Morality makes life infinitely simpler, by selecting certain behaviors and valuing them highly. We call these behaviors “good.” We understand, but rarely state, that they are implicated in the shaping of successful lives, in producing happiness, self-command, good citizenship, and a degree of freedom.
When morality is confused with an arbitrary or even tyrannical system of rules, to be accepted or rejected at pleasure, the consequences may enter the realm of good and evil, but more often become a tipping-point in an individual’s life, from success to failure. For every moral monster, I would suggest, there are 10,000 human wretches who suffer from their own mistakes.
That is the case with marriage and motherhood. For reasons that have never been satisfactorily explained, the institution of marriage suffered a catastrophic decline after the 1960’s. First divorce, then unwed motherhood, became socially acceptable behaviors. Whether this was good or evil I will leave for others to determine: but for many women it has meant poverty, dependency, and heart-breaking misery. This WSJ piece by Kay Hymowitz compares the mating and marriage expectations of middle-class women with those of the poor, and the consequences that follow:
This is a vain, though commonplace, attempt to soften the ghetto’s destructive decoupling of marriage and childrearing. In opinion polls, the authors observe, higher-income women share their poorer sisters’ attitudes toward premarital sex, cohabitation and even out-of-wedlock childbearing. But the truth is that the vast majority of middle-class women–and the same can be said for poor immigrants–arrive at maternity wards with husbands in tow. They know that an orderly domestic life is the stage set for upwardly mobile children and the cue to America to keep its promise.
Morality, properly understood, isn’t about passing judgments on one’s neighbor, but about achieving a good life. The decline of marriage, properly understood, is a decline in morality, and hence a reduction in the number of Americans with access to the good life.