Friday, September 13, 2013

Living in a marriage culture

Culture is to us how water is to fish - we are surrounded by it, but we often forget it's there. Once in a while though, it hits you like a riptide.

Consider these ads on teen pregnancy that currently can be seen in the New York Subway system:

What's interesting about these is how the word "marriage" is conjoined with the concept of permanence and stability, when the reality can be quite different.

In the first ad, marriage is positioned as a necessary step, along with education and employment, for avoiding poverty. Now, statistics may bear this out, but it's correlation, not causation. Education is (mostly) necessary to get a high-income job, and income is necessary to avoid poverty. But marriage, in and of itself, doesn't contribute income - unless you get spousal support in a divorce settlement. But the advice to get married before having children as a way to avoid poverty is full of assumptions. Consider these alternatives:

  • "... get a job and don't have kids, you will avoid poverty"
  • "... get a job and establish your career before having kids, you will avoid poverty"
  • "... get a job and build a network of loving adults to support you, you will avoid poverty"
  • "... get a job and win the lottery, you will avoid poverty."
All of those alternatives are just as true, yet marriage is the only solution offered. Even if you have children out of wedlock (a great word, by the way) you can get child support once paternity is proven - marriage is not a requirement.

The second ad is even more direct: "90% of Teen Parents Don't Marry Each Other." Any one of these alternative wordings would be more relevant to the actual impact on a teen's situation:
  • Don't remain in a loving relationship with each other
  • Don't raise their children together 
  • Don't both financially support their children
The assumption is that if you're married, all of those other things will automatically fall in line, yet only the last one, because of child support laws, has any real truth to it.

I don't want people to think that I'm anti-marriage, but it would be nice if people weren't force-fed the idea that marriage should be a primary goal in life and the only safe way to have children without impoverishing themselves. Marriage, like many things, is great when it works, but lousy when it doesn't. That's probably why people go into it thinking it's going to last forever, because if it doesn't they will usually wish they'd never done it in the first place.

Bottom line: Marriage is a major legal change of identity status that should be weighed on its merits, not because our culture and society expects it. If, after giving careful thought to ALL the alternatives, that choice is right for you - then go for it. Just don't teach your kids that it's the only choice for them.

Post your thoughts in the comments - I'd love to hear what you think.


  1. Agreed! I saw these ads in the subway recently and instantly rebelled against the ideas. And teen parents CAN and DO go on to be successful on occasions--when they get good support otherwise. I support family planning in all its forms but I think NYC is goin' the wrong way on these ads.

  2. The ads seem to be targeting teens who have babies, but I suspect that they are also psychologically damaging anyone who might have come from that home environment as well, starting at reading age. Kids understand (and internalize) messages much better than we realize; are they going to see an ad like that and realize the stigma that they are facing in the larger society? And agreed about the false advertising of "Marriage" being a fictional ideal. I much prefer taglines that focus on the relationship, "Anyone can be a father, it takes someone special to be a Dad", etc.