Can Marriage Be Saved? An unsentimental case for matrimony -10/23/00
cmfce at his.com
Mon Oct 23 12:17:33 EDT 2000
subject: Can Marriage Be Saved? An unsentimental case for matrimony
from: Smart Marriages
Cover story on the November/2000 Lingua Franca Magazine
Can Marriage Be Saved? An unsentimental case for matrimony
By Elise Harris
MARRIAGE APPEARS TO BE ON THE ROCKS. According to the University of
Chicago's National Opinion Research Center, nearly 75 percent of American
adults had spouses in 1972. In 1998, only 56 percent did. Since 1970,
cohabitation by unmarried couples has increased sevenfold. Thirty-two
percent of 1996 births were out of wedlock (the figure was 70 percent for
African Americans). The divorce rate has stabilized at 50 percent.
To explain marriage's decline, some analysts (usually on the political left)
point to large structural forces, such as the rise in women's employment and
the lengthening of life spans. Others (usually on the right) deliver
jeremiads against self-centeredness and the sexual revolution. Feminists
promote government-subsidized day care, while Promise Keepers vow to restore
men's stewardship of the family. At times the intellectual debate over
marriage seems to have reached a stalemate, with each side repeating the
same arguments over and overmuch like a lousy marriage.
Now a respected sociology professor from the University of Chicago, Linda
Waite, hopes to settle this tired old feud with a new claim. Her pragmatic
argument: Marriage is a bargain, for both men and women, and few of us can
afford to pass it up.
Waite, a quantitative sociologist and demographer, hopes that a public
health argument will succeed where moral suasion has failed. She argues that
the single life, like smoking, is bad for the individual and the community.
And to ensure that her message will be heard, she has chosen a co-author
with a talent for polemic: Maggie Gallagher, a conservative syndicated
columnist at the Institute for American Values who has written several books
on family issues. In The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier,
Healthier, and Better Off Financially (Doubleday), Waite and Gallagher
contend that marriage causes more positive effects (what sociologists call
"good outcomes") than either living alone or cohabiting with a boyfriend or
girlfriend. Their book relies not on browbeating but on math. The benefit of
marriage, they assert, derives from economies of scaletwo people living
together for the cost of 1.6 peopleand from the specialized division of
labor within the household.
In its most time-honored form, specialization divides a couple's labor along
gender lines: "He works for money, she tends to kids and kin." Waite claims
that today's two-earner couples still divide their work, but more flexibly:
"You do the insurance, I'll take the investments" or "You walk the dog, I'll
clean the bathroom." As Adam Smith knew, specialization allows one to
accomplish more. Waite has calculated just how much more by compiling other
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