According to the UK Marriage Foundation, male-female marriage rates are at their lowest on record, and the situation is not about to improve. Just 57 percent of girls and 55 percent of boys currently aged between 13 and 18 said they planned to marry later in life. Furthermore, 42 percent of marriages in England and Wales now end in divorce.
However, Telegraph columnist Celia Walden thinks that ditching the idea of marriage might be the biggest mistake that “Generation Z” makes. When “we are at our least altruistic,” she says, “sacrifice, compromise and selflessness are more likely to save our secular souls than any amount of yoga and green juices.”
What’s more, says Walden, the mutual responsibilities of married couples, financial and otherwise, prevents them from “flaking” as they might do if alone, thus “benefiting our all-important mental health to a greater degree than any therapist or truck load of Prozac ever could.”
She is right to note the benefits of marriage, which are not very well advertised. Indeed, if teenagers relied on the entertainment industry for advice on the subject, they would think that marriage is merely a prequel to divorce and even murder. They should be warned that the decline of marriage will have dire effects not just on personal happiness but on public affairs.
Divorce rates are falling in the UK, but non-marital partnerships are more fragile, even though there are no official figures. We know that the children of cohabiting couples are more likely to see their parents split up, and the number of children in state (including foster) care has mushroomed; even if many are quietly lost to the system, they will eventually turn up in the crime figures and even more tragically help to raise the suicide rate.
We have been relying on immigrants from nations that value marriage more than we do, but sadly they are more likely to follow our negative example. The welfare state, intended as a last resort to help families over temporary rough patches caused by illness or unemployment, is now the first resort in many cases – a safety net to catch those bailing out from failed relationships, along with their offspring. What was meant to help families has helped to break the family, and in a further irony, married couples contribute the lion’s share of tax money needed to sustain the increasingly unsustainable.
This being the case, it might seem that Generation Z is right – that a nation composed of individuals who aspire to remain unattached is the most sensible solution to the decline of marriage; but a nation that fears commitment and cannot keep a vow will merely produce children who are even more afraid to commit and even more unreliable. The short-term profits to the housing and homeware industries from couples breaking up must be offset against the demands on state funds needed to look after broken families.
The individualistic approach may increase the profits of internet dating websites and fulfil the utopian dreams of left-wing feminists who have always maintained that marriage enslaves women. But increasingly, women will find themselves the unpaid servants of mankind in serial uncommitted relationships that make having a family even less likely, and will rely on the welfare state safety net rather than their own familial support network.
Society will be broken, because it is the married couple that is the bedrock of society. And, just as people living in earthquake zones truly appreciate the dangers of the bedrock shifting, only those who acknowledge the dangers of the present moral earthquake can really appreciate the benefits of marriage, and promote them to Gen Z. If our governing classes continue to ignore them, they may well be the last generation to enjoy those benefits and pass them on to their own children.
Ann Farmer lives in the UK. She is the author of By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control, and the Abortion Campaign (CUAP, 2008); The Language of Life: Christians Facing the Abortion Challenge (St Pauls, 1995), and Prophets & Priests: the Hidden Face of the Birth Control Movement (St Austin Press, 2002).