Myth of the Vanishing Family
By R. S. Karunaratne
A few years ago, a large number of professors attended a conference held in Dallas, Texas to discuss an important issue. They wanted to find out what was happening to the American family. There was a belief in society that nuclear or conjugal family is no longer in existence. The participants wanted to verify whether it is true or just another popular myth.
One professor argued that if the nuclear family has vanished from society, there cannot be any future for it. Another speaker insisted that the future belongs to what he called ‘group marriages’ in which three or more people can get married and live together. Some participants did not favour group marriages because marriage is a personal bond.
Another speaker said the future belonged to the marriage by contract. Unlike other contracts, it should be renewed every three years. A professor noted for his novel ideas suggested that a husband-wife commitment should be directed towards pleasure, not to children. A journalist covering the event had a close look at the gravediggers who were ready to bury the family unceremoniously.
He also noted that some of the participating professors were parents and grandparents. Being gentlemen, they listened to the strange suggestions, sometimes nodding their assent. Meanwhile a professor who had come from a university in Minnesota was overjoyed to hear that his family was dead. We really do not know the outcome of the conference, but we often hear the refrain that family is dead.
The Dallas conference was attended by sociologists, psychologists and marriage counsellors who always try to keep the marriage intact. Most of the participants had taught their students how to maintain a family. They have also written articles and books for married couples and others waiting to tie the knot. There was no need to have marriage counsellors if they were against the concept of marriage.
I asked an anti-family activist who is a confirmed bachelor whether there is evidence to support his views. He looked down on me and referred me to the divorce statistics. When you look at the divorce rate here and elsewhere, you get the feeling that people are stampeding away from marriage. However, I have often heard the popular saying: “Lies, damn lies and statistics.” There are certain issues in life which cannot be resolved resorting to statistics. For instance, we have divorce statistics but we do not have any statistics about happily married couples.
If you have such statistics, you can compare and contrast them before coming to a conclusion. Once penetrated, the forest yields some eye-opening answers to questions involving marriage, divorce and family. It is true that some marriages last 30 days while others last 30 years.
Sometimes you divorce your partner and remarry the same person. Many such examples can be given from Sri Lanka itself. The tragedy is that such instances have not been documented or statistically made available. Therefore, we can safely assume that family has not vanished from our midst.
It is only a myth. The United States Bureau of Census has confirmed that at least four out of every five divorced people have got married again. Then the question arises why they had to go for divorce. It has come to light that the divorce had not signalled disenchantment with marriage. They have remarried with the hope of doing better the second time around.
Some people get married to different partners at different times. Bertrand Russell used to say we should change partners because variety is the spice of life. In the United States it has been statistically proved that only two per cent of those who marry will go for divorce only twice, but they would a third time. The percentage of those who remarry a fourth time is very rare. Life is too short to experiment with marriage several times. We often hear that half of all marriages end up in divorce. This may be true if you take into account the marriages and divorce suits in a particular year.
If you make such a general statement, it is like comparing apples with oranges. We have a large number of couples who remain married for more than 30 years or even more. I do not know whether anybody has done a survey to find out what happened to married couples over a long period of time. If you walk into any village, you will come across married couples who had never thought of divorce. They live happily with their children and grandchildren.
The U.S. Bureau of Census says, “Of the married women now in their late 20 or 30s some 25 to 29 per cent may be expected to end their first marriage by divorce. That means 71 to 75 per cent of married women are likely to stay married for life.
So, there is no stampede away from marriage. I happened to read a book titled ‘Marriage is Hell’ most probably written by an anti-family author. The book says marriage is an anachronism and blames it for marital unhappiness and crackups. However, in most cases, it is some outsider who makes your marriage a hell.
If you are on the alert, you can make your marriage a success. Most divorces occur among young married couples. If you marry hastily, you will repent it later in a divorce court. Marriages involving two teenagers are likely to fail due to many reasons.
According to marriage counsellors, this is a disaster area. You might ask why such marriages fail. When you marry young, you are sexually energetic, but sex is not everything in life. Such marriages fail mostly due to economic reasons. When the husband fails to earn enough money to maintain the household, troubles begin to damage the marriage.
Sociologists have found that teenage marriages take place mostly in the lower economic class. This is because poor teenagers have fewer options than middle-class youngsters who can pursue higher studies and earn better salaries. The main reason for teenage divorces is the lack of capital to support the family. When you have no money marital crackups are inevitable. You need a steady source of income during the first ten years of your marriage. Another factor that has come to light is that it is the rich, not the poor, who resort to divorce. Married partners need a standard of education to withstand the storms in life.
Clearly, those who cite divorce statistics to discredit marriage and the family have not done their homework. Many social scientists make pronouncements without investigating the true causes of marital breakups. We have seen many innovations in marriage. We had community and multiple marriages in the 1870s, the free-love and trialmarriages in the 1920s.
Then some people talk about ‘open marriages’ whatever that means. Hitler used the myth of the German ‘master race’ to come to power. The myth of the vanishing family is meant to discourage marriage and family life. However, myths are not realities and they will vanish in the course of time. [email protected]