A new report says that the US divorce rate is the lowest it’s been since 1970, but that’s not necessarily unadulterated good news.
Despite the common notion that America remains plagued by a divorce epidemic, the national per capita divorce rate has declined steadily since its peak in 1981 and is now at its lowest level since 1970.
Yet Americans aren’t necessarily making better choices about their long-term relationships. Even those who study marriage and work to make it more successful can’t decide whether the trend is grounds for celebration or cynicism.
There are fewer divorces partly because there are fewer marriages. People are shacking up instead. The excuses given are laughable, and sound like the idiocy advanced by a commitment-phobe trying to avoid his girlfriend’s hints by trying to sound like he’s socially responsible and sensitive:
Amber Settle and her partner, Andre Berthiaume, are among the couples who have opted not to marry, even as they celebrate 10 years of living together and raise a 3-year-old daughter in Chicago. Each teaches computer science at DePaul University, each is 39, each has parents who divorced.
“We decided a long time ago that marriage wasn’t for us,” Settle said. “We have a number of friends who got married, and we’ve supported them. But it’s not something we want to do.”
Among their reasons, she said, was their belief it would be unfair to get married until same-sex couples across the country had the same opportunity.
“Yeah, honey, I would totally marry you if only Raul and Steve weren’t being oppressed by those Christian fundamentalists and could meet each other at the altar in matching white dresses. Sorry.”
Others—academics, of course—say that only poor people are dumb enough to marry anymore:
Stephanie Coontz, who teaches history and family studies at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., says divorces are dropping in the college-educated sector because many spouses “are learning how to negotiate marriages based on less rigid gender roles than in the past.”
Stephanie, when was the last time you had a date with a man who even tried to open the door for you? How did you punish him for it? (If you claim to be a marriage and family expert, shouldn’t we expect you to be married with a family? Her website says nothing about a family.)
Oh, those college-educated men and women aren’t like the rest of us cavemen who still drag our knuckles and marry… I mean, fall into “rigid gender roles” of the past.
Why marry? Apart from the Christian moral principle involved, there is a purely secular benefit to both individuals and society:
“Cohabitation is very fragile, and when unmarried parents split, for the child it might as well be a divorce,” [Patrick] Fagan [of the Heritage Foundation] said. “Among those who are marrying there’s increased stability, but overall the children of the nation are getting a rawer and rawer deal from their parents.”