Summary: This is a milestone post, giving a summary of the three-score posts about the evolution of marriage in America. See marriage and divorce as rational from the perspective of women. They are shaping a new American society. Also — the movers arrive today with our worldly goods, and the FM website resumes its normal publication activity.
After three score posts examining the evolution of marriage in America, a clear picture emerges why so many Generation X women marry and then divorce. And why divorce rates might rise for Millennial (aka Gen Y) women. Here is a brief description, explaining it in purely rational terms (there are, of course, many other social and psychological dimensions to this, among the most complex of institutions).
Why women marry
Marriage brings many benefits to women. Hence its continued popularity among women (their complaints concern men’s increasing disinterest). Marriage has prestige among women. Most women want children, and middle and upper class women are careful to not do so until they have a ring on their fingers (men’s assistance and money makes the first few years much easier).
And weddings have become the Party of a woman’s life, in which they are Queen for a Day. At the climax of the ceremony, the bride looks into the groom’s eyes and lies about “until death do us part.” As shown by the high rate of “discretionary” divorce.
Note: There are no equivalents for men, except celebrating the few that have great accomplishments. The huge wedding party is a change from tradition. Wedding for most women were modest — and did not feature Bridezillas. See this 1946 wedding in The Best Years of Our Lives. — married at her home in her best dress, with a reception of punch and wedding cake. The ceremony was the focus, not the bride.
Women’s enthusiasm for marriage is rational and obvious. What happens next is more difficult to understand, but becomes visible if examined clearly and coldly.
Why do women divorce?
Women initiate most divorces (estimates run from 70% to 85%). Most have no obvious cause (e.g, infidelity, jail, addiction). In most cases a woman with children is poorer afterwards. So why do they do it?
The most obvious reason is that they can. Conservative saint Ronald Reagan abolished traditional marriage in 1970 by signing America’s first no fault divorce law. That, effective easy birth control, and women’s increased financial independence combined to largely liberate women from patriarchal marriage.
That made women able to divorce. Why would they do so?
Husbands are needed to father children. Husband’s work helps in their first few years. But once the youngest is in children the calculus changes. Child support will extract money from husbands, so that women can pursue their separate destinies.
Women are raised to value their independence. We consider it commendable to put such values of mercenary considerations.
Women are often raised to see themselves as leaders (e.g., in school, in sports, in Girl Scouts). Most men grudgingly accept wives as equals; few accept wives as leaders in marriage. Divorce resolves this struggle for control.
There are indications that women rate most men (roughly 80%) as below average in physical attractiveness, and hence lower than them. It is another example of the Pareto principle. The best known is a study by the dating ap company OkCupid of their internal data. They deleted it (very un-PC), but fragments remain (e.g., here). The most detailed explanation is in Dataclysm: Love, Sex, Race, and Identity–What Our Online Lives Tell Us about Our Offline Selves by OkCupid co-founder Christian Rudder. Others have replicated its findings on small scales (e.g., here). So many women will feel that they have married down, vs. their hypergamous “instinct” to “marry up.” This makes them more willing to divorce.
This is the world we live in. The women of Generation X came as close as humanly possible to having it all — careers, children, marriage on their terms, divorce on their terms. Since the incentives for divorce are so high, many wives divorced. People are rational.
The women of Generation Y are repeating this playbook. Most are succeeding, but they find fewer men are willing to marry. Men are condemned for this, as they are condemned for so many things these days. That does not make them more interested in marriage.
My guess is that Millennial women (Gen Y) will find far fewer men willing to marry. I believe that in the next ten or twenty years this evolution will pass a tipping point. Beyond that marriage will still exist, but not in its present form for most people. Nor will it serve the same function as it does in our society today. We will better understood what traditional marriage did for American when its gone.
For more about this see Starting World War G: the gender wars. Marriage linked men and women together. A post-marital America will be one of gender conflict, on many levels and in many ways. Understanding how we got here is essential to build a better future.
Dalrock’s insights about modern marriage
I recommend reading these posts about the dynamics of dating and marriage for young women. Clear insights that few dare to say.
- Intrasexual Competition and the Strong Independent Woman.
- Women’s morphing need for male investment.