Rabbi Reuven Bulka

Cultural changes are undermining marriage

  • June 22, 2011

OTTAWA - Cultural changes in recent decades have caused marriage and fertility rates to plummet, according to an American professor.

University of Texas at Austin professor Mark Regnerus told the recent Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) conference that young people are told “there’s no rush,” and that one must “be your own person” before marrying.

As a result, marriage rates have dropped in all age groups, but precipitously in the younger age groups. The percentage of men aged 20-24 who have never married “has just exploded” since 1970 when only 35 per cent of men in that age group had never married. Now almost 89 per cent have not married. The next age group, 25-29, has also jumped from 10.5 per cent never married in 1970 to 62 per cent.

Among men who marry under the age of 24, religion is “most important” to 44.7 per cent  and “very important” to 25.1 per cent, he said. Fidelity and monogamy are also rated highly.

Regnerus noted the ages of 20-29 are years of peak fertility for women.

“We are ignoring peak fertility when we counsel people,” he said. “People don’t even think about their fertility.”

Marriage and parenting are still seen as a package deal, he said, but there is an obvious resistance to peak fertility, which is not taught.

Younger men and women also see marriage and family as interfering with desires to travel. Marriage represents a mortgage, time to earn money, of being parents and being stuck. But Regnerus said this view is erroneous because, when he married, his opportunities and financial resources expanded, opening up the possibilities for travel. Those he described as “marriage naturalists” have much more modest views of marriage. They see it as something one does that makes them an adult, as the imprimatur of adulthood. They don’t fret or overanalyse. Those he describes as “marriage planners” believe a person has to become an adult first before marrying.

Regnerus believes another key factor in declining marriage rates is that the “price” of sex has gone down. In previous generations, men had to show commitment and they had to have more earning power in order to obtain sex, he said.

“When sex does not cost much for men to acquire, men are not going to give much or commit much.”

A similar theme was expressed at the Birthright International conference in early June. Noting that people are having fewer and fewer children and getting married later, a speaker told the conference that Canadian society seems to love children more in the abstract than in the concrete.

“If I love ice cream, I would go for a double scoop,” Rabbi Reuven Bulka told the 400 delegates. “If I love kids, I would go for a bunch.”

But few couples are going that route. The popular author and talk show host said he is often told after a couple has their first child, “that’s it. That’s all the children we’re going to have.”

He said that for some parents, kids are “a trophy.” Along with deferring parenting until after one has obtained a degree or become established in a career is the notion that couples should have children “when we want them.” But if a child comes a little bit early, science has offered a means to prevent it, and abortion is accepted in our society, he said.

Bulka said the problem is cultural. One of the cultural factors is the idea of the pursuit of happiness that is embedded in the American Constitution and has “spilled over into Canada.”

“The happiness we’re looking at is somehow not happening,” he said, noting that studies show at least 20 per cent of the population at any given time has serious levels of depression.

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