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Want to Help Men? Heal Marriage

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Men are in trouble.

It’s a thesis that’s been around for years. Conservative and liberal authors alike have penned books predicting The End of Men, (Hanna Rosin) or citing The War Against Boys, (Christina Hoff Sommers).

The numbers certainly don’t look good.

“Women outnumber [men] on university campuses in every region bar South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. In the OECD men earn only 42 percent of degrees. Teenage boys in rich countries are 50 percent more likely than girls to flunk all three basic subjects in school: maths, reading and science,” notes The Economist in a recent essay on manhood.

Men with less education are especially vulnerable. “In America pay for men with only a high school diploma fell 21 percent in real terms between 1979 and 2013; for those who dropped out of high school it fell by a staggering 34 percent. Women did better. Female high-school graduates gained three percent; high-school dropouts lost 12 percent,” The Economist reports.

There are no easy solutions. But one approach is suggested by taking a closer look at some of the men upon which The Economist focused.

“Mr. Redden has three children by three women. Mr. Davis has two children by two. Neither man lives with any of the mothers or any of their children. Mr. Davis supports both of his, he says: one, financially; the other, by visiting and helping around the home. He says he is still friendly with one mother, but ‘not in a committed relationship,’” the magazine writes.

Perhaps the story isn’t the death of men; it’s the death of marriage.

Where it’s still employed, marriage works for both men and women. As Charles Murray noted in his book Coming Apart, successful people tend to get married and stay married. Or recall the uproar a few years ago when Dan Cathy of Chick-fil-A pointed out, “We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives.” Many read that as a slam at gay marriage. But it’s a call for people to stay with their spouses. Marriage works. Married men even live longer.

The men in The Economist, and millions like them, may not have a job — but they apparently have a sex life. And what of lower-class women? Well, they’re getting married: to Uncle Sugar instead of the fathers of their children. Hence the famed “Julia,” who apparently didn’t need a real human in her life as long as President Obama’s policies were in place.

As Robert Rector of The Heritage Foundation writes, many women end up “married” to the government. It’s not around much, but the checks always clear, and that’s apparently enough. And if they actually do decide to tie the knot with a flesh and blood human male, they may end up worse off financially; because of a marriage penalty, they may lose important benefits.

In the U.S. today, all the focus seems to be on gay marriage. It’s a central topic at the Supreme Court this month, for example. Even the usually conservative magazine National Review is running an essay by Jason Lee Steorts in favor of gay marriage.

“It may also be true, as traditionalists argue, that we would never have designed an institution from scratch solely to protect a certain category of amorous relationship,” he writes. “Instead we created an institution that of necessity was overbroad for its purpose — and so we ought now to make it fairly overbroad.”

Well, perhaps a bit of humility is in order.

“We,” that is to say, living humans, didn’t “design” marriage. We inherited it, from hundreds of generations of humans. It must be true that the earliest humans, hunting and gathering their way around Africa, would have realized the value of pairing up as man and woman, to form a family unit that would provide a division of labor and a sense of belonging.

When humans started settling down as farmers, a man and a woman, raising their children, could literally put down roots in a particular place. These early humans couldn’t read or write, but they could, and did, pass along a system that worked to help humanity prosper.

Steorts should take a closer look at some of the things humans have “designed” in recent years. Obamacare springs to mind. As does a welfare system that’s helped wreck generations of Americans while damaging traditional ideas about marriage. In fact, the last time we took a stab at improving marriage, we screwed it up. How’s “no fault divorce” working out?

But the larger point is that we’re moving away from marriage, and that’s causing all sorts of problems. Especially for the neediest Americans. Perhaps the way to help men is to encourage traditional marriage. It’s worked for centuries; conservatives should argue it’s still useful, even today.


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