MARRIAGE AND ECONOMICS (Douglas Knight)

Marriage is the result of high morale and it generates high morale, which encourages the creation of social capital. Marriage and parenthood matures us and orients us towards the public world in which our children are going to live. A husband and wife who depend on one other, materially as well as emotionally, have reason to make their marriage work. Where there is enough incentive to stick with our partners and children, because we realise the economic and emotional consequences of not doing so, we grow as persons and come through our difficulties. Marriage must also be sustained against resistance. For a couple of centuries the market has been seeping into the domestic household so its functions have dwindled to a fraction of what they were and a married household is now seldom an explicitly economic unity. When we evacuate marriage of its economic functions, husband and wife have nothing to bring each other, and it is no longer thought to matter whether these covenants succeed or fail.

We are offered a more urgent love and more instant gratification than the other members of our family or neighbourhood can provide. The members of our family compete with the entertainment industries for our love. The moment we believe that we are not loved or not satisfied by those who love us, we become consumers and the things that we are prepared to work for, the house and car, become substitute children, parents, partners and friends. But the entertainment industries cannot sustain this gratification over the long term for they cannot love.

For a half century we have increasingly deferred marriage into our thirties. Those who marry late have fewer children. Those with fewer children discover that sticking with the decision to give themselves to this one man or woman, year after year, is difficult. Our society does not give them strong enough reasons why they should persist. The family gives you motives to leave the household every morning and to meet other persons in the marketplace in order to gather the material and social resources that your family needs. Those who never start a family and those who after marriage break up become single again have no occasion to leave behind what has become an extended adolescence and to take responsibility. As the proportion of marriages drops, a whole society becomes a set of de-motivated individuals. When marriages break up there is an immediate economic effect that reaches beyond the family itself. The arrangement of two parents in one household is a massively economic efficient way to bring up a child. When this arrangement is ended, we are left with a significantly less efficient way to bring up that child. More of the care of that child will be financially mediated, as additional care has to be paid for. If the market enters the household far enough to break up the family, the state steps in.

The society that does not hear the Christian proposal that we are simultaneously covenanted and singular beings will not concede that marriage is distinct any other form of relationship. The society that does not like the idea of specific permanent interpersonal relationships minimises the distinction between those who are dedicated to the creation of the next generation, and those who are not. Let us indulge the consequent upside-down logic for a moment: we need children in order to have economic prosperity. But for the last half-century our ‘economic’ rationality and corresponding social policy have been undermining the production of children and the population that will be our future economic agents. We cannot promote economic growth by encouraging women away from their household and ‘back to work’. We cannot reduce the family economy in an attempt to grow the outer formal economy. What more serious work is there than producing the next generation? But this work has increasingly be left undone, with economic results that we see.

Douglas KNIGHT

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