Ah. Cultural irony. Always fun!
For what experts say is probably the first time, more American women are living without a husband than with one, according to a New York Times analysis of census results. In 2005, 51 percent of women said they were living without a spouse, up from 35 percent in 1950 and 49 percent in 2000. Coupled with the fact that in 2005 married couples became a minority of all American households for the first time, the trend could ultimately shape social and workplace policies, including the ways government and employers distribute benefits.
Several factors are driving the statistical shift. At one end of the age spectrum, women are marrying later or living with unmarried partners more often and for longer periods. At the other end, women are living longer as widows and, after a divorce, are more likely than men to delay remarriage, sometimes delighting in their newfound freedom. In addition, marriage rates among black women remain low. Only about 30 percent of black women are living with a spouse, according to the Census Bureau, compared with about 49 percent of Hispanic women, 55 percent of non-Hispanic white women and more than 60 percent of Asian women. In a relatively small number of cases, the living arrangement is temporary, because the husbands are working out of town, are in the military or are institutionalized. But while most women eventually marry, the larger trend is unmistakable.
“This is yet another of the inexorable signs that there is no going back to a world where we can assume that marriage is the main institution that organizes people’s lives,” said Prof. Stephanie Coontz, director of public education for the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit research group. “Most of these women will marry, or have married. But on average, Americans now spend half their adult lives outside marriage.” [...]
So at just the time that gay men and lesbians are agitating to be included in the institution of marriage, it has managed to become comparatively much less important to the culture at large. Of course, that also explains the level and type of resistance; this would indicate that marriage is most important to older people, who tend to be more conservative. They also tend to vote more than younger people, which explains in part why laws and amendments banning gay marriage tend to pass with such ferocious enthusiasm. (Arizona, having a startling fit of sanity, excepted, of course.)
And, in more cultural irony:
Dec. 14, 2006 | LOS ANGELES -- Terell Waters died from wearing powder blue.
He had grown up in Compton, Calif., but until the age of 27, he had managed to avoid the risks of being a young black man in that part of Greater Los Angeles. He had no rap sheet and no gang affiliation, and had a job at a local youth center. Last week, Waters made one mistake: He wore a powder-blue shirt while visiting a friend near downtown L.A. A group of Blood gang members driving by took him for a rival Crip, and shot him dead on the sidewalk.
Waters' murder did not make the news in Los Angeles that week. Neither did that of 21-year-old Kevin Dinwitty, 19-year-old Raffik McClinton, 21-year-old Billy Grant Jr., nor of Marlon Luchien, 36, all killed the same week. The toll was typical for Los Angeles County, and I had only learned about the deaths of five black men in seven days because I cover homicide for the Los Angeles Times and I read all the coroner's reports once a week. There was no news in their deaths, just the same weary drumbeat Americans have grown accustomed to hearing -- that violent murder flourishes in the inner city, especially among blacks, and that things are generally getting worse. [...] Nowadays, even after years of mostly falling or flat crime rates, black men still die from homicide at extraordinary rates. Black death rates from homicide in 2002 were almost six times that of whites. Black men 15 to 24 years old are most vulnerable -- some 85 per 100,000 died in 2004 from homicide, compared to a national average of six per 100,000.
But even these sky-high rates are lower than what they once were. The real story of black male homicide is that the historic disproportion between black and white death rates is shrinking, and it has been -- albeit unevenly -- for a long time. [...] The reasons for the crime drop over the last decade have been endlessly debated and researched by scholars. Recent years have seen new studies of the impact on homicide rates of broken-windows policing, the trajectory of crack cocaine use, economic factors and imprisonment. All are probably important factors affecting crime trends. But less often examined are the historic factors that may be contributing to the long-term convergence between black and white homicide death rates. These factors deserve much more study.
A few are clear. One is the precipitous slide in domestic-violence murders in this country, which the criminologist James Alan Fox has documented for 30 years. Blacks -- particularly black men -- have benefited more than any other group. Domestic violence is assumed to be most fatal for women. In fact, men, and especially black men, also have historically high death rates from domestic violence. Men usually die when their battered wives, trapped and desperate, can take it no more. In the mid-1970s, these "burning bed" killings meant that more black men than black women died from domestic-violence homicide.
The steady decrease in this kind of murder over the last 30 years may be due in part to advocacy and new domestic-violence laws. But Fox contends that family breakup is mostly to be thanked: Quite simply, abusive relationships are more likely to become deadly if the principals cannot escape. When divorce and changed economic opportunities for women make flight a better option, murders decrease.
So part of the reason domestic violence murder is down is the modern tendency for short-term, fleeting relationships that don't have time to settle into lethal patterns. The much-lamented rise of black single motherhood may be, in part, a triumphant declaration of independence by black women determined to escape abuse. In any case, Fox has shown that several hundred killings of black men and women yearly have vanished due to this trend. It's not enough to explain the full crime drop, but it's significant nonetheless....
Makes you wonder, doesn't it? The lack of marriage, and in particular the lack of abusive marriages, decreased the murder rate. Marriage has long been known to be worse for women than for men; men tend to live longer when married, while it seems to cut years off a woman's life. I wonder, if you extracted murders and abusive marriages from the equation, if that would bring things more into parity.
And just to conclude our exploration into the effects of marriage on a lighter note: apparently, in Michigan, those adultery laws have some real teeth.
BY BRIAN DICKERSON
FREE PRESS COLUMNIST
In a ruling sure to make philandering spouses squirm, Michigan's second-highest court says that anyone involved in an extramarital fling can be prosecuted for first-degree criminal sexual conduct, a felony punishable by up to life in prison. "We cannot help but question whether the Legislature actually intended the result we reach here today," Judge William Murphy wrote in November for a unanimous Court of Appeals panel, "but we are curtailed by the language of the statute from reaching any other conclusion."
"Technically," he added, "any time a person engages in sexual penetration in an adulterous relationship, he or she is guilty of CSC I," the most serious sexual assault charge in Michigan's criminal code.
No one expects prosecutors to declare open season on cheating spouses. The ruling is especially awkward for Attorney General Mike Cox, whose office triggered it by successfully appealing a lower court's decision to drop CSC charges against a Charlevoix defendant. In November 2005, Cox confessed to an adulterous relationship. Murphy's opinion received little notice when it was handed down. But it has since elicited reactions ranging from disbelief to mischievous giggling in Michigan's gossipy legal community.
The ruling grows out of a case in which a Charlevoix man accused of trading Oxycontin pills for the sexual favors of a cocktail waitress was charged under an obscure provision of Michigan's criminal law. The provision decrees that a person is guilty of first-degree criminal sexual conduct whenever "sexual penetration occurs under circumstances involving the commission of any other felony." Charlevoix Circuit Judge Richard Pajtas sentenced Lloyd Waltonen to up to four years in prison after he pleaded guilty to two felony counts of delivering a controlled substance. But Pajtas threw out the sexual assault charge against Waltonen, citing the cocktail waitress' testimony that she had willingly consented to the sex-for-drugs arrangement. Cox's office, which handled the appeal on the prosecutor's behalf, insisted that the waitress' consent was irrelevant. All that mattered, the attorney general argued in a brief demanding that the charge be reinstated, was that the pair had sex "under circumstances involving the commission of another felony" -- the delivery of the Oxycontin pills.
The Attorney General's Office got a whole lot more than it bargained for. The Court of Appeals agreed that the prosecutor in Waltonen's case needed only to prove that the Oxycontin delivery and the consensual sex were related. But Murphy and his colleagues went further, ruling that a first-degree CSC charge could be justified when consensual sex occurred in conjunction with any felony, not just a drug sale. The judges said they recognized their ruling could have sweeping consequences, "considering the voluminous number of felonious acts that can be found in the penal code." Among the many crimes Michigan still recognizes as felonies, they noted pointedly, is adultery -- although the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan notes that no one has been convicted of that offense since 1971....
Just imagine, now that this particular cat is out of the bag, what will almost certainly happen in some terribly, relentlessly nasty divorce proceeding. One spouse will decide to leave the other, perhaps specifically because of adultery. They'll want revenge; they'll want to make the person hurt. And they'll remember this case. And they'll go to their local district attorney and demand, forcefully and with the might of the law reluctantly in their favor, that their spouse be prosecuted for adultery. To be sure, district attorneys have some discretion to decide which charges to bring and which ones to ignore. But just imagine someone who decided that they had nothing to lose, and who wanted to make a high-profile point. Say, the scorned spouse of some district attorney.
In any event, I would expect, at some point during a legislative session where things seem dull and the media isn't really paying attention, the Michigan legislature will slip in a little clarification saying, "No, we did NOT mean that adultery should result in life sentences, you idiots." At least, they'll try to make it low profile; I'd think that maybe one or two of those archconservative religious organizations thinks this is a peachy keen idea, and might try to agitate to keep it in, despite the fact that the punishment is out of scale to the offense.
Just an overview of marriage and its discontents in these united states.Posted by iain at January 16, 2007 11:42 AM