Some thoughts on Marriage:

I have been toying with sociological data on marriage shift in the larger society, and here are some trends. The first trend is that college educated people are increasingly more likely than the uneducated to get married, according to a Pew Study. :

Throughout the 20th century, college-educated adults in the United States had been less likely than their less-educated counterparts to be married by
age 30. In 1990, for example, 75% of all 30-yearolds who did not have a college degree were married or had been married, compared with just 69% of those with a college degree.As those numbers attest, marriage rates among adults in their 20s have declined sharply since 1990 for both the college-educated and those without a college degree. But the decline has been much steeper for young adults without a college education. Young adults who do not have a college degree are delaying marriage to such an extent that the median age at first marriage in 2008 was, for the first time ever, the same for the college-educated and those who were not
college-educated: 28. As recently as 2000, there had been a two-year gap, with the typical college-educated adult marrying for the first time at 28 and the typical adult lacking a college degree marrying for the first time at Among the possible explanations for this shift are the declining economic fortunes of young men without a college degree and their increasing tendency to cohabit with a partner rather than marry. From 1990 to 2008, the inflation-adjusted median annual earnings of college-educated men ages 25 to 34 rose by 5% (to $55,000 in 2008 from $52,300 in 1990), while the median annual earnings of those with only a high school diploma declined by 12% (to $32,000 in 2008 from $36,300 in 1990).

But it was moderated by this bit of information:

A major finding from the above analysis is that college appears to deter marriage for men and women from the least advantaged social backgrounds. For least advantaged individuals college attendance lessened men’s and women’s odds of marriage by 38 percent and 22 percent, respectively. For individuals enjoying status in the highest stratum college attendance increased their marriage chances by 31 percent for men and women by 8 percent.

Another important finding is the pattern of increasing marriage homogamy with increasing social advantage and consistent with a mismatch hypothesis, the authors found the more disadvantaged college attendees were less likely to be matched on education with their spouse.

So marriage is increasingly becoming a classed commodity. This leads me to another thought, the way we view the present in light of the immediate (but not very distant) past, and the distant past in light of the immediate past and the present. We think, for example, the nuclear family, which its love marriage and male provider, was an American norm prior to the 1960s, but was unique to the 1950s as a social creation. On in which female property was beginning to be liberalized and liberated from assumed ownership from men, but was predicated on stronger sexual differentiation than was held prior by most people. There are a lot of factors into this, and it is too easy to play reduce it to just one idea (liberalization of divorce, predominance of love marriage, the economic need for nuclear families for increased mobility within the US, etc), but there is some evidence that married people have tended to be less social than single people and less involved in the larger community. There is also evidence, however, that marriage bonds are pretty much the only social networks that are really strong by the time most people reach their 40s.

This is all very modern. I was reading Philip Larkin’s Ardunel Tomb and then doing research on the family of the tomb it describes. The love match Larkin is talking about was a political second marriage, the countess had probably never met the Earl of Ardunal when he was engaged to her, and his first wife had died in child birth. Larkin though makes the assumption that he didn’t love her, and it that was a show but that seems problematic too. There is evidence to the contrary in the posture, rare among married aristocracy, of the tomb.

The problem is that our ideas of love are based off of love marriage, which seems to privilege the dopamine phases of human sexual interaction, which fade off in most people after a few years. However, sexual bonding between humans does lead, in most cultures, to oxytocin bonds, which may be why arranged marriages have such high satisfaction rates (but then again, it may also be because other options just aren’t common). The privileging of our notions of love to the media portraits and romantic notions which are all based on dopamine reactions, and culturally primed ones at that.

What people say about history also seems to apply to human nature, we rhyme with our ancestors as much as merely replicate them. We are objects of and subjects to history, but we also produce it to paraphrase Marx and Hegel.

The idea that human nature is eternal and unchanging privileges the present, but the idea that we are radically and unknowably “other” to the humans to the past is so discontinuous with my experience of the natural world that it leads me to see the “Chomsky” and “Foucault” positions (Chomsky, human beings are innately what they are and Foucault, human beings are completely historical contingent) as both being sort of a false dichotomy. We are social by our “nature,” and thus primed by social cues, but these cue change us. They change mating habits, change environmental reactions, and even can cause stress hormone releases with change specific manifestations of genes. We are different from our ancestors, but in very consistent ways.

So in a way, we see that marriage has always been about the production of “society” which is to say, it is human relations that reproduce human relations: not just in the form of children. So it should be no surprise how much economic changes affect it, and our ideas about love, which in turn, affects economics. One can see the pull and push here.

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About El Mono Liso

Por una civilización de la pobreza.

Posted on May 16, 2012, in Ethics, History, Science, Socialism, Statistics. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Benjamin David Steele

    Nice analysis. Your perspective here is basically the same as what I would write. This post reminds me of some other data I’ve come across. Supposedly, the more education an American has, the more likely they are to be religious. Also, where religious is shrinking the most is among the poor. Considering the connection between religiosity and marriage, I wonder if there is a wide-ranging class analysis that would explain a larger set of data.

  2. That’s an interesting problem, although I saw there was a bell curve to religiosity and education: It tips off on both ends. The extremely educated then to be ill-religious, but then so do the extremely un-educated, but here’s a question I have for that data: religiosity rates do very differently by discipline–for example, those who have graduate degrees in either English or psychology have had rates of atheism and agnosticism than physicists, which just floored me. Add class and social stability into the equation, and things do get quite complex, quite quickly.

  3. Benjamin David Steele

    Yeah, data is always complex, especially when you start digging into the details. You bring in another angle to further complicate the matter, but it is an intriguing complication. It’s hard to imagine how all of that could be disentangled by any single causal explanation. If someone would write a book about it, I’d read that book.

    I’m also reminded of data I’ve briefly seen mentioned. Supposedly, liberal women are less monogamous and liberal men are more monogamous. The explanation offered was that liberalism predisposes for evolutionary novelty… since liberalism predisposes for novelty in general and since, in most societies, men (at least openly) having more than one wife or sexual partner is more common or more acceptable than the equivalent is for women (the premise being that what appears as the present norm of society is the evolutionary norm for our species, a possibly uncertain premise to make). I haven’t looked into this data and so I couldn’t say much about it. Also, I’m sure the possible explanations are numerous.

    Data like this interests me, specifically in terms of what doesn’t fit common sense (i.e., our social expectations). I could imagine an awesome book that would explore all of this data and more. I think such an analysis could say a lot about our society.

    Most people probably wouldn’t be surprised by the most well educated being less religious, but most people would be surprised by the less well educated being less religious. Something similar could be said about marriage and class because there seems to be an assumption in our society (specifically an assumption held among conservatives) that the working class (those people who do real work and who live in the real world) are more likely to be religious and married than other demographics such as the pansy college educated types. Maybe there shouldn’t be any surprise, though. Religious activity and marriage is a bit of a luxury for the economically disadvantaged, some of whom have to work multiple jobs just to get by. Religion and marriage could seem a lot less meaningful when a person is in survival mode.

    This data gets at assumptions that normally go unquestioned. It makes me wonder what it means. What does marriage and religiosity actually signify beyond the typical rhetoric?

  4. “Supposedly, liberal women are less monogamous and liberal men are more monogamous.”

    How would that work exactly? The novelty explanation, frankly, seems post-hoc, but I have hard time figuring out how this would be provable other than self-reporting, and liberal men might been seen as having most social pressure to be dishonest about it.

    “Something similar could be said about marriage and class because there seems to be an assumption in our society (specifically an assumption held among conservatives) that the working class (those people who do real work and who live in the real world) are more likely to be religious and married than other demographics such as the pansy college educated type”

    That was true for a while, according to Pew anyway. It’s just not true anymore. And that shouldn’t really surprise me, marriage in its companionate form, frankly, requires money. One of the statistics I see conservatives bat around about how the married have more money seems to take that as causative, while considering that perhaps those without money find it hard to stay married due to the stress and poorer conditions.

    “What does marriage and religiosity actually signify beyond the typical rhetoric?”

    Social support networks.

  5. Benjamin David Steele

    I didn’t claim that it was the best possible explanation. It was just the explanation that came with the person writing about the data.

    I simply offered it in that regard. I wasn’t arguing for that explanation. I already knew you would argue against that explanation before I even wrote about it. I wasn’t trying to start a debate. The purpose in my pointing it out was that it was an example of the type of thing that doesn’t fit common sense. The explanation was secondary at best. Even that particular example of data minus the explanation wasn’t all that important. I was just pondering how much data doesn’t fit our expectations.

    However, the part about male liberals actually conforms to expectations. In our society, males are judged the least for being non-monogamous. And liberals are the least judgmental about non-monogamous behavior. Male liberals have no obvious reason to lie more than other demographics, but there could be other less obvious reasons.

    Also, the novelty part (in terms of personality instead of evolution) does fit the research done on ‘openness’ that correlates to liberalism. The novelty part in and of itself isn’t surprising or contentious, but putting it in evolutionary terms is not necessary and probably not helpful. Evolutionary explanations can be fun to think about, even though they are mostly speculation. The problem with speculative theories is when they become conflated with the data itself.

    Anyway, all of that is basically irrelevant to the analysis of your post. I brought it up in expanding the framework of discussion, but I actually don’t desire to make a discussion out of it. I was just offering something of general interests. My mind simply looks at all the possibilities, even when or especially when those possibilities lead to much uncertainty.

  6. Benjamin David Steele

    “That was true for a while, according to Pew anyway. It’s just not true anymore. And that shouldn’t really surprise me, marriage in its companionate form, frankly, requires money. One of the statistics I see conservatives bat around about how the married have more money seems to take that as causative, while considering that perhaps those without money find it hard to stay married due to the stress and poorer conditions.”

    I was wondering about that. I suppose it might have been true at some point, but that might have been a fluke of historical circumstances. Earlier last century, the lower classes were becoming increasingly economically advantaged in terms of job opportunities, worker protection, power of unions, pensions, high pay, etc. Maybe there was a time when that demographic embraced religion and marriage because of their sense of prosperity. They weren’t living in survival mode.

    One factor that came to mind is religiosity across all of American history. I’ve come across some books that have looked at the data of religiosity in early America. It turns out that in the 18th century church attendance was extremely low, lower than at any other time in American history, including now. It was only in the 19th century that religion became more popularized. There was also an economic growth during the early 19th century, precisely when religion was also growing. Maybe religiosity always correlates to economic prosperity, at least in the US.

  7. I didn’t say you did claim it, I am just doing what I do to data: parse it. Hence why I am a little more skeptical on some of the social science than you, but not much more I think. I don’t think you are offering as an answer, just positing what the study said.

  8. The data is mixed on that: religiousity has always been linked to poverty in Europe and extreme forms of religiousity are linked to poverty now. But suspect that this too follows a bell curve, and furthermore, church networks enable social support systems to exist and career networking to happen. This leads me the fact: those social support networks are state provided in Europe. Sometimes I wonder if religious conservatism turning into political conservatism isn’t a somehow subconsciously realized survival mechanism for the institution.

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