that policy
            enhancements are needed to dramatically increase the safety of women in relationships with men.

            • Origami Isopod

              Thanks, Rob.

              • Rob in CT

                Thank you for bringing it up. That rather countintuative finding surprised me. I learned something.

                Not something that makes me warm & fuzzy inside, mind you, but thems da breaks.

                • Origami Isopod

                  Huh, I found it quite intuitive, myself. Desperate people resort to desperate measures. Give them an easier out and they’ll take it.

                • Rob in CT

                  The counterintuitive result I mean is this one:

                  The above studies reach an ironic conclusion: resources designed to protect women from violent men appear to have a stronger role in keeping men from being killed by their partners. Men’s homicidal behavior toward female intimates statistically remains the same regardless of the amount of resources available to battered women.

                  I agree that letting people leave rather than forcing them to stay leading to less violence makes obvious sense!

                  But the bit about women being killed at the same rate even after shelters & hotlines & better divorce laws… that one doesn’t seem quite so obvious to me.

                • Pat

                  They don’t get away in time, Rob.

                • Hogan

                  Or they got hunted down, which doesn’t happen the other way round.

                • Aimai

                  Male partner violence (generally) doesn’t result from an attempt to get away from an abusive partner, but to restrain the woman from getting away. That’s why the male rates of violence don’t change–because the goal remains the same. That’s why the most dangerous time for people (whether male or female) leaving an abusive relationship is just as they are making a move to get out. So whether you can divorce easily or not leaving is still dangerous for the trapped partner.

  • ricegol

    As soon as I saw this post I immediately thought about assortative mating and the fact that marriage is increasingly becoming the province of college educated professional/managerial types and at a later age. these folks have more financial security but also personal maturity and they are waiting to have children. The working/lower classes are forgoing marriage, so they can’t get divorced. It seems that a number of posters have already beaten me to this punch about the relationship between class and marriage/divorce rates. I would add one thing, however: anyone interested in this issue should read Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart” where he dissects this phenomenon.

    I know that in many circles’ Murray’s name is mud. However, in this particular book, he stays away from the IQ stuff and just does straight-ahead sociology.

    • Lee Rudolph

      The working/lower classes are forgoing marriage, so they can’t get divorced.

      Divorce Equality! It’s time to stop, once and for all, the shameful state of affairs in which only married people—already swimming in privilege!!—may be divorced!!!

      Also, palimony for all.

    • witlesschum

      Presumably there’s some other scholar who isn’t a dishonest, magic-believing, racist sucking on the wingnut welfare teat you could as easily point to who discusses the same thing?

    • Origami Isopod

      I know that in many intelligent, non-racist, non-misogynist circles’ Murray’s name is mud.

      Fix’d.

  • tsam

    Wait–none of the OP addresses ethics in journalism.

    FAIL

  • Isn’t the path to marriage changing too? Almost every wedding I’ve ever been to has been of a couple who lived together for years, sometimes more than a decade, before getting married. In most of these cases the partner I knew took it as a given that they were going to get married some day, and it was just a matter of choosing a date – usually decided on either because the couple had saved enough money for a wedding, or because they wanted to have kids and were traditional/practical enough to feel that they ought to married first. That’s obviously a system that weeds out unsuccessful or incompatible couples long before the marriage stage, and though the next phase, kids, has its own complications that put stress on a relationship, disentangling yourself from a marriage when there are kids involved is more complicated, and many people might prefer to tough it out for longer before calling it quits.

    • Rob in CT

      Dunno how universal it is, but that was certainly my path. My wife and I lived together for 2 years before being married, and for several years before that we were kinda sorta living together (spending the night often, mostly on weekends). All told, we had known each other for eleven years before we had the ceremony, though we weren’t together that long.

      • Aimai

        At Baby Center, a website where women can group together and talk about their pregnancies, babies, in laws, family issues, etc… you get a large cross section of the population. A very large number of the women there delayed the actual wedding ceremony past the birth of even two children in order to save up the money necessary for the kind of wedding they wanted to have. They were married-in-all-but-name to their partners, living together, having children together but the official marriage waited on the wedding ceremony. This was partly because you simply couldn’t throw an enormous wedding style party years after getting a quiet, inexpensive, city hall marriage. And they didn’t want to forgo living together and having children until they could afford the actual, technical, wedding.

  • jazzbumpa

    Marriage was an institution that served men, and imposed extremely high exit costs on women. When those exit costs declined, men were less able to trap women in marriages that weren’t working for them, and they left in large numbers.

    This sounds like a compelling story – but is it right? Can you verify this in some way? My experience is exactly the opposite.

    When I got divorced in 1984, the exit cost for my erstwhile spouse was, to a reasonable first approximation, zero.

    The cost to me was half of everything I had, and would receive for the next several years.

    Plus, my kids would have been far better off in my custody, but that was the nearest thing to impossible.

    • Rob in CT

      Um, isn’t 1984 after no-fault divorce laws were the norm? Thus, after the point at which the “exit costs” declined for women?

      • djw

        Right. It was the 70’s, mostly, when a variety of legal and social changes lowered the exit costs for married women.

        The cost to me was half of everything I had,

        I don’t want to pick at the scab of a bad divorce, but it seems to me it would be more accurate to say you gave up half of everything you had when you got married (as did your wife), and when you got divorced your ex-wife took her half with her.

        • sparks

          No divorce is as neat and easy as you make out, where the woman is left in a worse position than the man.

          After a marriage in the ’90s, a close friend of mine had to take out a mortgage to keep his home and pay his wife (no fault divorces, she cheated on him after he had a catastrophic illness) after ten years of marriage. It cost him more than half of everything he had. The house is one he owned a good decade before he was married and 6-7 years before they began living together and the wife demanded full value of her half before the housing collapse, although he put her through school while he worked, which got her a decent (not great) career. After he recovered from his illness, he was no longer able to work his old job regularly, but managed an income through family ties plus a near-minimum wage job. He took care of their child as she had little interest in raising her.

          In many cases, divorce is harder on the woman, but that doesn’t make it an ironclad rule.

          • Aimai

            Maybe we should rethink it and say that divorce is always harder on the nicer person, the better spouse, the injured party as well as the one who who had more assets at the start (because their expectations of what they are due afterwards are inflated). Sometimes that’s the man and sometimes (rarely) that’s the woman.

            • The Dark Avenger

              In Californis, it’s not unusual for the ex-wife to pay alimony to her ex if she was the higher earner at the time of he divorce, I have one distant cousin who divorced her hubby over 20 years ago, and she’s probably still paying him. My sister was going to be in the same place if she had her divorce finalized, but her husband committed suicide by cop before host happened.

              • Aimai

                Yes, women pay alimony (where alimony still exists and applies, which is limited) and they are liable for child support too, just like guys.

    • DrDick

      While I did get custody of my then 3 year old son when I got divorced in 1976 (in Oklahoma), the judge made me provide a letter from my mother saying that she would help me raising him before he would give me custody. This even though my ex had signed a waiver to not contest custody.

    • Murc

      My experience is exactly the opposite.

      You mean your experience after exit costs for women declined was that the exit costs for your spouse were not that high?

      1984 ain’t exactly 1954.

      When I got divorced in 1984, the exit cost for my erstwhile spouse was, to a reasonable first approximation, zero.

      Was she working? If not, then your wife forwent her own career in order to raise children, and dissolving the marriage means that she is now forced back into the workplace as well as still having responsibility for children.

      That is a real exit cost.

      The cost to me was half of everything I had, and would receive for the next several years.

      You gave up half of everything you had when you got married. That’s how it works. And if she had custody of the kids and no career, then yeah, you’re on the hook for that as well.

      Plus, my kids would have been far better off in my custody, but that was the nearest thing to impossible.

      You lost custody entirely despite asking for full? They didn’t even give you joint? Because unless there’s a good reason, that was vanishingly rare back then and nearly impossible to happen these days.

      • jazzbumpa

        OK. I framed the economic part badly.

        You got me.

        We both came into the marriage with next to nothing.

        No she wasn’t working. She was college educated, eminently employable, and chose not to work. Sure, the kids came along, but your stating that she forwent a career is equally bad framing, and assuming a lot about the situation.

        After the divorce, she never had a steady job.

        You lost custody entirely despite asking for full? They didn’t even give you joint? Because unless there’s a good reason, that was vanishingly rare back then and nearly impossible to happen these days.

        No. I didn’t fight for it. Things were already too ugly, or maybe I was just a wuss. But you’re wrong about that rarity. Giving the mother custody was automatic unless there was some glaringly apparent reason not to.

        • DrDick

          Giving the mother custody was automatic unless there was some glaringly apparent reason not to.

          That was certainly the case in Oklahoma in the 1980s. In the mid 80s, I went to court to terminate the parental rights of my son’s mother, who had not contacted him in a decade, on the advice of a lawyer friend. He and I were both shocked when we did not have to fight with the judge to do it.

          • Aimai

            I don’t understand the locution “kids came along” as though no one had any agency in that. And I also don’t understand complaining about child custody when you didn’t “fight for it.” Whether the courts “automatically” assigned her custody or not if you didn’t fight for it what are you even talking about. The children have to be assigned to someone. You could equally well argue that assuming that the mother has to take full time custody is a penalty to her preventing her from moving on and starting another family or getting back into the work force. Full custody of the children is hard work, as Dr. Dick will attest. The courts aren’t at fault for trying to make sure that someone in the couple is willing to do it.

            • Origami Isopod

              I don’t understand the locution “kids came along” as though no one had any agency in that.

              I caught that, too.

    • Origami Isopod

      The cost to me was half of everything I had, and would receive for the next several years.

      This framing irks the shit out of me. Just because she wasn’t earning dollars outside the household doesn’t mean she wasn’t contributing to it. You’re erasing the burdens of pregnancy and labor, the childcare and housework (given the time frame I imagine she did most of it), and emotional labor, which still mostly falls to women. And, as Murc said, she gave up a potential career when she married you.

      • jazzbumpa

        She didn’t want a career. That became obvious pretty early on, and she went into career-avoidance mode.

        Yeah she endured pregnancy and labor. That’s pretty much unavoidable in a family. Childcare and housework was shared. Not 50/50, but she wasn’t overburdoned.

        I have no idea what you mean by “emotional labor.”

        I was a very involved dad, and continued to be after the divorce, which annoyed her greatly. So by my concept of emotional labor, I certainly held up my end.

        • Aimai

          Sounds like your divorce was a good idea if you disliked her so much that her “not wanting to have a career” pissed you off.

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