Saturday, July 11, 2009

From Husbands to Handouts

"What are you looking for in a husband?" Without batting an eye or pausing for thought, [the young Swedish woman] answered: "Three things. One, he must be good in bed. Two, he must be a good father. Three, when we divorce, he mustn’t be bitter." Jonathan Power
Yesterday saw the publication of the first results of the ESRI/TCD study Growing Up in Ireland. As with all such studies it reflects the cultural priorities and prejudices of its time. So, for example, report No. 2: The Families of 9 Year-Olds manages to discuss family life in Ireland without mentioning marriage. Not even once. As David Quinn has rightly observed, there is now an extraordinary cultural prejudice against the institution of marriage among academics and media commentators. Such that it is now airbrushed out of state-funded studies such as Growing Up in Ireland.

The exception, of course, is gay or same-sex marriage: to my mind an utter distraction from the main issue of marriage's future given than only 1.6% of Irish men and 0.4% of Irish women are homosexual according to the Irish Study of Sexual Health and Relationships. Moreover, it is likely that only a minority of Irish gay men or women (though more of the latter) will enter same-sex marriages. Perhaps as few as 2-3% if the experience of gays in Sweden/Netherlands - where same-sex marriages have been legal for some time - is anything to go by. So we are talking about a tiny minority of a tiny minority of the population.

Like I said, a distraction from the main issue. And yes, I am in favour of the recent civil partnership initiative for same-sex couples: so now, can we get back to debating marriage for the 98% of the population who are heterosexual and the vast majority of whom will get married at some stage in their adult lives?

Except, we can't have a debate if we don't have any data - can we? The prevailing orthodoxy appears to be that assessing families in terms of marital status is somehow passing judgement on the 'choices' that individuals and couples have made. And passing judgement is the one, remaining sin in our secular age. Which is a pity really, because the continuing breakdown in parenting practices - driven by the rising incidence of births outside marriage (33% of the total in the most recent CSO data) - is a measure of the problems we now face, see chart below:

I can't help feeling that the fact that half of all births in Cork City and Limerick City are outside marriage just might - might, mind you - be responsible for some of the social, economic and criminal problems we are witnessing there (and elsewhere) on a daily basis? But there I go - passing judgement again, tut tut.

In the United States the incidence of births outside marriage has now risen to 40%. Nor is this just a function of lifestyle choices and shifts in cultural mores about pre-marital sex. It is also a consequence of deeper shifts in terms of economic independence for women and the substitution of state handouts for husbands for many mothers not in paid employment. As Robin Hanson has recently noted, it also means a reversal of the historical arrangement whereby most men had access to regular sex via monogamy, and its replacement with one whereby a minority of alpha males 'monopolise' sexual access.

Roissy in DC takes it further, of course: he thinks America's destiny is to become more like Sweden - one in which most women view relationships with the fathers of their children as a temporary arrangement (not unlike the young woman referred to in the quote at the top of this post). An arrangement only made possible by the continued substitution of the state for husbands in a growing number of families.

All of these issues are, naturally, outside of the mainstream discourse on family life in Ireland. One that doesn't even like to use the word 'marriage' in state-funded studies of contemporary family life.

Instead we are left with the demographic car crash now under way thanks to the unwillingness and inability of political, religious and cultural leaders (and not just in Ireland) to speak forcefully and convincingly in defence of heterosexual marriage as the best arrangement for raising our nation's children.

And thus ends Western Civilisation ...


  1. First of all, great blog! As a Swede living in Ireland I would just like to point out that a high divorce rate and many children born out of marriage doesnt necessarily mean trouble. When religion isnt taken too seriously it becomes less of a big deal to divorce and move on, or for unmarried couples to live together for many years and have children, and having children from multiple relationships is seen as pretty normal. When there is no social stigma to these behaviors all socio-economic classes engage in them and that's basically whats going on in Sweden. The upper-middle class in Sweden isnt more criminal just because there are more divorces or children born out of marriage.

  2. Your claims about the wonders of marriage are not substantiated and suggestions of a conspiracy of silence by academics and the meedja are laughable. The casual empiricism about Limerick is, at best, lazy. If someone drew a similar conclusion about Ireland in general they'd be strung up for racism.
    The decline in marriage and the growth in births outside of marriage are very striking & probably little understood. It may have a role in social problems, we really don't know, but that would beg the question why are people forgoing marriage?

  3. Ger - quick question.
    Do you know the reasons WHY marriage came about?

    Honestly? Let me guess, you grew up in a society where it is commonplace?

    If you honestly don't know (don't worry, most people dont), I suggest you so a little reading and find out.

    Once you have completed your reading then you will realise that this crude institution that only came into being so a man could own a woman as a piece of property and guarantee exclusive sexual access so that he could be certain the kids where is.

    In return for pimping out her ovaries, the unfortunate woman managed to be kept and maintained.

    It maintains the myth of monogomy and causes untold misery.
    Marriage should be banned in my view.
    It inculcates a series of unrealistic expectations in people.

    It is tedious and tiring listening to right wing conservative cheerleaders like you and David "Opus Dei" Quinn rant on about an anacrhonistic institution which you clearly know very little about.

    People who don't know the evolutionary and historical reasons as to *why* people get married have no reason to lecture us on it.

    Stick to the Economics Ger.

    In the meantime, a little humour with the great Doug Stanhope on Marriage

  4. Like you said yourself Kevin: "The decline in marriage and the growth in births outside of marriage are very striking & probably little understood". That being so, wouldn't it make sense to better understand these trends, including having the intellectual honesty to say they are taking us in the wrong direction as a society?

    Maybe we are simply evolving towards some kind of Swedish nirvana as painted by martin84 - though I suspect we're more on track to the worst of UK or US inner city social breakdown.

    But maybe Will can enlighten us: after he has banned marriage (and presumably sent all us fossil conservatives of to re-education camp), what would he replace it with? And where exactly have such alternatives been introduced and shown to work more effectively than our present 'patriarchal conspiracy'?

  5. As a young person I can say that Western Civilisation should go and fuck itself if it has led us down such a road. Any disinterest in marraige has nothing to do with media/political conspiracies. It's endemic and if an older generation has no confidence in how it's youth raises it's children, then maybe it should have done a better job in the first place.

    'Western Civilisation' has a lot more to answer for than the loss of it's number one crime fighting device. You might just find that we improve on the manifestly shit attempt at managing our social and economic problems.


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