Friday, July 1, 2011

Devaluing Marriage: Part II--Death of Marriage in Scandinavia

In 2004 investigative reporter Stanley Kurtz wrote a series of essays related to marriage in Scandinavia. In summary, his hypothesis, based on available data, was that, where marriage is already in decline—not valued as it had been previously—the additional burden to marriage of “same-sex marriage” is not very noticeable, but marriage as a major factor contributing to civilization is ending nevertheless. Then, where marriage was less devalued and then “same-sex marriage” is imposed, the decay to the institution of marriage and to society is more dramatic.  

The question was whether or not imposing “same-sex marriage” was a cause of decay of marriage, or merely an additional symptom. There was no question about whether it offered any positives to society as strong marriage does; it simply does not. “Same-sex marriage,” rather symbolized the separation of marriage and parenthood. 

In Sweden, where marriage was already radically separated from parenthood, and largely equalized with cohabitation in legal-financial terms, gay marriage was more effect than cause. But in Norway, where the decline of marriage was only partial, gay marriage had a greater role as a facilitator of marital decline than it did in Sweden. In the United States, the effect of gay marriage would be massive (“Deathblow to Marriage,” Feb. 5, 2004, National Review Online). 

Gay marriage began (either outright or by giving benefits equivalent to marriage) in Denmark in 1989, Norway in 1993, and Sweden in 1994. So, as Kurtz writes a decade in, we can see the status of marriage and family a decade into that experiment: 

A majority of children in Sweden and Norway are born out of wedlock. Sixty percent of first-born children in Denmark have unmarried parents…. Same-sex marriage has locked in and reinforced an existing Scandinavian trend toward the separation of marriage and parenthood. The Nordic family pattern—including gay marriage—is spreading across Europe. And by looking closely at it we can answer the key empirical question underlying the gay marriage debate. Will same-sex marriage undermine the institution of marriage? It already has. 

More precisely, it has further undermined the institution. The separation of marriage from parenthood was increasing; gay marriage has widened the separation. Out-of-wedlock birthrates were rising; gay marriage has added to the factors pushing those rates higher. Instead of encouraging a society-wide return to marriage. Scandinavian gay marriage has driven home the message that marriage itself is outdated, and that virtually any family form, including out-of-wedlock parenthood, is acceptable” (Stanley Kurtz, “The End of Marriage in Scandinavia,” Feb. 2, 2004, The Weekly Standard). 

Norway has been helpful to observe, because, unlike Sweden, there are parts of Norway that have retained (until more recently than these articles) a respect for family. By comparing areas, we can see that “the parts of Norway where same-sex unions are most accepted have by far the highest out-of-wedlock birthrates” (Stanley Kurtz, “Dutch Debate,” July 21, 2004, National Review Online).  

Of interest is that, wherever “same-sex marriage” has been imposed, a relatively small percentage of homosexual couples “marry”—possibly because of the implication of fidelity marriage implies. And few remain “married” for long. So the institution of “same-sex marriage” has little benefit for homosexuals, but the outcome for the actual institution of marriage is significantly negative. 

Among the immediate fallout in Scandinavia was a sharp increase (12% higher) divorce rate among heterosexuals. Cohabitation has become so commonplace that even identifying married couples has become a statistical nightmare. Family dissolution is difficult to measure, because so many Scandinavians now rear children without marrying either before or after their birth than divorce rates don’t tell the story. Yet studies in Scandinavia and in the West show that “cohabiting couples with children break up at two to three times the rate of married parents. So rising rates of cohabitation and out-of-wedlock birth stand as proxy for rising rates of family dissolution” (“End of Marriage…”). 

What has been the outcome for children of the dissolution of marriage? Regardless of economic or social status, parental breakup wrought negative consequences for children’s mental health—especially for boys living with divorced mothers. “Children of single parents in Sweden have more than double the rates of mortality, severe morbidity, and injury of children in two parent households” (2003 study by Gunilla Ringbäck Weitoft, et al., cited in "End of Marriage") 

Wherever there is dissolution of marriage, wherever there is out-of-wedlock birth, or single parenting, you see the burden on children for lack of fathers—and sometimes mothers. While some couples do share childrearing duties after breaking up (not always to the benefit of the child), many children are simply abandoned by at least one parent. 

The causes for marriage dissolution, particularly in Sweden, are instructive. Sweden is the most secular country in the world. It also has the highest percentage of public employees. The state’s secular progressives have become the arbiters of morality. The state has become the provider—replacing the family. This allows for birth outside wedlock without the risk of becoming an underclass; it also allows for divorce without significant financial costs—thus encouraging both of these behaviors. Taxes are so high that women must work, making staying home to raise children mostly impossible, and discouraging fertility.  

Worldwide, the furthest along the path to marriage dissolution (measured by out-of-wedlock births) are the Scandinavian countries, with France joining them. But closely behind is the second tier: the Netherlands, Belgium, Great Britain, and Germany. The US and Canada also fit this second tier, recently joined by Switzerland and Ireland. Slightly more resistant have been Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece, mainly because of Catholic traditions. (By measures of low fertility, or devaluing having family with offspring, most of these countries sink below the US.) 

Yesterday, we discussed the three generations during which weakening of marriage leads to cultural weakness and eventual defeat. I don’t know whether these three tiers fit the generations, or whether there’s a little more time. But if Unwin is correct, cultural extermination is likely within fifty years. 

Kathleen Kiernan, a British demographer, uses a four-stage model to gauge a country’s movement toward Sweden’s current situation.

  1. Cohabitation is seen as deviant or avant-garde, while the vast majority of population has children within marriage.
  2. Cohabitation serves as a testing period before marriage, generally before producing offspring.
  3. Cohabitation becomes increasing acceptable, and parenting is no longer associated with marriage. (Norway was mostly here, until recently joining Sweden and Denmark in the fourth phase.)
  4. Marriage and cohabitation become blurred, with most children raised outside of wedlock.
There are no examples of societies returning to an earlier phase. Sweden has recently adopted free-market reforms, since its socialist economic model was unsustainable, but so far there has been no return of marriage, which would automatically alleviate some of the financial burden.  

I’m not fully prepared to say that the total demise of Scandinavia—and much of Europe—is imminent. But as immigrants come in and take over the culture in many of these countries, it does look more plausible. Even without war, it may be that France is less than a generation away from having no native French culture. (At least they have left a sizable heritage in writings and cookbooks.) Britain, our mother culture, is not far behind France. 

Sweden is more homogeneous, which may give it a little extra time. But a few years ago I described Sweden’s condition to my dad, who was born to Swedish immigrants and spent three years there before and after WWII. To him it was a romantic, beautiful culture; he couldn’t hear the deterioration and believe it. Even for us here, it boggles the mind to consider the possibility that marriage will not always exist, if we don’t protect it. 

I would say the US is probably at phase 2, moving to 3. It might be possible to go back, but not by “progressing” down the Scandinavian path. We need to stop subsidizing out-of-wedlock births (and instead encourage marriage or adoption). We need to repeal no-fault divorce experiments that have been failing families for the past several decades. We must repeal where necessary and prevent where we can the imposition of “same-sex marriage,” which insists that marriage and parenthood are unrelated. Only re-instilling value into marriage and family can we recover from the ongoing decay.

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