At last, I am part of a minority group.
New census figures analyzed by The New York Times reveal that married couples are a minority in America. As a once and long-married white male, I never expected to be a minority. There are no protest songs for people in my group. “We Shall Overcome” is taken and “married man’s rights” lacks the resonance of “out and proud.”
Part of the devolution of marriage to minority status is the fault of the media. Look at who they feature on magazine covers, tabloid TV and awards shows: the cohabiting without benefit of clergy, same-sex “couples,” fornicating couples who flaunt their “lifestyles” and dare anyone to tell them to stop. The STDs that come from these “lifestyles” are not the fault of those who engage in the sort of behavior that puts them at risk. Rather, Republicans are to blame for spending too little on “cures” so the promiscuous can continue practicing their “lifestyles” without fear of disease. TV commercials for drugs that treat genital herpes now run close to erectile dysfunction ads without irony.
This decline into minority status for people like me is also partly the fault of people like me. My generation has been obsessed with making money and acquiring things in place of investing necessary time on marriage and children. The message the kids get is that if marriage is mostly about accumulating wealth and acquiring stuff, they can do that without getting married.
Family trees are beginning to resemble kudzu and if people are having fewer children (The United States birth rate is at an all-time low, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and we are barely having enough children to replace those who die), this has profound implications for domestic and international policies. For example, Hispanic and Muslim couples have more children than others in America. And one-third of all new births in the United States are to unmarried women.
Another reason marriage is now a minority practice is the loss of social stigma. When I was growing up, “society” approved of certain behavior in hopes of encouraging more of it and disapproved of other behavior, expecting to get less of it. While some of that disapproval discriminated against racial minorities and women, social stigma generally was a good thing. It kept people like me from engaging in behavior that would not have been beneficial. I not only cared what my parents thought of me, I also cared about my reputation. Do many people care about such things today? Not when celebrities, politicians, lobbyists and boorish sports figures with bad reputations earn more money than those with good reputations. When was the last time you saw or read a story about happily married couples in the mainstream media?
The clergy have not always been helpful to marriage. Many — not all, but many — regularly ignore biblical instructions about marriage, divorce and remarriage because their congregations are populated with members who have divorced and they reason that their money in the collection plate spends just as well as that of married couples. Some people prefer to hear about the sins of others — or no sins at all — than about their own. The “fear of God” long ago was replaced in too many churches with the portrayal of God as a warm and fuzzy uncle who understands why you do the things you do and doesn’t care all that much as long as you are happy and “fulfilled.”
The Times article gives us two other reasons why marriage is suffering. Andrew A. Beveridge, a demographer at Queens College of the City University of New York, says of the decline in marriage among those 25 to 34: “It’s partially fueled by women in the work force; they don’t necessarily have to marry to be economically secure. You used to get married to have sex. Now one of the major reasons to get married is to have children and the attractiveness of having children has declined for many people because of the cost.”
Life is all about me, the defining characteristic of this generation.
We’ve come a long way from “Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage” to Kanye West’s “Gold Digger.” Look up the lyrics. Most family newspapers wouldn’t print them.
As a new minority group member, I think I’ll start preparing my demands. The trouble is, to whom do I submit them?