on 4 April 2001
Its hard to be completely dispassionate when discussing marriage or cohabitation. Our personal choices of living arrangement, and our success or failure in those choices, tend to bias our opinions. Perhaps because we like free choice so much, we have somehow bought into the idea that all family types are equally valid. The surprise to many is that cohabitation is not, nor ever can be, equivalent to marriage as a family choice. The underlying premise of cohabitation, keeping one's options open and not expressly committing fully to one's partner, has a nasty habit of exposing us to all sorts of health and societal risks that marriage, more often than not, actually protects us from. Patricia Morgan has taken the lid off this can of worms by highlighting and summarising the findings of a huge body of recent research. Whether you read this book or not, policymakers and couples alike need to be aware of the truth so smothered by modern day political correctness. And the truth is that research shows overwhelmingly that cohabitation is not good for us as couples, as children of couples, or as a wider society. Why aren't we more aware of this? Patricia Morgan suggests that the self-interest of the ruling liberal elite is largely responsible for hiding this information. Maybe that's true, maybe not. The problem is that our personal choice of living arrangement is likely to bias our publicly stated views. So it is hard for politicians or couples to be dispassionate about this issue, especially when we all know of marriages that fail and cohabitants who seem to be succeeding. But if people are to make better informed choices, then we need better public education of the kind provided in this book. Marriage and cohabitation are public health issues. The big lie today is that cohabitation and marriage are the same. They're not.
on 8 September 2004
You have to admire Patricia Morgan, the author of this research paper into the rise of cohabitation and it's consequences. Clearly an excellent piece of scholarship where she argues very persuasively why the institution of marriage is a far superior choice than cohabitation which has the added disadvantage of having negative externalities to go with negative attributes.
I was an avid reader of this particular volume in the series which appears to have the avowed aim of maintaining the family as constituted in the conservative press and other media as the central institution of our society upon which all else is built.
I do find in odd that such a reactionary conservative agenda originates from a think tank which began life as an integral part of the free market Institute of Economic Affairs in London. The theme of the family as the bedrock upon which all society rests is a recurring one in their publications and here in this little report the trend toward cohabitation as a lifestyle choice is critically attacked as somehow undermining that sacred institution.
Morgan writes very persuasively and marshalls her facts and arguments to portray cohabitation as a very inferior choice which does untold harm to the very fabric of our socity. Connecting this with the sexual revolution she sets out to undermine the story of cohabitation as a longstanding tradition within Britsh society going back hundreds of years and instead portraying it as a modern aberration. She argues that individuals who cohabit tend to be from the lower strata of society, tend to be less educated and tend to do less well in life and she uses the emotive argument of children suffering through cohabitation and being disadvantaged in life through being reared in cohabiting family units.
However, Morgan is disengious in her attack. The subtext of her contribution is that we are somehow all better off in families but she never really shows how everyone in a family is better off. Now, of all things I may be, I do not consider myself to be a leftwing believer in female liberation. I do consider that women are individuals too and that their choices are just as valid as a man's. If we examine the basis of Morgan's view then surely women in marriage must gain to some extent if they are participant in it voluntarily. The problem is that women are voting with their feet. They may want to marry but they might want to defer that action until a time of their own choosing. Morgan undertakes some reverse engineering to show how the reasons people give for cohabitation fail the test in comparison to marriage regardless of which indicator is chosen.
What Morgan seems so outraged about is the fact that traditional societies are changing to more individua;istic ones where women have their own earning power and greater control than ever before over their own lives. Not all changes will be for the better but there will be a learning process, a trial and error process and in the meantime there will be dislocating effects. I am not arguing that these effects prove Morgan's points but I am arguing that the choices which many millions of individuals are making will produce different results and different patterns of family structure to those which have been around for centuries.
The point, clearly lost on Patricia Morgan, is that those choices are for the individuals involved to make and not hers. The conservative reactionary agenda she espouses is one from which women were not able to participate in because they did not have the economic or political power necessary to participate.
Marriage-Lite is certainly a book that anyone interested in debates over social policy should be reading with a critical eye but especially women.