How neoliberalism weakened marriage

by on October 10, 2008  •  In Marriage

New Statesman

Peter Wilby

…  Among parents in the higher social classes, … marriage is alive and well. Further down the ladder, it has declined steeply. Of married women who had children in 2000, 43 per cent had a degree-level qualification, against 24 per cent of cohabiting women and just 10 per cent of single women. According to a survey of young people carried out for the Civitas report ("Second Thoughts on the Family"), nearly a third in social class E say they will never get married, against 10 per cent of ABs….

In the UK, working-class marriage declined not in the 1960s and 1970s, but in the heyday of neoliberalism, under a government that supposedly favoured the traditional family.

Young people believe, according to the survey, that the main reason for marriage is "commitment". But Thatcherism drove the concept of commitment out of working-class lives: the commitment of employers to their workers, of workers to their unions, of skilled men and women to their trades, of citizens to local communities. A whole generation has been taught, in the words of the sociologist Richard Sennett, that "there are no long-term career narratives". Nor are there any long-term narratives for communities, as the fate of village pubs, post offices and small shops vividly illustrates. Is it so surprising that people struggle to establish narrative in their personal lives, too, and that, lacking models of commitment, they are reluctant to commit to spouses and children?…

[N]eoliberal capitalism, alongside globalisation and technological change, has, I fear, removed all kinds of structure from the lives of large sections of the population, and particularly the economic structure that once underpinned marriage and parenthood. Perhaps it was unavoidable and perhaps, as some would say, it is no bad thing.

However, it cannot be blamed on the left.


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