Sunday, March 22, 2009

Mum About Marriage

A happy Mother's Day to all mums. The latest CSO statistics on births, deaths and marriages (pdf) show that becoming a mother is increasingly popular in Ireland, with our birth rate substantially up on a decade a go. This is good news: many European countries are experiencing a decline in births. Even better news is that marriage is also increasingly popular - as the chart shows. And this despite the poisonous, PC-led attempt to foist the word 'partnership' on us: the Irish people, in their usual wisdom, aren't buying it.

The ongoing debate in the United States about gay marriages has certainly had the effect of forcing those who favour the concept of heterosexual marriage to to justify their preference for the institution itself. Ryan Anderson provides a concise justification when he observes that:
Marriage attaches a father to his children -- and to his children's mother -- and fulfills the societal need for children to have the love and care of both mother and father. This institution is the natural response to human sexual embodiment as male and female, to human longing for bonding and intimacy, and to human dependency and need (especially in view of the fact that human newborns, unlike newborns of many other species, require many years of nurture before reaching self-sufficiency). That is why a well-ordered society protects and encourages marriage in the first place.
That last point about a 'well-ordered society' is vitally important. We give our children the best chance possible by raising them in families with their father and mother present - and marriage tends to maintain that presence better than any other arrangement. Their chances of going on to higher education, to gaining employment and to avoiding crime are vastly higher. Which is good for the children, and good for our society. Again, the Irish people get this: which is why the vast majority (68%) of births are to married women.

Even more encouraging is the greater involvement by fathers in family life. This has always been a bone of contention with most married couples with children. It even figures in this delightful series of Tests for Husbands and Wives from the 1930s (go ahead: rate yourself against your parents'/grandparents' marriage!). Looking ahead, new UK research suggests that family life is going to become more cohesive over the next 20 years - reversing some of the trend in family breakdown of recent decades. All because fathers are becoming more involved in family life: sharing more of the responsibilities that too often fall on mothers. A small silver lining perhaps in a cloudy sky of uncertainty.

All-in-all it looks like a good future for mothers and their families: that's something to celebrate on the day that's in it. Anyway, got to go, my turn to make the dinner ...


  1. For a guy that normally likes evidence to back up his opinions, its amazing how quickly you revert to blinkered prejudice when it comes to gay marriages. By your logic, a male and female junkie couple provide better parenting than a clean-living, dedicated all-male (or all-female) couple ..... Come on, lets see some actual evidence rather than this weak "nature" nonsense

  2. Oddly enough, I only mentioned gay marriage in passing as an issue that had caused many to think harder about why favour marriage at all. I would say I am agnostic on the issue of gay marriage because it is too early to tell what the wider, long term social consequences of its availability will be.

    That said: your challenge to show some 'actual evidence' did get me to check out a number of studies on the incidence of gay marriage. Starting with the fact that only 2-3% max of most adult populations in the developed world are gay or bi, it appears that only a minority of gay people (as few as 2-3% of all gays in Sweden/Netherlands) choose marriage even when it is available.

    You are therefore looking at a tiny minority of a tiny minority of the population BEFORE you then look at the sub-set of same who have dependent children living with them.

    So it would be difficult indeed to come up with statistically meaningful data on the impact on children of being reared by - presumably - one biological parent and a same-sex step-parent.

    There's some interesting analyses on the issue of gay marriage here if you want to check it out in more detail:

    The main point of my post, on the other hand, is that we know that traditional marriage works for children (with the exception of junkie parents, of course). And so it should be encouraged for that reason (among others, but I didn't go in to them, though I have in previous posts).

  3. First, I think you'll find many studies indicate that the proportion of the human race that is not hetero is significantly higher than 2-3%.

    Second, Ireland has some very strange ideas about marriage and children. I constantly feel like I am stuck in the mid-20th century living here. I am American and have lived in five countries.

    For example, my daughter was born this week. My partner is divorced. Ireland forces us to prove her divorce legal before we can even obtain a birth certificate. Moreover, until such time, the father of my child is legally her ex-husband, a man she has not laid eyes on in over a decade. What a load of rubbish.

    I won't even get started on Ireland lack of recognition for non-hetero and non-Judeo-Christian marriages...

    How about we get back to entertaining, snarky, and often insightful comments about economics so I can feel like I'm in the 21st century again?

  4. I would still read the post as endorsing a anti-gay marriage quote. Obviously if that wasn't your intention then I accept that. Agree that marriage should be encouraged as providing a stable base for children to develop, just don't see why that should be exclusively for male-female couples.

  5. Sigh - more tedious,right wing nonsense from this cesspit of reactionary nonsense?

    "better news is that marriage is also increasingly popular - as the chart shows."

    How is this "better news"?

    In what meaninguful measure is an outmoted and obsolete from of ownership and repression "good news".

    Human beings are not monogamous creatures. Marriage is a suffocating bourgeois social construct designed to meet the fused nefarious needs of capitalism and religion.

    What if someone does not believe in the fairytale( or is that horror story) of the Judeo-Christian deity?

    Marriage was always nothing but a convenient arrangement where women traded sex for financial support before there was female equality and men, when the concept of Primogeniture was all important, could be sure that their offspring was theirs.

    Such outmoded and outdated homophobic notions of relationships have no place in the 21st century.

    Whats more,the sexual orientation of parents has little bearing on how well a child will do in life.
    It is more to do with the economic circumstances that they grow up in.

    The fact that most marriages these days end in an expensive and traumatic separations is completely ignored. For those that soldier on, they feel trapped and alone in a loveless marriage for primarily economic reasons.

    For a free and happy humanity, we as a species, need to liberate ourselves from the suffocating shackles of marriage.

  6. Hi Gerard,

    I feel it is a little dangerous to cite marriage per se as the driving force behind healthy and successful children. As a behavioural economist, your posts usually are balanced and give critical weight and priority to evidence and scientific rigour. However, this post entirely lacks any consideration of confounding variables and thus does not attempt to control for these variables.

    Before expounding why this is so, I would like to emphasise first off that I am not ‘against’ marriage. I am simply irritated by how flawed your simple ‘heterosexual marriage = happier, healthier, more successful children and therefore = good’ equation is.

    Firstly, I would like to see the figures and the evidence which support your claim that “we give our children the best chance possible by raising them in families with their father and mother present”. I am sure you are aware of the neurological, psychological and economic literature (for example, Currie, Heckman, etc) which provides clear evidence (which has controlled for a wide number of relevant variables) that early inputs (i.e. in the first few years of life) matter most for later life economic, psychological and medical outcomes. These early inputs take the form of stimulating environments, educational resources and human support, love and affection. These inputs can undoubtedly be better provided to the child by a wide and strong network of family support. However, nowhere in the literature is there clear evidence supporting the view that these inputs can be best provided for by one exclusively female parental figure married to an exclusively male parental figure.

    Secondly, in your ‘marriage = good for children = good for society’ equation, you do not mention or attempt to control for socio-economic status. It may be true that children born to married mothers are better off than children born to unmarried mothers. But the driving force behind this finding is almost definitely the fact that married mothers are more likely to be from a higher socio-economic background whereas unmarried mothers are likely to be from lower socio-economic backgrounds. It is a truism that children born into higher SE backgrounds are better off (more resources, thus better early life inputs, etc).

    Therefore, to say that it is marriage itself which fosters healthier and happier children is an abuse of statistics which falls into a ‘Bell-Curve’-esque fallacy.

    (As a post-script, I’d like to refer to your ‘Banality of Partnership’ post, which hinges on the argument that because the majority of long-term romantic relationships consist of marriages, therefore reports from the Department of Social and Family Affairs etc should refer to all these relationships as such. The cited report is merely recognizing the fact that other long-term sexual relationships – and indeed orientations – do exist. Now, if the census could finally follow suit and recognize the same then perhaps we could begin to statistically analyse such populations - which are almost certainly above the 2-3% prevalence you cite.)

  7. Hi Eimear

    Yes, it does come down to causality doesn't it? And unfortunately, as we know, that's a mighty difficult one to prove in any of the social sciences (since it is impossible to 'control' all the variables in the lives of any one human being let alone an entire community). So we fall back on correlations, trends and, dare I say, common sense.

    Plainly most of the antipathy my/others' views on the value of heterosexual marriage appears to be provoked by the apparent judgement it implies/makes about non-traditional family arrangements (gay couples with dependent children - the few there are; single parents - more prevalent; cohabiting couples - the norm for most couples before marriage in Ireland; and various other arrangements).

    But we pass judgements/make laws all the time about family structures, e.g.: marriage between siblings; first cousins; adults and children; polygamy; arranged marriages etc - so I'm afraid we all come to the issue with 'baggage'. Mine just happens to be weighted towards supporting an arrangement that has worked in most societies throughout most of history (and yes, I know it wasn't a romantic walk in the park for most couples for most of that time).

    Still I don't think we've run with marriage all this time because we lacked the pill and DNA tests - I reckon it benefits human society much more than that. I just think it's a pity so many seem so reluctant to admit this: a strange lack of objectivity it would seem to me.

  8. interesting to note 60,000 new household units were formed in 2008. If that trend continues it would have very important implications for everything from house construction to retail. Perhaps 'household units' is a more useful measure to use, at least in terms of short-term economic forecasts are concerned.

  9. "the Irish people, in their usual wisdom, aren't buying it"

    Perhaps, judging by the state of our economy and the calibre of the politicians we elect, referring to Irish "wisdom" might not be the best way of strengthening your argument...

  10. I think it's great marriage is on the rise. My sister's 24 (happens to be exactly the average age a US citizen is marries at) and is getting married in Carlow in December. Her and her fiancees enthusiasm has even spurred a couple of her friends to tie the know.

    My 2 pence on it, is that surely in the liberated and equality bound (yes I know men still earn more than women but girls are kicking ass in college and still have jobs) 21st century (now that we have moved on from "so 20th century" shackles) we can make marriage what it should be: a mutually agreed set of rules that we adopt for our own benefit and protection and the benefit and protection of our children.

    The ultimate freedom we have as humans is to craft our actions within a collectively agreed set of rules. This is what free action is. Cast off those rules and everything falls apart. Marriage is a document. Yes. Doing it your own way is fine but your success is likely to be contingent on how well you copy the rules that have been formulated through a huge body of collective effort.

    And it will be harder. This is because marriage certificates, as everyone is well-aware, off-load the effort of commitment. Marriage is a bit like keeping your money in a savings account rather than a current account or under the mattress. Temptation to defect and do something that is temporarily liberating but eventually self-defeating is reduced because it's harder to do.

    It's harder to break the rules when you're married because there's a whole invisible system of restrictions that you adopt partially because you know you are somewhat fallible. Of course, you can still access money from your savings account and leave the contract. It just shouldn't be easy.

    There's no reason why a gay couple can't adopt the same rules. Even if their children turn out to be slightly happier or unhappier than the kids on their block does it really matter. Besides any result could represent an initial 'breaking the ice' period where children of gay couples suffer some prejudice. This is no different to what immigrant children or disadvantaged children have suffered in the past. The hetero reaction causing grief for the children of gay marriages is not a reason to place restrictions on gay families. And what's our bench mark for comparison, middle class white kids, or if the children are adopted a life trying to avoid starvation in a poverty riddled nation?

    I believe marriage and the family work because of their structure not the content or 'type' of people involved (in terms of the gender, SES, ethnic formula of people). A genetic relationship to children may help for the protection of the child (this evidence exists for heterosexual adoption but is contested) but is clearly not essential.


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