Domesticity Will Always Look Domestic
An interesting article in Sunday’s Providence Journal paints delays in marriage and increases in cohabitation among young adults in an almost Rockwellian light:
For starters, young adults today aren’t just delaying marriage, but other milestones as well, Settersten says. Many of us are leaving our childhood bedrooms later, taking time to see the world, pursue advanced degrees and foster early careers before thinking about marriage or kids. …
It’s also not uncommon for unmarried couples to purchase homes together.
Falling real estate prices, the first-time homebuyer tax credit and a cramped apartment prompted Jessica Willis, 27, and Joshua Hatch, 32, to buy a fixer-upper in Tiverton last April.
The couple, who have been in a relationship for three-and-a-half years, say they plan to get married at some point, but feel no rush.
I’ve no doubt that Willis, Hatch, and the other examples cited in the article, are responsible adults with a real commitment to each other, but the article thereby glosses over one glaring fact: it describes the lifestyles of responsible, relatively secure adults. As I’ve argued many times in the context of the same-sex marriage debate, the institution functions by building cultural expectations for people in certain living situations.
The responsible people label their relationships as marriage so that society has a model toward which it can nudge those who require one. Adults having sex, having children, buying homes, and so on should do so on a foundation of long commitment, and that commitment is known as marriage.
The fact that those who are truly committed and responsible will eventually get marriage doesn’t answer the problem of example, because it merely strengthens the principle of “when we’re ready,” which the less committed and responsible will never be. It also pushes back the milestone at which marriage is considered a necessity.
This point arose back in the early-to-mid ’00s, mainly when commentator Stanley Kurtz studied family trends in Scandinavia. Some of the relevant articles are no longer online, but here’s a post that I entered into the debate. What was clear, for that region, was that couples were beginning to have their first children out of wedlock and that instances of the same behavior among couples with more children was increasing, with most rapid increase among single-parent households.
Sure, it makes for an interesting lifestyle piece to examine the decisions of individual people, but it misses the broader trend. Moreover, while it would be obnoxious to attack those people for decisions that they make given their own perspectives and circumstances, we also should not brush the trends that they represent aside.