I’m a Minority Group

In today’s stroll through cyberspace, I came across this NY Times article titled To Be Married Means to Be Outnumbered. Here’s the gist from the opening paragraphs:

Married couples, whose numbers have been declining for decades as a proportion of American households, have finally slipped into a minority, according to an analysis of new census figures by The New York Times.

The American Community Survey, released this month by the Census Bureau, found that 49.7 percent, or 55.2 million, of the nation’Â’s 111.1 million households in 2005 were made up of married couples–with and without children–— just shy of a majority and down from more than 52 percent five years earlier.

The numbers by no means suggests marriage is dead or necessarily that a tipping point has been reached. The total number of married couples is higher than ever, and most Americans eventually marry. But marriage has been facing more competition. A growing number of adults are spending more of their lives single or living unmarried with partners, and the potential social and economic implications are profound.

So, being a married man and all, I’m in a minority group. They interviewed Focus on the Family, whose spokesperson admirably (and surprisingly) refrained from breaking out the same old line about N.America’s declining morality. His comments were actually quite insightful:

Steve Watters, the director of young adults for Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group, said that the trend of fewer married couples was more a reflection of delaying marriage than rejection of it.

““It does show that a lot of people are experimenting with alternatives before they get there,”” Mr. Watters said. ““The biggest concern is that those who still aspire to marriage are going to find fewer models. They’Â’re also finding they’Â’ve gotten so good at being single it’Â’s hard to be at one with another person.””

And that last part is spot on. Marriage has turned from the idea of the two becoming one into this notion of how the other person is going to fulfill me. And since this is a totally consumerist approach to what is a sacred thing, the following familiar comments are unfortunately not surprising:

“Even cohabiting young adults tell us that they are doing so because it would be unwise to marry without first living together in a society marked by high levels of divorce,” [researcher] Ms. Smock said.

A number of couples interviewed agreed that cohabiting was akin to taking a test drive and, given the scarcity of affordable apartments and homes, also a matter of convenience. Some said that pregnancy was the only thing that would prompt them to make a legal commitment soon. Others said they never intended to marry. A few of those couples said they were inspired by solidarity with gay and lesbian couples who cannot legally marry in most states.

I wonder why they don’t quote the statistics that say that couples who cohabitate prior to marriage have a higher incidence of divorce than that of couples who start living together after marriage. When you approach something that has unconditional commitment at its core with a conditionally noncomittal attitude, it’s not surprising that those marriages don’t work. It’s hard to lose that “let’s see if this works” attitude later on when the going gets tough.

But still, it’s going to be weird to live in a society where I’m a minority for getting married, staying married, and not having lived with Jac before we were married…

12 responses to “I’m a Minority Group”

  1. “It’s hard to lose that “let’s see if this works” attitude later on when the going gets tough.”

    Absolutely! (Then again I have zero experience at the thing) =)

  2. Hmmm… I wonder if the “let’s see if this works” attitude is being applied to how we do church?! Hmmm… naaaaah…

  3. I don’t think that any of us EVER think that way. I don’t ever use hyperbole either…

    Unfortunately, I think you hit the nail on the head. I keep learning about church from marriage. Bah.

  4. i would say that if you begin to use the metaphor of purchasing a car to apply to marriage, you are going in a very wrong direction.
    you test drive, you commit to purchase, car gets too many miles, driver returns car for newer shinier model.

    is there any real evidence to suggest that cohabitation before marriage is a good idea? cause i havent seen any, aside from the cheaper rent arguement.

  5. Are the stats North “American” or United States of “American?” If the latter, it would be interesting to see what Canadian stats look like, you may be more of minority than you think… or maybe not, I can’t say that I know. Maybe I will look it up, though probably not, I should technically be studying for midterms. Try me next week.

  6. Hey Karin…

    The stats are USAmerican. You might be right in suspecting that Canadian numbers would be even lower, but I have a hunch that they won’t be hugely different.

    School gets in the way of all kinds of learning, eh?

  7. Matt,

    Great blog you’ve got here! It hits me that the problem in contemporary No. America is not the loss of metanarrative, but the shifting of metanarrative. It is now the ecomony that is the overarching story of our age. And here we see it again, approaching marriage like an automobile. A serious commitment to be sure, but certainly not forever. A 5 year loan and maybe a few years after it’s paid off and then trade it in for a newer model. I’ve heard guys joke like this for years. The whole test drive metaphor fits perfectly. I’m one who thinks we don’t use these metaphors in a vacuum. Our imagination has been formed by the consumerist economic rationality of our time and now we can’t think outside those terms. Thanks for highlighting this important issue! And congrats on being married. My wife and I just celebrated 10 years this past Aug. and we have two little girls (3 and 6). We live in a two bedroom apartment in Los Angeles. Talk about countercultural!

  8. Hey Ryan

    Thanks for coming by, and for adding your comments. I appreciate your insight that the N.American metanarrative is a profoundly economic-consumerist one. My, my, that would be a fun rabbit hole to explore! Hmmm….

    And congratulations on 10 years of marriage! Jaclyn and I just celebrated our first year together in June.

  9. The sad part is we deny the place of metanarratives, but then buy in all the same to this one!

    But then again I really wonder whether any of this discussion ever leaves the ivory tower. It’s easy to criticize the way we do church eh? Far too easy.

    But we should be our own harshest critics I think, as long as we can find a way to do it in love.

  10. Who says that it has to leave the ivory tower? Mine is quite comfortable and cozy. ;)

    The problem with dealing with metanarrative-level things is that you can’t go out and just change them. What you can and should do is much harder: confront them individual situations with the message of the kingdom of God, saying that God has turned the world upside down.

  11. And get people thinking about it in the church too.

    “Hey, welcome to today’s message on the book of Revelation. By the way, did you know that even while the metanarrative of Christianity is being negated in the public sphere you are being sold something else as a replacement? And here’s a hint, it’s not plurality and tolerance, though they’d love you to think so, and it has dollar-signs all over it; John agrees.”

    On another note, one of my profs, a proponent of the hyper-modernity hypothesis, commented the other day that post-modernity is really just modernity’s cry for help.

    Kind of a neat way of thinking about it eh?

    Ivory towers have such nice big juicy words that make me feel important.

  12. “Ivory towers have such nice big juicy words that make me feel important.”

    hehe… nice one.

    Not sure what I think about your prof’s promotion of hypermodernity… I guess we might be heading in that direction, but I don’t feel like I want us to.

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