Marriage. A cause for war or peace, a furtherance of power, an icon for the act of proliferation, a guarantee of lineage and wealth, something nice if it is affordable, a device of psychological need, a hobby – perhaps an act of genuine love.

Marriage is much in the news recently with an abundant set of examples that suggest marriage has its own niche aside from church versus state bickering. The mariner read an extensive book review of The Marriage Book, Centuries of Advice, Inspiration and Cautionary Tales from Adam and Eve to Zoloft, edited by Grunwald and Adler, published by Simon and Shuster. The Marriage Book is a deep collection of marriage history, photographs, charming and entertaining examples of marriage by famous couples in history, and some serious thoughts that marriage as an institution is becoming class centric.

There is no need for the mariner to recite the details of several marriages in current events, he will just name the keyword; the reader will remember. There is a set of Monarchy weddings: Andrew, Charles, William (Great Britain), Madeline (Sweden), Philippe, Laurent, Armedeo (Belgium), Frederik (Denmark), Sophia (Greece)……

There is a set of Hollywood marriages. No, there is a superset of Hollywood marriages, second marriages, third marriages, etc. There are even remarriages.

There are notable marriages in families like Clinton, Kennedy, Nixon, Eisenhower and too many iconic wealthy marriages to note.

There are religious marriages. Roman Catholic, Fundamentalist Protestant, Baptist, generic Protestant, Jewish, Muslim Sunni, Muslim Shiite, Greek Orthodox, Latter Day Saints, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, and Scientology.

There are nationality weddings. Polish, Israeli, Greek, Italian, Icelandic, Sudanese, American courthouse…..

There are shotgun marriages, good idea when drunk marriages, underwater marriages, skydiving marriages, “The baby is two years old; should we consider marriage” marriages…..

There are minority marriages: interfaith, interracial, homosexual, international and underage.

Finally, there are non-marriages. Statistically, the number is far larger for African American women and senior citizens. Next in line are young people under the age of 27.

Increasingly, there is no marriage. This is the point of discussion. In the United States, the median age at which women marry is now 27, the highest it’s been in a century. The same trend exists in Europe. That’s according to a new report by Bowling Green State University’s Julissa Cruz, published by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research. Not only are marriages occurring later, marriages are occurring less frequently. Note the table below.


Year Marriages Population Rate per 1,000 total population
2012 2,131,000 313,914,040 6.8
2011 2,118,000 311,591,917 6.8
2010 2,096,000 308,745,538 6.8
2009 2,080,000 306,771,529 6.8
2008 2,157,000 304,093,966 7.1
2007 2,197,000 301,231,207 7.3
20061 2,193,000 294,077,247 7.5
2005 2,249,000 295,516,599 7.6
2004 2,279,000 292,805,298 7.8
2003 2,245,000 290,107,933 7.7
2002 2,290,000 287,625,193 8.0
2001 2,326,000 284,968,955 8.2
2000 2,315,000 281,421,906 8.2

Despite an increase of 32.5 million in population, there were 184 thousand fewer marriages. Generally speaking, upper classes are marrying late, while poorer women are deciding that they’re better off single.

Consider the following:

The decrease in the divorce rate reflects later marriages more than anything else. However, the later average age of marriage rising to the late twenties and thirties is more controversial. Economists note that the increase in the age of marriage and falling divorce statistics are only a small part of the phenomenon. Economists say these statistics reflect the increasing tendency of the well-off to marry similarly well-off partners; those marriages are more likely to last at any age.

Class-based behavior is the dominant factor driving the statistics. On the one hand, male and female college graduates will marry and stay married. On the other hand, marriage is disappearing from the poorest classes. Also increasingly, women across the board are marrying men who aren’t the natural fathers of their children.

The later age of marriage for college graduates is caused by a new middle class behavior: Women are investing in their own education and earning potential, which extends the age of marriage and childbearing. For men, it takes a two income family to live a middle class life. Further, men must pursue not only college and post graduate education, career success often depends on relocation, job changes and personal investment in qualifications beyond college. Once established, men, and the women who wait to marry them, are ready for a stable family life. As the economy becomes more difficult for any working adult, early marriage is inconvenient until as late as the thirties. Commonly, children aren’t born until the early forties.

Changes in the last quarter century indicate that marriage is increasingly becoming a marker of class — the delayed marriages of the middle class produce steadily lower divorce rates, very few non-marital births, and substantial resources to invest in a falling number of children. For the rest of the country, the statistics may simply confirm a greater move away from marriage altogether.

The conflict between church and state in Kentucky provides volatile news and skirmishes among advocacy groups but the larger scope of marriage as a social phenomenon is not about church and state – it is about economics and the future job market for all young adults.

[Some contribution to the above analysis is provided by June Carbone, the Edward A. Smith/Missouri Chair of Law, the Constitution and Society at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.]


Just a side note on the series about achieving the reader’s liberal art education online: CNN often is criticized for chasing time-filling non-news instead of working harder to produce genuine news that affects everyone more directly. However, amid the Tower of Babel produced by pundits, there is one journalist who produces top-drawer information, explains more deeply the what, how and why of events, and offers opinions for those who think a bit more than others. His name is Fareed Zakaria. The mariner admits he is a fan and counts Fareed among his favorite authors. Nevertheless, Zakaria is college and graduate level in his presentations. A self taught liberal art major will have an excellent sense of current events that will lead to mysteries for the search engine. See:

Watch his Sunday morning show, Global Public Square, at 10AM Eastern on CNN. Definitely worth copying to the DVR for more convenient viewing. Of importance to those tracking Presidential candidates, Fareed had an opening opinion piece on the Sunday, September 13 broadcast. If you missed it, check his blog.

Sharing Fareed’s investigative style is Frontline on PBS. This series covers larger, substantive issues in many subject areas. Many topics relate to the wellbeing of each of us in an often conflicted world. See: Frontline.

Finally, California passed legislation that makes physician-assisted suicide legal. California joins Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, and Vermont. Montana has legislation that protects physicians from liability when providing assistance at the patient’s request. The mariner suspects age has a lot to do with one’s opinion about euthanasia in ways that may surprise us. Replies are welcome on the mariner’s website.

Ancient Mariner


2 thoughts on “Marriage

    • Wikipedia has a lot of information about the history of civil marriage. To the question asked, why the state cares about marriage, it is a matter of keeping records of marriages for the purpose of census, unified record keeping, and state interests similar to taxes, ownership of property and estate, rights of inheritance, and citizenship – just to name a few. All these areas must be reconciled legally in state courts; hence the state interest in state keeping track of marital records.
      The duty of record keeping was given to the state when religious institutions could no longer keep track of the complete picture. It used to be that a couple need only testify that they accept marriage – without any documentation or verification. Today, especially in European nations, a civil marriage must be performed before a religious ceremony can take place. It is interesting that the United States has turned topsy-turvy on the issue by denouncing state marriage in deference to religious ceremony.

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