The Marriage Strike
By Matthew Weeks
For those of you who know me in real life, this will not come as a surprise, but I have no designs on ever getting married. Now, it appears I am not alone in my disposition.
“Why Men Won’t Commit: Exploring Young Men’s Attitudes About Sex, Dating and Marriage,” a study released by researchers Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, concludes that men are, indeed, more apprehensive about getting married than before.
“The median age of first marriage for men has reached 27, the oldest age in our nation’s history,” Mr. Popenoe remarked in the Washington Times. “If this trend of men waiting to marry continues, it is likely to clash with the timing of marriage and childbearing for the many young women who hope to marry and bear children before they begin to face problems associated with declining fertility,” he continued. You know this is a collegiate study when an examination of a trend that is affecting men is used to fret about the state of women.
The study contains several possible explanations for this phenomenon, based on interviews with 60 single men, 25 to 33, who live in four parts of the country. While that level of measurement certainly is not statistically significant enough to reflect any kind of a national trend, responses generally revolved around the possibilities of suffering huge losses if the marriage ends in divorce. (“An ex-wife will take you for all you’ve got” and “men have more to lose financially than women” were common
refrains, the study reports.)
To humor the study’s results for a few minutes, let’s examine whether or not these young men’s concerns are justified. If we accept the old feminist argument that marriage is slavery for women, then it is undeniable that — given the current state of the nation’s family courts — divorce is slavery for men.
Take a hypothetical husband who marries and has two children. There is a 50 percent likelihood that this marriage will end in divorce within eight years, and if it does, the odds are 2-1 it will be the wife who initiates the divorce. It may not matter that the man was a decent husband. The reality of the situation is that few divorces are initiated over abuse or because the man has already abandoned the family. Nor is adultery cited as a factor by divorcing women appreciably more than by divorcing men.
The new trend that has taken hold of the court system is what as known as the “no fault” divorce, in which the filing party needs only to cite their general discontent with the marriage in order to be granted a hearing. Women initiate these unilateral divorces-on-demand 3 times as often as men.
While the courts may grant the former spouses joint legal custody, the odds are nearly 40 to 1 of the wife winning physical custody. Overnight, the husband, accustomed to seeing his kids every day and being an integral part of their lives, will now be lucky if he is allowed to see them even one day out of the week.
Once the couple is divorced, odds are at least even that the wife will interfere with the husband’s visitation rights. Three-quarters of divorced men surveyed say their ex-wives have interfered with their visitation, and 40 percent of mothers studied admitted that they had done so, and that they had generally acted out of spite or in order to punish their exes.
Then, of course, there is the issue of financial losses due to court-imposed payments. In the end (99 times out of 100), the wife will keep most of the couple’s assets and –if they jointly own one — the house. The husband will need to set up a new residence and pay at least a third of his take-home pay to his ex in child support, on top of whatever alimony payments the courts impose upon him. These can run as high as another third of his income. (Add the cost of taxes to that and the man gets to keep exactly 13% of his take-home pay — he’d better pray that’s enough to keep him alive.)
But as bad as all of this is, it would still make our hypothetical man one of the lucky ones. After all, he could be one of those fathers who cannot see his children at all because his ex has made a false accusation of domestic violence, child abuse, or child molestation. Or a father who can only see his own children under supervised visitation or in nightmarish visitation centers where dads are treated like criminals.
He could be one of those fathers whose ex has moved their children hundreds or thousands of miles away, in violation of court orders, which courts often do not enforce. He could be one of those fathers who tears up his life and career again and again in order to follow his children, only to have his ex-wife continually move them.
He could be one of the fathers who has lost his job, seen his income drop, or suffered a disabling injury, only to have child support arrearages and interest pile up to create a mountain of debt which he could never hope to pay off. Or a father who is forced to pay 70 percent or 80 percent of his income in child support because the court has imputed an unrealistic income to him. Or a dad who suffers from one of the child support enforcement system’s endless and difficult to correct errors, or who is jailed because he cannot keep up with his payments. Or a dad who reaches old age impoverished because he lost everything he had in a divorce when he was middle-aged and did not have the time and the opportunity to earn it back. Our imaginary man might consider himself lucky if he knew what his life could have been.
Over five million divorced men in America are currently experiencing the situation I just outlined. Without a doubt, their stories and experiences are heard by unmarried men. Can anyone truly blame the men for having apprehension? They stand to gain little and lose everything they’ve worked for in their entire lives should they “take the plunge”, so to speak.
So ladies, if you have a problem with this, speak to your feminist brethren. This is the legacy which they have left behind. By erasing the stigma of premarital sex and encouraging physical liberation, they have eliminated one of the most powerful incentives in history for men to tie the knot. By advocating government as a surrogate husband in the case of single motherhood, they have eliminated the disincentive for women to file for divorce. And through decades of litigious activism, they have given rise to the bloated and intrusive family court system and stacked it so egregiously against the men of this country that it now appears they are subconsciously engaging in what could be called a “marriage strike”, preferring to play the odds rather than assume a massively disproportionate amount of risk.
As for the men, make no mistake, they are slowly beginning to realize that the power is now in their favor. They have more and more perfectly legitimate reasons for remaining unmarried every day. Given a choice between not marrying one’s lady friend — assuming no risk whatsoever and still having the historical benefits of marriage (sex, companionship, etc.) available to them, or marrying the woman and having a 50-50 chance of their lives being utterly destroyed should the woman so much as be “unhappy” with the marriage, the decision is a no-brainer. What women perceive as a “fear of commitment” is really nothing more than a pragmatic assessment of the odds facing men in the prospect of a marriage.
Therefore, the trends evident in this study are not much of a surprise. I would wager that if the study were conducted nationally, similar results would be produced. Of course, such a study would invariably seek to address the grievances of the dejected single women of the country. My advice to them would be simple: offer to sign a prenuptial agreement that outlines the exact terms of a possible divorce: how assets would be divided, how any alimony and child support would be handled, and other vital elements that may be causing apprehension. And don’t be insulted if your potential mate asks you to sign one, or if he desires terms that will be equitable to him. No matter how strong your love may be for one another, the demand for eligible bachelors willing to commit to marriage is currently exceeding the supply, and if you won’t sign it, odds are that there’s another woman out there who will.
NOTE: Statistics in this article (and, in effect, much of its text) are drawn from Glenn Sacks and Diana Thompson’s Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed of 7/5/2002 entitled: “A Marriage Strike Emerges as Men Decide Not to Risk Loss”