Singles and Votes

Important article by at The Weekly Standard by Jonathan V. Last:

Today, the numbers are more striking: 23.8 percent of men, and 19 percent of women, between the ages of 35 and 44 have never been married. Tick back a cohort to the people between 20 and 34—the prime-childbearing years—and the numbers are even more startling: 67 percent of men and 57 percent of women in that group have never been married. When you total it all up, over half of the voting-age population in America—and 40 percent of the people who actually showed up to vote this time around—are single….

And as for politics, the Democratic party clearly believes that single Americans will support policies that grow the government leviathan while rolling back the institutions that have long shaped civil society. The Obama campaign targeted these voters by offering them Planned Parenthood and Julia.

That the Republican party hasn’t figured out how to court singles may partly be a function of failing to notice their rapid growth. But before the GOP starts working on schemes to pander to singletons, it’s worth considering an alternative path.

Rather than entering a bidding war with the Democratic party for the votes of Julias, perhaps the GOP should try to convince them to get married, instead. At the individual level, there’s nothing wrong with forgoing marriage. But at scale, it is a dangerous proposition for a society. That’s because marriage, as an institution, is helpful to all involved. Survey after survey has shown that married people are happier, wealthier, and healthier than their single counterparts. All of the research suggests that having married parents dramatically improves the well-being of children, both in their youth and later as adults.

As Robert George put it after the election, limited government “cannot be maintained where the marriage culture collapses and families fail to form or easily dissolve. Where these things happen, the health, education, and welfare functions of the family will have to be undertaken by someone, or some institution, and that will sooner or later be the government.” Marriage is what makes the entire Western project—liberalism, the dignity of the human person, the free market, and the limited, democratic state—possible. George continues, “The two greatest institutions ever devised for lifting people out of poverty and enabling them to live in dignity are the market economy and the institution of marriage. These institutions will, in the end, stand or fall together.”

Instead of trying to bribe single America into voting Republican, Republicans might do better by making the argument—to all Americans—that marriage is a pillar of both freedom and liberalism. That it is an arrangement which ought to be celebrated, nurtured, and defended because its health is integral to the success of our grand national experiment. And that Julia and her boyfriend ought to go ahead and tie the knot.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://citygatestheology.org Sam

    From a Christian perspective, it does not matter how they vote. But all of this shows that as a Christians we are failing at marriages. Divorce is no more a sin that is looked down upon or one that will bring excommunication upon you.

  • http://thebridge-cu.com Ron S

    I certainly believe in marriage as a gift from God, and I also believe in singleness as a gift from God as apparently did Jesus and his early follower Paul. Personally, I have been delightfully blessed in being married for almost 50 years so I know a lot more about marriage than I do singleness from personal experience. However, I don’t think the writer Last is dealing with what I see when I speak with my single friends. Some would like to marry if they could meet a person they trusted to treat them even a little bit like Jesus would approve. Some say the families they grew up in convinced them that marriage was a prison and that often one of their parents stayed in it because of blackmail by the other partner. Some say they just haven’t seen enough joyful marriages to make them wish to take the chance. In short, I would say that the situation is similar to the abortion question – when we followers of Jesus start showing enough concern for the lives that are born and the marriages that already exist, we will have a better chance of being heard. I don’t claim to be a Republican or a Democrat and find what both parties do and do not do quite frustrating. But Last is wrong about most single people I know. Those who voted for President Obama were not bought by rhetoric or give aways since most of them are doing quite well vocationally and financially. They supported President Obama because they thought he was a better and more caring person than Gov. Romney, and they believe that the Republican party really doesn’t care to help people who need help. Almost all of them will tell you that they don’t see anything happening yet to change their minds. Most of them don’t trust the Democratic party much and don’t trust the Republican Party at all when it comes to caring and helping.

  • Joe Canner

    “…the Democratic party clearly believes that single Americans will support policies that grow the government leviathan while rolling back the institutions that have long shaped civil society. The Obama campaign targeted these voters by offering them Planned Parenthood and Julia.”

    This is a very cynical and unsubstantiated claim. Where is the evidence that singles preferentially want to grow government? That singles only vote Democrat because of things like Planned Parenthood and Julia?

    There are also plenty of statistical fallacies here as well. For example, single voters tend to be younger and more ethnically diverse than married voters; maybe age and race are driving these numbers, not marital status. Also, the author starts out talking about never-married singles, but later talks about all of the damage done due to marriages breaking up. No proof is offered to support the idea that people who delay marriage require additional government services. Nor is any evidence offered to suggest that the number of people who live their whole lives without marrying is increasing.

    Finally, it is worth noting that the percentage of unmarried Americans has only been increasing since 1960. Prior to 1960 that percentage had been declining since 1890, at which point it was *higher* than it is now. How did society survive back then?

  • PLTK

    I think the numbers for the 20-34 year old group definitely needs to be broken down more. I was almost 27 and my husband 30 when we were married. As a parent I hope when my kids are 20 year olds they are still unmarried and would love to see them wait until at least 25 or longer.

    I believe you would find a huge difference in these percentages if you broke them down, let’s say, to 20-28 and 29-34. After all, in the U.S., marriage at a young age (under 25) was a rather recent anomaly of the post WWII era, not the long time cultural norm that some seem to it was.

  • http://annsphillips.wordpress.com Ann Phillips

    Since age 18, I spent 17 years single and 20 married, so I think I can see both sides here. May I point out that the churches and some other organizations have been promoting marriage for some time without making much headway. I do not think promoting marriage is something a political party should be involved in, though I have no problem if they promote things that would support marriage. Take a look at various social media and you will find all sorts of ads for match up services, so I seriously doubt that the singles are disinterested in marriage. But I suspect, being a mom of an 18 year old, that their skills at forming interpersonal relationships are not as far along as earlier generations, due to a lack of practice with actual face time. If this is true, it stands to reason that they will tend to marry at an older age, if at all, depending on whether they take time to work on their social skills or simply give up.

  • Joshua Wooden

    However true it may be that there are comparative benefits of marriage, not only to individuals, but to society at large, the solution suggested above of encouraging young people to marry in order bring them to more conservative values organically – that’s just ridiculous. Without ACTUALLY addressing the reasons young people are not getting married, without ACTUALLY addressing the reasons so many are staying single through their 20′s and 30′s, it is simply wishful thinking to believe that, if they were only married, then they would espouse conservative values.

    The church must address this problem as well, INSOFAR as the singleness that marks popular culture is by no means driven by a Christian outlook, and views of marriage and family are largely negative (at least, negative enough to dissuade so many from marrying) in the same popular culture that makes singleness preferable. However, we must do it on our own terms, not to “save” a culture or try to shape it along the lines of our own party values.

  • AHH

    It is hard for me to look past the O’Reilly-esque pompous-jerk tone of this piece to get to the substance.

    I think from a Christian perspective it is very hard to make the case that singleness per se is inferior to marriage (or the reverse). What is a problem in society (and in the church) includes:
    - People having sex and babies outside of wedlock
    - Divorce
    As Joshua W. suggests, it is in the underlying problems where Christians should be a voice (and an example) for improvement and healing, both within the church and in society as a whole. And of course we should be agents of wholeness in those areas because it is a part of carrying out God’s mission, not because it might benefit some partisan political agenda.

  • Steve Sherwood

    #3 Joe speaks my mind. This essay irked me on all kinds of levels. That said, I DO think people being in monogamous, sustained, stable marriage relationships benefits them, children and the communities they live in. To be the Devil’s advocate here (and, like the essay, to reduce complex issues to simplistic responses), wouldn’t it be great if there was a large group of single folks clamoring to enter into just those kinds of relationships? Taking away issues of fidelity to the teachings of scripture (which obviously we can’t as Christians), wouldn’t the exact arguments of his 4th and 5th paragraphs read as resounding reasons for supporting Gay marriage?

  • http://existingbetween.wordpress.com/ Joy F

    As a single Christian who married “older” (late twenties, which in Christian circles was too old) I was tired of being infantilized by the church. Introduced to just about anyone who darkened the door and claimed to be a Christian. Made to feel like my life hadn’t started. Talked down to. Told I was a part of the “failure of marriage.” But some friends and I saw things very differently.

    I am now in my mid-thirties, married and expecting our first child. I have no regrets. I have a good, solid marriage that we built over several years. We weren’t promiscuous – we were careful. And this is what they so often miss…….even now I get asked if I wouldn’t have wanted to have started a family earlier – the answer is “NO!”

    Some of us, the older singles, a waiting because we have seen the messes Christian marriages in the church are and want better than that.

    Some of us wait because we see how men in the church treat women and would rather not have a man than be treated like that.

    Some of us wait because we believe we are supposed to do other things – like be financially responsible, contribute to society, and get higher education and know it will be harder with a family, so we do it while we are in the best position to do the best job.

    Some of us take Paul at his word that it is better for “some not to be married.”

    Most of us value marriage highly and believe the younger rush to be partnered up before you are mature and responsible devalues marriage as a whole and makes it out to be a game or competition rather than something sacred.

    Not all of us are sleeping with everyone we date, many are not and we are very tired of being told we have no control over our bodies: many of us would like to say publicly to our pastors, “well, maybe you are all animals with no self control, but don’t assume we are too.” Stop calling us whores. You have no idea who we are.

    Last of all, we would like to say; “why when your marriages suck, when your homes are falling apart, when you are irresponsible with money, when you have made bead choices with education, are exasperating parents who mistreat their children – why do you think you value marriage more or are somehow a better Christian than we are? Why should we listen to you or follow you?”

    So we don’t. We quietly do things our way, and ignore the convention altogether. When we get married, we have good marriages. If we still believe we are better off.

  • LM

    I’m sorry, but I take a HUGE offense to this piece for a couple of reasons.
    1. My parents got divorced when I was 17 after 25 years together. After being told my whole life that divorce was one of the worst sins you could ever commit, it made my faith in my parents’ judgment evaporate. The experience wrecked me, and still hurts a lot. I don’t feel like I have a family anymore. Living through that makes me very wary to trust anything about marriage. And most of my generation has had similar experiences.
    2. Do you really think it’s just that easy to get married? It’s hard enough to just find someone you are even slightly interested in to go on a date with. Then there’s developing trust and love that will last, not just flighty attraction, because we don’t want to end up as unhappy divorcees like our parents. You get a lot of civil benefits from marriage, which is a totally different from finding happiness with another person. This is also why it is wrong to prevent gay people from getting married to whomever they like because it enhances their quality of life as well and doesn’t impede on the civil liberties of other people in the slightest. It has nothing to do with ‘sanctity.’
    3. There is an awful lot about the institution of marriage that is rooted in the buying and selling of women as property that I find offensive. While that isn’t likely to happen in the Western world anymore, there is a subtext of it with the tradition of the engagement ring, the giving away of the bride, etc. Many of these traditions can be personal choices, but a lot of it is written into the traditional liturgy of a wedding ceremony.

    Considering all these things, I think it makes complete sense as to why my generation is avoiding marriage. We’ve been conditioned (by our parents) to be happy above all, and they’ve provided the surest example of unhappiness in their own divorces.


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