Monday, February 21, 2011

Solutions that don't scale: The Decline of Marriage in the West

Several of my favorite bloggers have been writing lately about the unravelling of the institution of marriage in the US.

I really do have a lot of sympathy for men younger than myself contemplating whether to seek a marriage partner (I'm pushing 40 these days with a wife and two children so far). They are quite correct in their complaints that the institution has been distorted such that it is, rationally speaking, a very bad deal for men in a distressingly large fraction of cases. The conservative then typically replies something to the effect that 'Not all women are like that'. I am NOT a conservative. It's probably far more accurate to say that I am a reactionary, and perhaps even a counter-revolutionary. But let's give the conservatives their due. It is true that Not all women are like that (NAWALT is the popular acronym in such circles). Unfortunately a large fraction, probably a majority are, because, as several of my favorite bloggers love to point out---Incentives Matter. What's worse, women by and large are wired such that they become unhappier when they perceive themselves to have the upper hand in a relationship. This isn't a new observation. A careful study of the Book of Genesis will tell you this. The problem is that the future belongs to those who show up for it----childlessness is metadeath. Put another way, God may or may not hate homosexuals, but Darwin most assuredly hates those without offspring.

So what the young man looking for a suitable wife needs are some recommendations for separating the sheep from the goats, or whatever metaphor he prefers. This solution DOES NOT SCALE. The reasons why should become clear very shortly.

1. Get a wife who is hardcore religious. The rational incentives working to slant the relationship (and, in particular, its dissolution and the rules governing same) are pretty strong---there is a strong legal and cultural headwind--so you need God on your side in a big way. You want a woman who's genuinely religious and not merely socially or culturally so. My recommendation is to get one that actually tithes. That's rare enough (average charitable contributions in the US are on the order of 2%) to be a high-information costly signal of piety. It even has Scriptural support (where your treasure is, your heart will be there also), if that means anything to you. If she takes that difficult aspect of her faith seriously enough to obey, she'll probably take the whole honor, respect, and obey part reasonably seriously also.
2. Make sure she lives within her means. Key indicators are very little debt (and none on depreciating assets) and a strong credit rating. This typically means two things: She's less materialistic than average, probably due to lower saturation with bad cultural messages and she's conscientious about money. Coupled with the tithing in 1) and you're decidedly unlikely to have significant financial issues in marriage---a key contributor to divorce. BTW, you CAN and many do have serious financial problems in ordinary circumstances even when both partners work and make more than 100k each.
3. Make sure she has a very short sexual history. Ideally nobody but you. A well known country music singer sings about a young man's first experience with an older woman
"And I have rarely held another when I haven't seen her face" (Garth Brooks)
Human beings tend to bond with those they have sex with---it's the nature of the beast--and that is significantly more intense for women than for men. Our friends in the blogosphere have ample evidence of the escalating probability of divorce as the length of sexual history increases if you don't choose to believe me.
4. You should know about how attractive the opposite sex considers you by now. Aim for your counterpart. If you're 80th percentile attractive to women, it's reasonable for you to aim for a woman in that same general area. It's probably also wise for you to get a woman 3-6 years younger than you or thereabouts.
5. If you're a guy, and at least moderately religious, Eharmony is actually a pretty good deal. Their touchy-feely survey heavy approach with a somewhat opaque matching algorithm seems to appeal to women pretty strongly. This is to say, you'll likely be issued more matches who are at least vaguely plausible mates than a similarly situated woman would. This is opposite the usual trends online. Yes, the surveys, ads, and such probably grate on your nerves. But that's the price you'll pay for a favorable gender ratio.
6. When seeking a church---look for one that is close to 50-50 in gender balance. Large numbers of single women with children or married women where the husband is never there is a red flag. You really don't want a church that systemically undermines your prospective position as the head of your household. The beauty though is that very little investigation is needed to determine if a given church is properly orthodox in that respect. Men will go where they're wanted and stay where they're well treated. If you see a church with nearly 50% men in attendance, it's probably a good place for you to be. The only exception category I've seen are churches with lots of widows but an otherwise even gender balance. Women tend to live a fair bit longer than men, and are often married younger than their husbands. This isn't their church's fault.

It's pretty obvious now why this isn't scaleable, isn't it? Probably less than 10% of all of the women in the US are good marriage risks. The good news for you though is that generally you don't have to pay a significant sexual/marriage market value premium to attract and woo a woman from this subset of the population. Since my blog is a fairly botique operation, it's unlikely that this post will change that appreciably.


Hail said...

Jehu, there is some good stuff here, but I am a little surprised you did not mention...

Finding a foreign bride a possible "solution". That is one of the big ones advocated by certain quarters. Women from non-Western cultural backgrounds, many seem to think, render the problems you mention moot.

Since you didn't mention it, I presume you oppose it. Is this so? Can you say a few words about why?

Jehu said...

I don't necessarily oppose it, but I've found that differing cultural expectations between husband and wife are a major source of marital problems. For some men---e.g., a Chinese-American friend of mine from high school who married a girl his family set him up with in China, the probabilities involved are pretty good. There's also the factor that when you marry a woman, you also generally marry her family. This takes the cultural expectations problem and at least squares it.

That said, back when I was in college working on my graduate degree, a US Army Major who is a friend of mine suggested that I shop for a wife in Kiev (he was a foreign area officer and did a lot of work in the former Soviet bloc). I didn't take his advice, but I don't think it was bad advice. The biggest issue there for me would be that the quality of my stereotypes in estimating the characteristics of any prospective mates is greatly reduced when she's from a cultural area that I'm not intimately familiar with.

Hail said...

You hint at what I view as the central problem with marrying a "foreigner", certainly in the way it usually manifests itself among modern Westerners:

It usually winds up being someone who is NOT of kindred ethnocultural stock to oneself. This is reckless, and if it becomes normalized (which it increasingly is today) will tend to wash away ethnocultural distinctions. Longterm: A pathetic undifferentiated global race of Homo Tiger-Woods-ensis.

This is the racialist argument against foreign-brides.

The scenario of your US-born(?) Chinese friend, who took a bride from China, is more interesting, because it removes the above from consideration.

Assuming the choice is between a.) marrying a local girl of kindred ethnic stock and b.) marrying a foreigner of kindred ethnic stock, it moves toward being a question of cultures and so on, or of politics in some cases (as in royal marriages).

In the distant past, many or most human tribal cultures called for marrying "foreigners" as a matter of course, though to them this meant those from tribes a few days' or weeks' journey away at most. They say this has to do with avoiding inbreeding, but I have always suspected there is something more to it than that, but I can't quite put my finger on it.

Jehu said...

Of course I'm racialist Hail. I'm also culturist. But I'm not so adamantine on those values to suggest that someone marry a disfunctional member of our culture when they have sufficient sexual market position to obtain someone not disfunctional from another. Unlike many of the conservatives, I'm not going to adopt a pose of calling for martyrs. By my estimate somewhere around 10% of the women in the US are worthy risks for marriage. That makes the strategy I present useful, but, as I point out, not scaleable. Scaling will have to come over a long period as homeschool families produce daughters who are worth marrying.