Sticking it out in marriage is a good thing

NationalPost.com – Sticking it out in marriage is a good thing
Posted: November 19, 2009.   Barbara Kay

A just-released study from the Vanier Institute of the Family < http://www.vifamily.ca/library/cft/divorce_09.pdf > by York University professor Anne-Marie Ambert, Divorce: Facts, Causes and Consequences, vindicates assumptions many conservatives hold instinctively, and may provoke some discomfort in “progressives.”

To begin with some good news: Divorce rates are not as high as we thought. Divorce rates have been coming down since the 1990s and since 1997 have plateaued. In fact, first marriages in Canada have a 67% chance of lasting a lifetime.

According to Prof. Ambert, divorce rates peaked in 1987, which she says is the result of the progressive tendency toward no-fault divorce which began in 1968. Divorce slowly lost its stigma and the numbers rose as the reasons for divorce became more and more trivial.

Why did the numbers start going down? One reason, which the study notes, is the tendency for people to marry later. But I would also tie both the divorce peak and its diminution to the rise and decline of militant feminism’s influence. Seventy percent of divorces are initiated by women. Feminism of the man-dismissive type was a strong influence in the ‘70s and ‘80s. In the 90s, however, third-wave feminism relegated the man-haters to the fringes of the movement, and marriage regained respectability as an institution. I predict the numbers will go further down when Canada finally institutes equal parenting as the default custodial policy, as it has in jurisdictions where that is presently the case.

Prof. Ambert finds that there are two kinds of divorce: those resulting from an unhappy marriage, and those resulting from “a weak commitment to marriage.” She found that “some divorces are avoidable and unnecessary” and that “a sizable proportion of marriages that end in divorce were actually quite ‘salvageable,’ even happy, and that many of these ex-spouses are no better off after.”

Why do salvageable marriages end in divorce? Prof. Ambert cites, amongst other reasons: the de-sacralization of marriage, a consequence of religion’s demise, and the rise of secularism; the lack of stigma to divorce and the blame-free ease with which it can be accomplished; and the rise of the ideology of gratification of individual desires. These and other factors have lowered people’s humility and tolerance for compromise.

Cohabitation does not confer the sense of commitment that marriage does — no surprise here for traditionalists. And serial cohabitation is a greater risk factor for divorce later. Moreover, children of cohabitational relationships are at vastly greater risk of experiencing parental breakup than children of married parents.

This report will prove a tremendous boon for the equal-parenting movement. At present, joint custody — with each parent having 40% time with the children — occurs in fewer than 10% of divorce custody orders (although that figure is rising). As sociology professor and custody expert Edwark Kruk has noted, 40% time with a parent is the minimum time necessary for mutual bonding. But only 10% of children live with their fathers, a percentage which has not changed much over the years in spite of the changed nomenclature to “joint legal custody,” which sounds equal but isn’t.

The consequences, Prof. Ambert notes, are rather dire, for “research is unanimous to the effect that children do far better cognitively and behaviourally when their father remains an active parent.”

Divorce and remarriage don’t always produce happiness, except for those who had been in high-stress, bad marriages before. And there are “successful” divorces.

But, Prof. Ambert concludes, “For society as a whole, the dissolution of average to good marriages … is a costly proposition in terms of consequent problems for children.”

Those problems, as I have often noted in my harangues on the need for fathers in children’s lives, include an increased risk of behavioural difficulties, school dropout, criminal activity, future intimacy issues, unemployment, lost contact with families – and of course poverty.

This report will go far in dispelling the ideology-driven myth that children of divorce or growing up in single-parent households are no worse off than if they were  living with married, biological parents.

So the bottom line is that for children, married is better. If not married, then equal parenting is best. Divorce does not always bring happiness. Marriage is a sign of commitment in a way that cohabitation is not. If you stick with a marriage long enough, you find that it’s really not as bad as you thought.

Not a single one of these findings will come as news to conservatives.

Sometimes you just have to say “I told you so.” I told you so.

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