A healthy ma­rria­ge cul­tu­re builds a th­ri­ving so­ciety

A healthy ma­rria­ge con­tri­bu­tes to family sta­bi­lity so the­re’s a need for re­co­very of the ins­ti­tu­tion. But how?

La Jornada (Canada) - - ENGLISH SECTION -

You could su­gar-coat the newly-re­lea­sed 2016 Cen­sus da­ta on fa­mi­lies, hou­seholds and ma­ri­tal sta­tus by ap­plau­ding the ri­se of family di­ver­sity in Ca­na­da. Yet family di­ver­sity is so of­ten a eup­he­mism for family break­down, which is so­met­hing that’s ge­ne­rally pain­ful.

A more ho­nest ta­ke on the Sta­tis­tics Ca­na­da da­ta is that the na­tion’s 40-plus-year de­cli­ne in ma­rria­ge ra­tes con­ti­nues, sig­nif­ying a cul­tu­ral shift that hurts our chil­dren, cul­tu­re and eco­nomy. Wor­se, it’s not what Ca­na­dians want.

In 2001, ma­rried couples ma­de up

84 per cent of all couples. Today, that num­ber is 78.7 per cent. As ma­rria­ge has de­cli­ned, more couples choo­se to li­ve to­get­her out­si­de of ma­rria­ge.

“Shac­king up,” as it was on­ce known, des­cri­bed the li­ving arran­ge­ments of

16.4 per cent of all couples in 2001.

That has ri­sen to 21 per cent of all couples today.

Family sta­bi­lity and ma­rria­ge go to­get­her li­ke a hor­se and ca­rria­ge. So­cio­lo­gists wri­ting in the Jour­nal of Ma­rria­ge and Family no­te that “a lack of ma­rria­ge and the growth in coha­bi­ta­tion, along­si­de the gro­wing trend of sin­gle pa­ren­ting, por­tends growth in family ins­ta­bi­lity.”

In World Family Map 2017, so­cio­lo­gists Brad Wil­cox and Lau­rie DeRo­se re­port that Ame­ri­can chil­dren in coha­bi­ting fa­mi­lies are 15 to 31 per cent more li­kely to ex­pe­rien­ce a pa­ren­tal split by age 12 than chil­dren gro­wing up in fa­mi­lies with ma­rried pa­rents (de­pen­ding on their mot­her’s edu­ca­tion level). The re­sul­ting ins­ta­bi­lity may mean chil­dren ha­ve to mo­ve fre­quently or ad­just to a pa­rent’s new part­ner li­ving in the ho­me. Stick-hand­ling pa­rents’ squab­bles can be a ti­me-con­su­ming reality for the chil­dren of di­vor­ce.

Gro­wing up in an in­tact ma­rried ho­me in­crea­ses the li­ke­lihood of chil­dren get­ting good gra­des and gra­dua­ting from high school and co­lle­ge, even when ac­coun­ting for so­cio-eco­no­mic fac­tors. Ha­ving ma­rried pa­rents is al­so co­rre­la­ted with a lo­wer li­ke­lihood of chil­dren par­ti­ci­pa­ting in risky beha­viours, li­ke drug abu­se or early se­xual initia­tion. Hap­pily, many great kids from non-ma­rried pa­rent ho­mes be­co­me suc­cess­ful adults. But this doesn’t chan­ge the fact that adult re­la­tions­hip de­ci­sions af­fect chil­dren.

Many will coun­ter that ma­rria­ge isn’t all that sta­ble. Don’t half of them end in di­vor­ce? Not qui­te. The most re­cent da­ta on di­vor­ce, from 2008, sug­gests the ra­te is clo­ser to 38 per cent.

Ma­rria­ge isn’t per­fect, it’s just a sa­fer family form in which to rai­se chil­dren and we know that healthy ma­rria­ges ha­ve mea­su­ra­ble, po­si­ti­ve out­co­mes for adults. Nu­me­rous stu­dies in­di­ca­te that peo­ple in high-qua­lity ma­rria­ges tend to be at lo­wer risk of suf­fe­ring a heart at­tack and ha­ve bet­ter odds of sur­vi­ving one. The hap­pily ma­rried are al­so more li­kely to re­co­ver from ill­ness, in­clu­ding can­cer, and lead healt­hier li­ves.

This doesn’t mean ma­rria­ge is a pa­na­cea for so­cial pro­blems. Ho­we­ver, sta­ble ma­rria­ges are a pu­blic good. When ma­rria­ges dis­sol­ve, the­re are emo­tio­nal and fi­nan­cial im­pli­ca­tions for family mem­bers that can re­ver­be­ra­te th­rough the wi­der com­mu­nity. One es­ti­ma­te by Andrea Mro­zek and re­sear­cher Re­bec­ca Wal­berg sug­gests that the pu­blic cost of family break­down in Ca­na­da is about $7 bi­llion an­nually. That’s the equi­va­lent of hos­ting the Van­cou­ver Win­ter Olym­pics every year.

The di­mi­nis­hing ma­rria­ge num­bers con­firm a well-known cul­tu­ral shift. When couples wed 40 years ago, they we­re ty­pi­cally star­ting out in li­fe to­get­her. Ma­rria­ge ser­ved as a foun­da­tion on which ot­her ex­pe­rien­ces, such as ca­reers, ho­meow­ners­hip and chil­dren res­ted. Today, ma­rria­ge is one op­tion among many. On ave­ra­ge, we marry la­ter in li­fe, of­ten af­ter li­ving to­get­her. More of us ha­ve chil­dren or pur­cha­se a ho­me be­fo­re tying the knot. The same trends are evi­dent across the glo­be.

Even so, last year a Na­nos Re­search poll found that 78 per cent of Ca­na­dians view ma­rria­ge as a po­si­ti­ve as­pect of family li­fe. We just don’t seem to know how to get the­re.

Gi­ven that a healthy ma­rria­ge con­tri­bu­tes to family sta­bi­lity, the­re’s a need for re­co­very of the ins­ti­tu­tion. Ma­rria­ge has de­cli­ned in wes­tern coun­tries for many eco­no­mic and so­cial reasons, ma­king it dif­fi­cult to re­ver­se the trends.

We know ma­rria­ge tends to th­ri­ve in com­mu­ni­ties whe­re couples’ re­la­tions­hips ser­ve as mo­dels for the next ge­ne­ra­tion, and re­cei­ve sup­port from ot­her ins­ti­tu­tions and net­works. The more healthy ma­rria­ges young Ca­na­dians see and ex­pe­rien­ce, the bet­ter.

And it would help to ma­ke a de­li­be­ra­te and clear dis­tin­ction bet­ween ma­rria­ge and coha­bi­ta­tion in po­pu­lar cul­tu­re - may­be even in tax po­licy.

We should pay at­ten­tion to family sta­bi­lity. We need to re­cog­ni­ze the con­tri­bu­tion that a healthy ma­rria­ge cul­tu­re ma­kes to buil­ding th­ri­ving so­cie­ties, so that we can work to re­ver­se so­me of our fai­ling family trends. -TROYMEDIA

Andrea Mro­zek is pro­gram di­rec­tor of Car­dus Family. Pe­ter Jon Mit­chell is se­nior re­sear­cher at Car­dus.


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