Douthat on Marriage, Self-Interest and Happiness


Ross Douthat in his New York Times blog on the ongoing conversation about family (and marital) breakdown sparked by Charles Murray's new book "Coming Apart":

Matt Yglesias has an interesting intervention in the debate over Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart.” In nutshell, he suggests that the decline of marriage in the American working class doesn’t necessarily reflect a social or an economic crisis.

...the world Yglesias is describing is a world where the short-term rational self-interest of both sexes — the understandable female desire to have children without taking on the burden of husbands who are often basically children themselves, and the understandable male desire not to take a steady but low-paying job when they can work part-time, goof off on the XBox, and still find willing sexual partners — conspires to keep some of the crucial ingredients of long-term happiness out of reach for a larger and larger share of the population.

So yes, it’s a good thing that many working-class women can make enough money to support themselves and raise a child without a husband, rather than being forced into destitution instead. But it isn’t “condescending” to these mothers (as Kate Roiphe implausibly suggests) to note that raising a child is personally and psychologically stressful like almost nothing else in life, that raising a child alone or semi-alone compounds the stress, and that many if not most single mothers would probably be happier and more secure, both in the work lives and their home lives, if the males in their social circles seemed reliable enough to marry.

Likewise the men: The fact that being a slacker and a layabout in your 20s and 30s is easier, more fun and more economically rational than ever before doesn’t change the reality that men who don’t make the effort to make themselves marriageable are missing out on an institution that’s generally good for their health and well-being in the long run.