Over at Public Discourse, David and Amber Lapp have a thought-provoking article about the decline of marriage among working class Americans.
They conducted interviews of young adults in southwestern Ohio and found reasons to be both concerned and hopeful.
Hopeful, because in spite of the “new normal,” most of the young adults who spoke to us do aspire to marriage, or at least to what marriage stands for in their minds—mainly love, fidelity, permanence, and happiness...
But sobering, because even as working class young adults dream of love, commitment, permanence, and family, they inherit a cultural story about love and marriage that frustrates those longings.
Then they put their finger on the nub of the issue. It's not lack of desire for the goods of marriage, it's a bad understanding of what marriage is, "an inadequate philosophy of love and marriage".
It is rare and refreshing to see people engaged in empirical studies acknowledge so forthrightly the priority of philosophy, isn't it?
Which brings us back to the “new normal”: working-class young adults’ reductive understanding of marriage as ultimately about individual happiness—an understanding that includes no essential connection to children—begets an undefined period of trying to find the “right person,” and in many cases, those quasi-experimental relationships beget children. Ironically, the “new normal” may be as much about working-class young adults’ aspirations to marriage—or at least a version of marriage—as it is about a rejection of marriage. For it is not out of disdain for marriage that working-class young adults delay marriage and begin families, but out of reverence for it as something that ought not be broken.
If we really want to help restore a strong culture of marriage, we should be busy teaching the truth about marriage, and connecting it with all the good and legitimate aspirations for happiness that are out there.
...we should underscore that marriage exists to safeguard what working-class young adults hold dear: love and family. We should also underscore that, whether in the ordinary or extraordinary forms, heroism—and along with it sacrifice and fierce commitment—is needed for marital love to be sturdy enough to become a touchstone for their children and their children’s children.
In other words, along with G. K. Chesterton we should propose that “It is the nature of love to bind itself,” and that marriage merely pays “the average man the compliment of taking him at his word.” We should “respect him as the old Church respected him” —namely, to “write his oath upon the heavens, as the record of his highest moment.”