Sunday, March 02, 2008

Hannah Betts: Gamophobes in the UK

Today's Guardian has a report from Hannah Betts on evidence that marriage is avoided in the UK.

Rates of marriage in Britain - 283,730 in 2005 - are at their lowest since 1896. Given the ebb and flow of population, this is the most paltry scoring since records began almost 150 years ago. Divorce statistics may have fallen (there being fewer candidates), yet, still, 40 per cent of first marriages and 70 per cent of second shots end in divorce.

According to this year's British Social Attitudes (BSA) Survey, published in January, two-thirds of people see little difference between marriage and cohabitation (a mere one-fifth taking issue). Even regarding children, where more traditional views tend to apply, only one in four people believes that married couples make better parents. Meanwhile, over half declare weddings to be more about celebration than lifelong commitment, with two-thirds endorsing the truism that divorce can be 'a positive step towards a new life'. As Professor Simon Duncan, co-author of the marriage chapter, decreed: 'The heterosexual married couple is no longer central as a social norm.'

Here's the author's perspective:
Hailing from multicultural Birmingham, I did not attend a traditional Christian wedding until my mid-twenties. Words cannot express my head-spinning, Carrie-style horror at the revelation that my friend, a lawyer, was being walked down the aisle by one man to be handed over to another, a (rather less distinguished) lawyer whom she promised to obey, the whole thing rounded off by a series of male speeches while she remained silent in her faux virgin's white. Ten years on, another friend, the breadwinner in her relationship, was instructed by the officiating cleric to submit to her husband in all matters, to thunderous masculine applause.

Dr Jane Lewis, Professor of Social Policy at the London School of Economics, argues that these days marriage involves no small degree of risk for women. 'At the beginning of the 20th century marriage offered protection of a sort. If the marriage worked, it was probably the best way of coping economically. Today, the costs of marriage in terms of childbearing are front-loaded for women. What if one marries, gives up work while the children are young, sacrificing pension contributions, earnings, promotion prospects - and then the husband leaves? Marriage has become a risk,' says Lewis. 'The more economic independence one has, the more one can protect against that risk.'

Some women see marriage as a sacrifice of self. Yet, as the conclusion notes, a detractor writes the article!

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