Editorial Comment

Marriage Under Attack

 

The recent release of 2011 census information regarding Canadians’ marital status appears to show some disturbing trends. “Mom, Dad and the kids” is now becoming “Mom and the kids”, “Dad and the kids”, “Mom, Mom’s boyfriend and the kids”, all the way to “Dad, Pops and the kids”. Indeed gay marriage has ballooned in this country despite Roseanne Barr’s take on homosexual marriage, (“Haven’t they suffered enough?) as has common-law relationships. In fact, the model of a married mother and father and their shared offspring is in such decline, it accounts for only 31.9% of the population, down from 37.4% in a mere ten years. To put this in context, the percentage of people in the traditional family model in 1961 was over 90%. This represents a huge trend in social sciences as these sorts of changes usually come much more gradually.
It’s not the new reality of gay marriage that is affecting these downward spiraling traditional family numbers as some might think. One would surmise, gay people in the past weren’t entering into the classic relationship model just because gay marriage wasn’t yet available, so their marital activity is not relevant to the problem. The real factors affecting the decline of traditional marriages are three-fold; the divorce rate, single-parent families and common-law arrangements. All three of these forms of living have been trending upward at the expense of the classic family demographic.
Financially, it is no contest between the competing lifestyles. Two-parent families have probability on their side as far as being the safer bet for wealth creation and retirement planning. This includes the average single person’s prospects given the challenges and costs of living alone. Splitting expenses, such as in common-law situations, helps to a degree but the arrangement isn’t as secure as a marital contract is designed to be.
Divorce is financially destructive for a number of reasons. Even in amicable splits where lawyers are only nominally involved, the cost of maintaining two households where one sufficed before, often puts both sides of a marital conflict into poverty. Unfortunately the price of connubial break up isn’t solely economic. Stories abound in the media and, no doubt, among our own contemporaries of the cost of divorce; monetarily, emotionally and socially. Those costs are also borne by the children of these failed relationships and often money that should be for school or clothes or even food, is being eaten up by divorce lawyers. 
Sad to say, however, the very model that served as a solid foundation for our society is crumbling like year-old wedding cake. “the norm” no longer is the norm.
The reason this trend should be a concern to everyone across the marital spectrum, including people who are single or one of the 64,575 same-sex-couple families that were counted, is that the traditional model of the nuclear family represents, statistically, the securest, healthiest and, financially sustainable relationship model in our society.  It is, therefore, a danger to our society when the instance of this model has become almost a rarity. Yet, it can’t be argued that the more of them we have, the better off the society is, always making sure, of course of the acceptance of other lifestyles. 
This is not to say there aren’t wonderfully supportive, loving, stable families in every configuration, but the model with the highest rate of success is the traditional family. Obviously, we are all made differently and in this complex world, it is nice for there to be many long-term relationship models to choose from to fit your needs, your belief systems and your sexual orientation. It is great to celebrate the diversity that is offered and mostly accepted here in Canada, but it is important to understand this diversity comes with a price. The fact is that the primary function of a family is for optimal child-rearing. There are, of course, sterling examples of wonderful families in every statistical group and that is laudable. The reality remains, however, that when the parent’s relationship or relationships impact on the children negatively, it’s not just their problem, but everyone’s problem.  Kids from single-parent homes are statistically more likely to exhibit stress disorders, have more problems in school, and engage in risky behaviors. Single parent families, as a result of marital breakdown, require far more social services than the two-parent model.
Part of the problem is that marriage, as an institution, has been on the decline for decades, long before gay marriage was ever an issue. Hoping for a lifelong partner as our parents, or perhaps grandparents enjoyed, seems almost quaint and unrealistic anymore. People even talk about the concept of someone being, “a good prospect for a first spouse”.
There are a number of indices that illustrate how badly marriage has been taking a beating lately. People are marrying later, having kids later and cohabitating a lot more than ever before. Many young people are wary of entering into permanent relationships having been the product of failed marriages and felt the pain of being collateral damage. It becomes a vicious cycle of lack of trust that damages future relationships, continuing the cycle.
There’s obviously not a lot society can do to make marriage more attractive or that the government may attempt to encourage the institution. People entering into marriage for tax purposes, aren’t exactly what are needed.  It is important, however, to realize the trend is happening so we can plan for the ramifications. This is because as long as we, as a society, devalue marriage, we must understand there is a corresponding social cost.
 



 
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