Dalrock’s latest post challenged the findings of the authors of this paper, “Divorce Rates Have Halved for New Wives. Why?” and took some umbrage at the suggestion that men doing better is a plausible reason for women to not choose divorce. He quotes the conclusion of The Marriage Foundation paper:
Because it is almost entirely the reduction of wife-granted divorces concentrated into the early years of marriage that accounts for the overall 22% reduction in divorce rates since the 1993 peak, any explanation for this phenomenon has to account for wives being less prone to divorce. By far the most plausible explanation relates to wives perception of husbands.
In other words, husbands are doing better during the early years of marriage.
Which he rejects:
The paper he cites to back up his assertion that men’s commitment matters in marriage and women’s doesn’t is Commitment: Functions, Formation, and the Securing of Romantic Attachment. Strangely I can’t find such a claim being made in that paper.
In the comments he goes on to say:
The reason which immediately came to my mind is 1) Women are marrying later in the UK (as I referenced here). 2) Older women divorce at much lower rates than younger women. The basic thesis is the same though, that perceived remarriage opportunities are lower. EPL isn’t about a one time family detonation, but about trading up.
[W]hat I found so noteworthy about the part I quoted was after he shared some astounding statistics showing that new wives were becoming far better at honoring their commitments in the UK, this was then immediately reprocessed as proof that new husbands must have suddenly had greater commitment to their marriages. This kind of doublethink is truly impressive. There isn’t even a hint of cognitive dissonance.
I think it’s possible that there’s no hint of cognitive dissonance because there’s no doublethink at play. From “Benson 2012 Marriage…”:
This gender-specific finding strongly suggests men are doing better in the early years of marriage.
It seems that what they mean by “doing better” is “getting their way” in the relationship; whether that is a choice to stay or to leave. To wit:
The rate at which wives have been granted divorce has fallen 27% during the first ten years of marriage compared to a rise of 1% for husbands. The most striking reduction is a 51% fall in the rate at which divorces are granted to wives during the first three years.
First off: Basically everyone who wants a divorce gets one. So, presumably, everyone who wants to stay married doesn’t file because they already have what they want, and everyone who does file gets the divorce they want, but the other spouse who did not file does not. Those spouses on the receiving end of divorce are not “doing better”, but “doing badly”, i.e., not “getting their way”.
Second, husbands are choosing to leave their wives in about the same percentages as they have for the last several decades; even going up 1%. (The husbands who file maintain “getting their way”, and the husbands who are not filed upon also “get their way”.) Yet wives are choosing to leave their husbands at slightly less than half the rate they they previously were. This suggests that wives are happy to continue in marriage as their path of “getting their way”; whereas before twice as many wives were filing to “get their way”. Since neither the laws and demographics have not changed, and since everyone who wants a divorce can have one: The authors of Benson 2012 Marriage Foundation have concluded that since women are happier with their husbands, (and not much else has changed) then some husbands have changed how they go about the marriage. Hence: “Doing better”.
In the early years of a relationship, constraints can be added either by deliberate intent – “deciding” – or by happenstance – “sliding”. But whether deliberate or not, every important relationship transition – such as sleeping together, moving in together, having a baby, getting married – adds an extra constraint, crucially making it marginally harder to leave and easier to stay even if things are not going well. This short term pressure to stay in a less than ideal situation is usually called “inertia” (Stanley et al, 2006) but can also be thought of as “premature entanglement” (Glenn, 2002).
Amongst couples who had been married for five years, men who cohabit before getting engaged (some “sliders”, some “deciders”) tend to have consistently lower levels of dedication compared both to men who get engaged before cohabiting (“deciders” only) and also to women in both categories. The order of events — moving in and getting engaged — thus appears to matter in some way a lot more to men than to women (Rhoades et al, 2009). The researchers concluded that some men were “sliding” into a relationship, getting stuck because of the “inertia” of cohabitation, and thus not fully “deciding” even when they got married. In other words, men’s commitment is specifically dependent on “deciding” whereas women’s commitment is relatively independent of “sliding” or “deciding”.
But, where did Benson 2012 Marriage Foundations get that it was specifically men’s “deciding” for commitment (as opposed to “sliding” into commitment )that was driving this change; instead of women’s sliding or deciding commitment? From “Commitment: Functions, Formation, and the Securing of Romantic Attachment” (by Rhoades et al):
The tendency of individuals to sacrifice, or forego immediate self-interest for the good of the partner or relationship, is strongly dependent on the presence of commitment. Not only does commitment predict the number of sacrifices performed for partners (Van Lange et al., 1997), it also is associated with both the degree to which individuals feel satisfied with sacrificing for their partner’s benefit (Stanley & Markman, 1992) and their willingness to sacrifice (Van Lange et al., 1997; Wieselquist et al., 1999). Whitton, Stanley, and Markman (2007) showed that commitment to the relationship’s future is strongly related to whether or not day-to-day relationship sacrifices are perceived as harmful to the self—especially for men
In other words: Does the man feel he is making sacrifices for a person and relationship he has deliberately chosen and is purposefully building; or is he making sacrifices for a relationship that he has found himself in by external forces; love, pregnancy, fear of being alone, etc.? If it’s the former, then his commitment for the long haul is strengthened. If it is the latter, then that sacrifice is a drain on his commitment; even if if marginally increases short-term inertia to stay in the relationship. Wives who feel this lack of commitment and the resentful sacrifice are more likely to choose divorce as the path to “getting their way”.
This is explained further in this section from “Commitment: Functions, etc.”:
Stanley and colleagues (2004) assessed dedication commitment in a random national (U.S.) sample to compare married respondents who did or did not cohabit premaritally. We found that married men who lived with their wives prior to marriage reported significantly less dedication to their wives than those who did not cohabit before marriage. This finding led to speculation that the well-replicated risks associated with premarital cohabitation may, in part, be due to a subset of couples in which the men were always less committed to their partners but were nevertheless propelled by the greater constraints of cohabitation into marriage. We call this phenomenon inertia, which is the property in physics representing the amount of energy it would take to move an object from its present trajectory or position to another. We suggest that living together, especially when sharing a single address, makes it relatively more difficult than dating without cohabiting for a couple to veer from a path toward a future together, even into marriage (see Stanley, Rhoades et al., 2006).Glenn (2002) referred to a similar risk to mate selection, called premature entanglement, which interferes with the search for a good fit between partners.
Now, we don’t see the number data here because those are tucked away in a boatload of other studies these two papers (“Benson 2012 Marriage etc.” and “Commitment: Functions, etc.”) reference, but if we believe they are reading those tucked-away numbers correctly, then they’ve got a pretty good argument (not definitive, but pretty good) for how male leadership itself at the various phases of relationship transition (engagement, cohabitation, pregnancy, etc.–and all the sacrifices that go with them) is its own incentive for the wife to stay; to choose continuing the marriage as her path to “getting her way”. They’re seeing that this “leadership incentive” the husband provides can outweigh those other incentives that push women to choose “getting their way” via divorce; which persist even now just as forcefully as they have over the last several decades as neither laws nor demographics have changed remarkably enough to account for a 27% drop in wife-granted divorce.
Hence: “Men are doing better”; most specifically at “deciding commitment” leading to continued marriage. I find that extraordinarily encouraging and hopeful because there are ghosts of Christian marriage haunting those studies. Yet…they are scaring the hell out of men who nurse resentment for their sacrifices; who are self-righteous towards their spouses; who did not and do not choose to decide commitment to their wives, but rather slid into it by guilt, lust, happenstance, or whatever.
The thing is: They can change that today. And while it is no guarantee that wives will follow the freely-given sacrificial commitment into happy marriage, God will still be glorified, and such men will still be doing better.
I have every confidence that Dalrock is not one of those resentful men. My suspicion is that he (like all of us about many different topics) has over-estimated human preferences for material incentives; specifically of women, and even including “trading up husbands” among those materialist incentives. It’s a classic error of the free-market economist. Good company; all things considered.