After being invited to speak at an international congress on marriage and families hosted by the Institute of the Family at Universidad de la Sabana in Bogota, Colombia, Elizabeth Marquardt was left questioning: “What is happening to marriage in Colombia–and around the world?”
“. . . again and again,” she said, “I heard the question, why are young people not interested in marriage? “Union[e]s libres” (cohabiting relationships) are on the rise as young people are getting married later or not at all, similar to trends we are seeing in other nations. The young are saying ‘sí a la familia, pero no al matrimonio.’”
I saw this trend, first-hand, pervading the barrio in Guayaquil, Ecuador where I lived. For many of our friends, men and women who are incredibly loving and committed to each other and their children—men and women who already have grown children and have been together for over 25 or 30 years—the thought of getting married had never even crossed their minds, let alone seemed necessary. For others, especially our Catholic friends with a deep sense of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, this cultural trend is a painful daily reality. A dear friend of mine, for example, desires deeply to be married in the Church to the father of her now-adult children, with whom she has spent most of her life, if only so she can receive Communion. Because he doesn’t see the necessity of marriage, and she does not plan to leave her family, she goes to Adoration often and attends daily Mass without being able to receive the Eucharist.
Marquardt suggests that the study When Marriage Disappears: The Retreat from Marriage in Middle America ”may well have something to do with why marriage is disappearing in Colombia” and other Latin American countries. ‘Middle America’ refers to the United States middle class. The study states:
For the last few decades, the retreat from marriage has been regarded largely as a problem afflicting the poor. But today, it is spreading into the solid middle of the middle class.
The numbers are clear. Wherever we look among the communities that make up the bedrock of the American middle class—whether small-town Maine, the working-class suburbs of southern Ohio, the farmlands of rural Arkansas, or the factory towns of North Carolina—the data tell the same story: Divorce is high, nonmarital childbearing is spreading, and marital bliss is in increasingly short supply.
. . . In these respects, the family lives of today’s high-school graduates are beginning to resemble those of high school dropouts—with all the attendant problems of economic stress, partner conflict, single parenting, and troubled children—rather than resembling the family lives they dreamed of when they threw their mortarboards into the air.
While the decline in marriage seems to pervade both the lower and middle class in developed and developing countries. I am not so convinced by Marquardt’s argument about their being directly connected. She says:
Amid the conversations [at the international congress], I was reminded often of my mentor Don Browning’s important book, Marriage and Modernization, which asked, in part, what would happen when trends in widespread divorce and out of wedlock childbearing spread from the relatively affluent west to developing nations whose populations are already challenged by so many other forms of instability, including economic and environmental challenges and too often war, social upheaval, migration of displaced persons, or disruption arising from the activity of international drug, weapon, or crime networks.
I don’t see, though, how the divorce trends in the U.S. are bleeding into Latin American countries. The widespread out-of-wedlock childbearing of developing countries, rather, seems deeply intertwined with the very “forms of instability” that Marquardt names.
Yes, “the influences and tensions of values, social change, popular culture, and economic stress and opportunity transcend [national] boundaries,” as Marquardt says, and we certainly have a duty to uphold the institution of marriage in our own country, but I don’t think it is fair to suggest that we are dumping our middle class marriage problems onto poor developing countries.