November 22 2013
Giddy Americans have been going to Europe and discovering us provincial in comparison to European sophisticates from time immemorial. The latest person to do this is Katie Roiphe, author and New York University journalism professor.
In a Slate article headlined “The Dutch Don’t Care about Marriage,” Ms. Roiphe urges us benighted Americans to lighten up on marriage, too. We should be more like the Dutch, Ms. Roiphe proposes.
Roiphe was in Amsterdam on a book promotion tour for her new book In Praise of Messy Lives for “probably three hours” when she “began seeing that having children and not being married was not a big deal there. In fact, marriage was not a big deal there.” Roiphe likes the Dutch attitude, which is that marriage is “an option, a pleasant possibility” but that not marrying is a failure.
For the record, I am not married and I do not regard this as a failure. Thank you very much, Ms. Roiphe. But I regard Ms. Roiphe’s attitude towards Dutch marriage—or non-marriage, as the case may be—as destructive. The crux of her argument is this:
If we suddenly stopped being in thrall to the rigid, old-fashioned ideal of marriage, we could stop worrying about low marriage rates and high divorce rates. We could stop worrying about single mothers and the decline of marriage as an institution, especially in the lower middle class, and the wasteful industry of wedding planning.
We could instead focus on actual relationships, on intimacies, on substance over form; we could focus on love in its myriad, unpredictable varieties. We could see life here in the amber waves of grain not for what it should be, but for what it is.
I am assuming that the “we” in “we could focus instead on actual relationships, etc.” is our society.
Roiphe has it backwards. While we might hope that all marriages offer personal fulfillment, that is not a concern of society.
Society is concerned with children and the next generation. Couples are quite rightly want "actual relationships" to be warm and happy. But society relies upon married couples creating the next generation. It may not be owning the bliss 24/7 but it is necessary and in the long run fulfilling. Roiphe is proposing a society based on dereliction of duty whenever it conflicts with personal gratification.
It is just a fact--children suffer when they are raised in single-family households. The old-fashioned word for the living arrangements of some of Dutch Roiphe so admires in cohabitation. Rebecca Hagelin, who tipped me to the Roiphe piece, notes that cohabitation is not all it's cracked up to be:
Cohabitation, in contrast, is unstable and uncommitted by design. A recent Huffington Post article highlights research showing that “over 50 percent of couples who cohabitate before marriage are broken up within five years,” and “over 75 percent of children born to couples who are not married no longer live with both parents by the age of fifteen.”
Married couples are not only more likely to do well financially, physically, and emotionally, but also in the work place. “Of the twenty-eight women who have served as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, twenty-six were married, one was divorced, and one had never married.” claims Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandburg.
I don’t know about the glorious Dutch society, but in the U.S. children who are raised in single-parent households are more prone to crime. They are also less safe than other children. Don’t you know, the minute you see a headline about a child who has been abused or murdered, chances are good it is the mother’s boyfriend who did it?
Roiphe is a member of the Manhattan elite, and she can afford, if she so desires, to embrace sophisticated arrangements (though many elites are thinking better of non-marital parenting).
Many Americans—children especially—aren’t so lucky.