“Isn’t testing a marriage, like we test a username, simply-well, logical” journalist Jessica Bennett asks in a recent article for Time entitled “The Beta Marriage: How Millennials Approach ‘I Do.’”
For Bennett, the answer to this question seems obvious: If the institution of marriage is in trouble in our country, let’s take a sledge hammer to it, smash it to pieces, and see what survives. She discusses the results of a new survey of 1,000 people done “in conjunction” with a new TV drama, Satisfaction. The survey found that:
- Half of the millennials surveyed would support a two-year trial marriage after which no divorce would be needed to dissolve the marriage.
- One-third of millennials are open to a “real estate” approach in which marriage licenses may be granted for a variety of fixed terms. After these terms expire, the marriage would have to be renegotiated in order to continue.
- Twenty-one percent of millennials favor the “Presidential” method, whereby marriages initially last for four years, with the option to renew for a second term. And after eight years, everybody can choose a new partner.
- Forty percent advocate abolishing “till death do us part” type marriages.
“We are a generation that is overwhelmed by options” Bennett says. “In everything from college…to who we should chose for a partner. This is a generation who has not had to make as many long-term commitments as previous generations, so the idea of not having an out feels a little stringent.” Since divorce has been around for awhile, she suggests a rethinking of the rules.
But really? America has the easiest divorce laws in the Western world and the highest divorce rate. And the impact of divorce on children (and on many women and men) is devastating so let’s make it much easier!
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 64% of children grow up in married two-parent households, a slide from 85% since the enactment of no-fault divorce. More often it is divorce and out of wedlock childbirth.
The children of these unions are not millennials who feel that marriage is a limiting institution and that their parents should be able to shift gears every few years and play “Let’s change our partner.”
These children are victims of a culture that encourages easy-exit marriage with easy divorce laws and out-of-wedlock childbirths. These kids grow up without the stability, love, guidance and financial security usually provided in two-parent married households.
These children are victims in every sense of the word. And the studies’ author and Bennett who describes the study, seem to forget that children exist at all. Their conclusions suggest that the feelings of the millennials are the only ones involved.
But what about the children of divorce who live an average life that is five years shorter than the national average? What about the children of divorce who are much more likely to drop out of school, to be low achievers, to use and abuse drugs and alcohol more often, to have more teen pregnancies?
Or is it simply too inconvenient, too complicated for the delicate millennials to think about the consequences of divorce on children? Poor things. They grew up with so many choices and don’t want to be locked into more than two years with the same partner.
If we care at all about the next generation of children, then we should be doing everything possible to make divorce more difficult, not easier. Marriage is not a new iPhone or IPad or device for friending or texting or tweeting. It is an institution which evolved over thousands of years in order to protect children by making sure they are raised by two parents both of whom have an enormous stake in successfully nourishing and raising their children.
If a couple does not have children, then perhaps we can play by the current rules—no fault divorce. It is easy, cheap, and doesn’t need to be made easier.
Marriage takes work. Are we to believe that today’s young people are not capable of working to maintain their relationships? Or that they must be given new and easier options to get out of their commitments?
I don’t think so. I think we are insulting an entire generation when we say that they need more options, including the availability of short-term marriages.
Our goal must be to strengthen the institution of marriage in order to give more children a chance to be raised in stable two-parent married families.
Unless we work to strengthen marriage, however, our children will continue to suffer, our cities to deteriorate, and our schools to fail.