According to a new report out from the New York Times, marriage, once an intrinsically basic and normal social institution, is now a sign of “privilege.”
You can’t make this stuff up. Here’s their shockingly airheaded opening line, in its full, unadulterated glory:
Marriage, which used to be the default way to form a family in the United States, regardless of income or education, has become yet another part of American life reserved for those who are most privileged.
Not those who work harder, exhibit a modicum of self-discipline, or make and keep their commitments. No – marriage is a marker of those who are most privileged.
The New York Times correctly points out that overall, marriage in the United States is on the steady decline. This isn’t just because our divorce rates are ridiculously high – they are, but not as high as they once were. Why? Well, mostly because fewer people are getting married in the first place. While young adults in previous generations would have been hitched with a couple of kids by 29 or so, today’s college grads are now remaining legally single for far longer than their parents and grandparents did, content to shack up with someone for however long it’s expedient and swap in pets and houseplants in place of children.
In fact, the New York Times even admits:
College graduates are more likely to plot their lives methodically — vetting people they date until they’re sure they want to move in with them, and using birth control to delay childbirth until their careers are underway.
… Less educated people are more likely to move in with boyfriends or girlfriends in a matter of months, and to get pregnant at a younger age and before marriage. This can make financial and family stability harder to achieve later on.
But according to the NYT’s bang-up analysis of or current marital situation, the rapid decline in marriage isn’t just because we’ve consciously traded families for careers, swapped commitment for convenience, or deliberately cheapened sex to the point of being nigh invaluable. No, marriage isn’t about choices – it’s just another sign of privilege.
Just over half of adolescents in poor and working-class homes live with both their biological parents, compared with 77 percent in middle- and upper-class homes, according to the research brief, by W. Bradford Wilcox and Wendy Wang of the Institute for Family Studies. Thirty-six percent of children born to a working-class mother are born out of wedlock, versus 13 percent of those born to middle- and upper-class mothers.
…Americans across the income spectrum still highly value marriage, sociologists have found. But while it used to be a marker of adulthood, now it is something more wait to do until the other pieces of adulthood are in place — especially financial stability. For people with less education and lower earnings, that might never happen.
Despite tacitly admitting that things like education, finances, and out-of-wedlock children (which don’t just spring up on their own, for those who missed Biology 101) are all largely tied to personal choice and action, the NYT instead paints adults who find themselves on the crappier end of these issues as victims who’ve been forcibly oppressed by inescapable societal ills – not, for instance, capable-minded people who made some less-than-stellar choices.
Let’s clear this up, for the perpetually victimized: marriage isn’t a sign of some arbitrary “privilege” – it’s a sign of priorities. Marriage is a years-long series of deliberate choices about sex, finances, love and selflessness. There’s no suit-clad man who comes knocking on your door saying, “Oh, you’re white, rich and educated. Here’s a marriage license!” That’s not how this deal works.
You get married because you find someone you place higher than yourself – higher than your dreams, higher than your career, higher than whatever self-centered plans you once had for yourself. You get married because you realize that life, in fact, is not all about you and whatever narcissistic pleasure you happen to want in that moment. And, assuming you don’t pick a total dud for a spouse, that person responds to you in kind.
By that same token, there’s no racial, educational or socio-economic status that guarantees you marriage, or insta-happiness in it. Plenty of rich folks are wildly unhappy in their marital situation. Plenty of poor people have four bucks in their bank account, and love in spades. For that matter, plenty of single people are content to wait.
You get married not because you were born with some silver spoon dangling from your well-fed, orthodontically-maintained mouth. You get married – and, perhaps even more importantly, stay married – because of choice.
To its credit, the Times currently points out some interesting and largely disturbing trends in today’s societal view of marriage. Multiple studies have shown that substance abuse, poor educational choices, bad finances, living together before marriage and large numbers of children born out of wedlock all play into our wildly erratic, marriage-less existences. But the report completely misses the point, and ends up laying the blame for these ills at the feet of some unspecified advantage we’re to believe some people are just mysteriously born with.
Except that’s not it. That’s not it at all. See, we’ve done what they told us to do. We lived for ourselves. We followed our dreams, shot for the stars. We lived for the moment, did what made us happy. We refused to sacrifice, to give, to commit, and we told ourselves it was because we refused to “settle.” After all that’s what society told us to do. And one day we turned around, and found ourselves alone.
And that has exactly zero to do with “privilege.”