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The Predicted Disappearance Of Marriage

( Originally Published 1936 )



IN the preceding chapters I have endeavoured to show that the unhappiness which nowadays so frequently embitters married life may be to some extent relieved. Yet there will always remain a sufficient amount of it to justify the question whether marriage is likely to survive indefinitely.

The divorce-rate, which is the most convincing evidence of the quantity of unhappiness found among the married, is looked upon as an alarming omen. Among the countries of Western civilization it is highest in the United States, with the probable exception of European Russia; in the former country the ratio of divorces to marriages is one to six,' while in the latter it was, in 1926, 1.6 to ten, unregistered marriages and divorces not included. In recent years there has been an increase in the proportion of marriages that terminate in divorce, both in the United States and in Europe, where the divorce-rate is considerably lower. It is of course quite possible that it will go on increasing in the future; but we are not forced to the conclusion that its present trend is destined to continue indefinitely. American students of the subject point out that the period of the rapid rise of the divorce-rate has been one of correspondingly rapid social changes, during which the institution of marriage has been undergoing a transition; among these is the economic emancipation of women, which is held to be largely responsible for the fact that at present as many as 71 per cent. of all divorces are granted on demand of the wife. " Many old restraints ", says Professor Lichtenberger, " have been and are still being removed and new ideals are in the process of formation. Before these vanishing restraints have been replaced by internal regulative controls some disintegration is sure to occur, but in the end, a new adjustment will tend to be established and marriages should be much improved by the change ".

At all events, increasing divorce-rates do not spell ruin to marriage. Far from being its enemy, divorce is rather its saviour. However painful it may be, it is after all the remedy for a misfortune, and a means of preserving the dignity of marriage by putting an end to unions that are a disgrace to its name. Sometimes it corrects mistakes made by persons who ought never to have married at all; but more often the mistake consisted in an unfortunate choice of partner, and a second marriage may then lead to a satisfaction and happiness such as the first one lacked. In England almost 6o per cent. of divorcees remarry, in the United States, according to a rough estimate, about 50 per cent. Most of those persons, belonging to the group studied by Dickinson and Beam, who bitterly complained of marital unhappiness, wished to remarry. We know that many divorce suits are initiated purely because one or both of the partners wish to marry someone else; and in all cases may we assume that those who remarry have not lost their faith in marriage, but hope for better luck next time.

While the divorce-rate has increased, the marriage-rate has, in recent times, decreased and the age at which people marry has risen in various European countries. In England and Wales the annual number of marriages per 10,000 marriageable persons was, in 1876-1885, 568; in 1886-1895, 529; in 1896-1905, 531; in 1907-1914, 507. The average age of bachelor-bridegrooms and of spinster-brides was, in 1876-1885, 25.9 and 24.4 respectively; in 1886-1895, 26.4 and 24'9; in 1896-1905, z6.8 and 25.3; in 1906-1910, 27.2 and 25.6.3 Since the war, though the fall of births continues, the trend of marriage looks like being upwards, but this trend is not marked and may be due to changes of age constitution. In the war and just after, the age of marriage went up and down erratically; but from 1922 onwards it has been falling steadily for men and falling also, though less markedly, for women. To-day, in England, both men and women are marrying earlier than they did just before the war; but whether this lower age of marriage is a consequence of the war or would have come in any case requires, as Sir William Beveridge says, further inquiry. In the United States the trend of marriage differs from that in various European countries. Statistics show a steady increase of the number of marriages in proportion to the population at every census decade since 1890, and at the same time the age of marriage has become lower. The percentages of married men and women of the population fifteen years of age or over were, in 1890, 53.9 and 56.8 respectively; in 1900, 54.5 and 57.0; in 1910, 55.8 and 58.9; in 1920, 59.2 and 60.6; in 1930, 60.0 and 61.1. What the future may reveal is of course problematic; but certain facts are suggestive. A very important cause of the decline of the marriage-rate and the rise of the age of marriage in Europe has been the difficulty of supporting a family in modern society; the spread of the knowledge of contraceptives should therefore have a tendency to increase the former and to reduce the latter. The divorce laws of Christian countries are also, presumably, responsible for the celibacy of a certain number of people; we may suppose that if marriage could be more easily dissolved it would be more readily entered into. And I think there is every reason to believe that the liberalisation of the grounds of divorce which already has taken place in some countries will gradually spread to all; and that in consequence divorce may become much less expensive than it is now.

While the knowledge of contraceptives may increase the marriage-rate, it also facilitates extra-matrimonial intercourse, the great frequency of which in our days is regarded as another indication of the doom of marriage. Mr. Calverton says that the bankruptcy of marriage in Germany is attested by the growth of illegitimacy in both city and province, one out of every twelve babies, that is, 8.6 per cent., being born outside marriage. It is interesting to compare with this the prevalence of illegitimacy in England in the reign of Edward III, when at least 9 per cent. of the villeins of one manor were known to be bastards—which was not an exception to the situation at most English manors but an indication of it—and bastardy was common among the nobles and gentry also. In spite of this, marriage still survives in England, after so many centuries. It is said that marriage is rapidly coming to lose sexual significance for women as well as men, because the sexual impulse can be satisfied outside of it and without many of the impediments which the marital life enforces upon husband and wife; that marriage has become more and more meaningless, and has continued only as a form or fiction, " as a genuflection to convention, and a convenience to escape social embarrassments and stigmas ". But the " meaning " of marriage embraces much more than the gratification of the sexual impulse; and purely sexual relations can never serve as substitutes for those more comprehensive relations between men and women which, under the name of marriage, constitute a social institution of great importance. The former will, of course, always exist side by side with marriage, but cannot replace it.

In my theory of the origin of marriage I have expressed the view that, like the sexual impulse, the other essential elements in marriage have a deep foundation in human and even pre-human instincts. Combined with that impulse, there must from the beginning have been some degree of attachment which kept the individuals of different sex together till after the birth of the offspring. This was the germ of that unity and intermingling of the spiritual and the sensual elements in sexual love which characterises the normal relations between husband and wife among ourselves. It has led to a more or less durable community of life in a common home, to which the promiscuous gratification of the sexual impulse affords no equivalent. The suggestion has been made that the home as we now know it may cease to exist and be replaced by " a group of persons consisting of a small number of adults and a somewhat larger but still small number of children living together in permanent association, the adults presiding over the upbringing of the children, but not being necessarily connected with these by ties of blood ". According to Dr. Borgius, sexual relation-ships and common housekeeping have been jumbled together, because marriage is a late survival of the ancient clan system, but this is a most unsuitable arrangement, since there are innumerable wives who have no talents for housewifery. The household of the future will be an association of friends, male and female of different ages, whose sexual, relations, inside or outside the household, will concern nobody else; and the children will remain with their mothers until they find it more attractive to go and stay with their school-and playfellows. Schemes of this sort would certainly remove the solitariness of a single life only brightened by fugitive sex relations; but why should an association of several men and women be more harmonious than the union of one man and one woman? There would be no individual sexual rights and duties in that association, and jealousy would of course be strictly interdicted. But what reason is there to think that the torturers and the martyrs in marriage would suddenly become transformed into saints?

The chief attacks on marriage have been concerned with it as an institution for procreation and the rearing of children. It has been argued that as such it is not needful and even positively harmful. Those attacks were initiated by Plato, who suggested that wives and children should be in common, and no parent should know his own child nor any child his parent. The offspring of worthy persons should be carried by the proper officers to certain nurses dwelling in a separate quarter of the city, whereas the offspring of the more depraved and such children as were deformed should be put away in some mysterious, unknown place. Plato's notion on the community of wives and children was severely handled by Aristotle, who argued that community of wives is attended with many difficulties, and that the tie of friendship, which more than any-thing else prevents seditions, must be extremely weak in a city where no father can say " this is my son ", and no son " this is my father ".

Plato's suggestions relating to wives and children were closely connected with his wish to abolish private property as a measure conducive to civil concord and national prosperity. Similar tendencies are found among modern socialists, such as Fourier and Enfantin, even when they do not mean by free love indiscriminate love, nor by collective responsibility for the family having wives in common or taking children away from their parents. More recently, however, the socialists, who at one time were singing paeans in favour of free love, have taken up a more conciliatory attitude to-wards marriage, chiefly insisting on easier divorce and a reorganisation of the family. Mr. Wells writes in his Autobiography: " Socialism, if it is anything more than a petty tinkering with economic relationships, is a re-nucleation of society. The family can remain only as a biological fact. Its economic and educational autonomy are inevitably doomed. The modern state is bound to be the ultimate guardian of all children and it must assist, replace, or subordinate the parent as sup-porter, guardian and educator; it must release all human beings from the obligation of mutual proprietor-ship, and it must refuse absolutely to recognise or enforce any kind of sexual ownership ".

The status of children in the family has changed profoundly in the course of evolution. The father's power over his children reached its height in the countries of archaic civilization, but has in Europe gradually yielded to a system under which he has been divested of the most essential rights he formerly possessed over them—a system the inmost drift of which is expressed in the words of the French Encyclopedist, " Le pouvoir paternel est plutot un devoir qu'un pouvoir ", and which in recent times has led to a continually increasing interference of the State on behalf of the child. He is protected from economic exploitation and ill- treatment at the hands of his parents. If necessitous he is fed. His health is cared for. He has to be given a minimum of education. There is every reason to believe that the State will assume such care of children in an increasing measure, and that the relations of parents to children will be watched and controlled by it much more strictly than they are at present. But this does not imply that the time will come when, as has been suggested, children are cared for altogether, educated, and supported by the State, from funds provided by the taxation of all citizens, the State thus assuming nearly all the functions of parenthood. I cannot believe that such an arrangement would benefit either the child or the State, or satisfy the normal father and mother.

Others are of a different opinion. " One sometimes wonders ", says Dr. Norman Haire, " whether the average parents are not the least fit persons in the world to bring up their own child ". According to Jude Lindsey, even among people of good stock, " homes in which children can find the right spiritual and intellectual atmosphere are the exception rather than the rule ". Mr. De Pomerai remarks that this truth applies to England as well as to America: " We have to realise the fact . . . that scarcely one parent in a thousand is really capable of efficiently rearing and training a child, and that the average child is happier and far better off in a nursery school or properly organised educational institution than it is in its own home. . . . If private homes have been responsible for a gigantic crop of physical defects, they have been responsible for an even greater harvest of warped personalities, suppressed abilities, and unnecessary antagonisms ".

In direct contrast with this view one of the most comprehensive American studies of child life in recent years concludes its findings on the institutional child with the observation: " Institutional care for the most part has produced uninspired individuals poorly adjusted to the outside world ". Dr. Nimkoff writes: " We can show that normal family life is indispensable to the proper development of the child's personality.

First, we need only to observe the advantages enjoyed by children who come out of any sort of home at all over those less privileged children who have been reared in institutions. . . Second, the power of the home is apparent in the finding of modern science that the best treatment for maladjusted children of normal intelligence consists of their placement in desirable foster homes. A good home is the best medicine we can prescribe for a socially sick child ". Professor Folsom observes that there is a pronounced trend in America " away from the children's institution and toward placement in foster homes as a method of caring for orphaned children and children whose own parents are unfit or unable to care for them. It is urged that foster-home care is not only cheaper for the State, but also fair better for the development of the child. Experience everywhere seems to indicate the superiority of the small home, even if it be a foster home, to the larger institution ". Floyd Dell writes: " Institutional life at its best has been notoriously drab and barren in comparison with ordinary family life. Institutional life has been found to fail in developing individual powers, and in furnishing incentives for growing up. It has characteristically turned out spiritless creatures, who do not know how to get along in the outside world. . . . The best modern institutions for children now model themselves upon the parental home, and try to give what it should give. . . . Even at their best, however, these institutions, when they replace the private home entirely, are regarded as. make-shifts, as poor substitutes for a real home with real parents. And real homes and real parents are known to be so important to the child's development that it is more and more the practice that only as a last resort are homes broken up and children taken from their parents.

Homes have to be very definitely found to be demoralising to the children, parents have to be given up as hopelessly incapable of improvement, before the best modern practice countenances such an extreme measure as destruction of the family union ".I Foremost of the special types of relief aiming to conserve the family is in the United States the so-called " mother's aid " or " mother's pensions ", which provide for the payment of a sum of money to certain groups of mothers with dependent children in order to enable the mother to remain at home with her family, instead of putting children of indigent parents into institutions. Dr. W. J. Robinson goes so far as to say that to give the child to a foundling asylum or to a ` baby farm ' means generally to condemn it to a slow death ". According to Havelock Ellis, the mortality of artificially fed infants during the first year of life is seldom less than double, and sometimes as much as three times, that of the breast fed, or even more. He also points out that the advantages for an infant of being suckled by its mother are greater than can be accounted for by the mere fact of being suckled rather than hand fed, because the infant's best food is that elaborated in his mother's body. This has been shown by Vitrey, who found from the statistics of the Hôtel-Dieu at Lyons that infants suckled by their mothers have a mortality of only 12 per cent., while in the case of infants suckled by strangers the mortality rises to 33 per cent.

From Germany and Austria we also hear that exceptionally great infant mortality and other disadvantages are incident to life in an orphan asylum compared to ordinary family life; I investigations carried out in two such asylums at Wurzburg, for instance, showed that the mental development of the children was abnormally backward.2 Very interesting information comes from Soviet Russia, where the State has over-taken the functions of the home to a larger extent than in any other country. Great benefits were expected from the establishment of numerous State nurseries. Mr. Hindus writes: " In the nursery, the Russians protest, the child will get not less but more and better protection than any but the very rich homes could possibly offer. It will be fed, bathed, clothed in accord with the latest discoveries of science. In time of illness it will receive the immediate attention of a child specialist. It will not be pampered. It will not be abused. It will not be suppressed. Above all it will be kept from contact with vices, especially alcoholism, which now so brutally debauch the masses ... . When Russia at some future date grows prosperous, homes will be provided for all children whose parents would care to place them there ".3 Yet, though it was expected that the State institutions would demonstrate the superiority of scientific care to maternal ignorance, the statistics of infant mortality in the institutions were discouraging and another method was tried. Dr. Lebedeva, head of the department for the protection of motherhood and infancy, has made the following statement: " If we had better equipment, better trained personnel in our institutions, it might have been different. But under our present conditions there is no doubt that the home offers a more stimulating environment for the development of the infant than the asylum. Not only have we decreased the death rate in this way, but we have insured normal development to a much larger proportion of babies, since in almost every case our asylum-trained babies were both mentally and physically backward ". The method that proved to be the best with orphans was putting them into carefully selected private family homes, with the result that twice as many of them remained alive.'

Present conditions in Russia demonstrate how injurious the lack of family influence is not only to orphans but also to older children. Mr. Cummings wrote in 1935: " It is a grave fact that in the last two years child delinquency has enormously increased in all parts of Russia. So much so that a few weeks ago when I was still on tour in the country a surprising decree was issued from Moscow which announced that in future child delinquents would be subject to the same penalties as those imposed upon adult criminals. ... Why has this delinquency and ill-discipline among children developed so dangerously? I believe it is due, above all, to the fact that millions of homes are deserted for a greater part of each day by both parents so that the children are left to fend for themselves without parental guidance and discipline ".

Many facts thus support the general belief that there is no adequate substitute for the beneficial influence which parents as a rule exercise upon their children, that the love of the parents towards the child is one of the most essential features if the child's moral and emotional development is to proceed harmoniously. In these circumstances I can find no reason to suppose that it could be in the interests of the State in the future to break up the family. The Bolsheviks' suspicious attitude towards it is due to their view that private property has always served as a cementing bond in the family; and to demolish private property is the object of the most feverish efforts of the new society. It is considered to be of great importance that the mentality of the Russian youth should be largely moulded by agencies outside the home, away from the family circle; in the kindergartens and schools it is always made to feel that the supreme aim in life is the promotion of the purposes of the new society. Yet, though the rulers of Russia regard the family as a menace to their ultimate designs, they find it at the present stage of readjustment indispensable to the maintenance of social stability But they have obviously underrated its vitality. The persistence of the family does not depend upon the preservation of private property. Its safest guarantee is the love of man and woman for each other and for their children; and the Bolsheviks are even said to assure themselves that this bond will gain in firmness when property has passed from private to social control.

The feelings of parents would naturally make them averse to any attempt to separate their children from them. The mother would not be compensated for the loss of her own baby by being used as a nurse for somebody else's baby. Herbert Spencer thought that maternal love is not adequately defined as the instinct which attaches a creature to its own young, since it is not exclusively displayed in that relation: he identified it with the love of the helpless, stimulated by the perception of " smallness joined, usually, with relative inactivity, being the chief indications of incapacity ".

That maternal love is to some extent love of the helpless is obvious from the fact that it originally lasts only as long as the young are unable to shift for themselves. But Spencer's theory fails to explain how it is that, even in a gregarious species, mothers make a distinction between their offspring and other young. During my stay among the peasants of Morocco I was struck by the eagerness with which in the evening, when the flocks of ewes and lambs were reunited, each mother sought for her own lamb and many a lamb, at least, for her mother; and the same can be testified by every shepherd. Mr. J. Corin writes: " Mix the ewes and the lambs as one will, and they sort themselves. The lamb does not always know its mother, but the ewe knows her lamb—by smell. If the wrong lamb comes to her, she savagely butts it away. The unwillingness of a ewe to suckle a strange lamb is the great trouble of shepherds. When a mother has lost her lamb, and the shepherd wishes to make her adopt another, to save her from trouble with milk-congestion, and to relieve another ewe burdened with twins, he has very great difficulty. Often he has to resort to the practice of skinning the dead lamb and wrapping its skin round the one to be adopted. Even then he may be unable to deceive the mother-perhaps he would not do so in any case, did not milk-pains compel her. At this not unusual country practice I have assisted shepherds in my young days ".l A similar discrimination between an animal's own young ones and other young has been found even in cases of conscious adoption. On the authority of Brehm, Darwin tells us of a female baboon which had so capacious a heart that she not only adopted young monkeys of other species, but stole young dogs and cats which she continually carried about; yet her kindness did not go so far as to share food with her adopted offspring, although she divided everything quite fairly with her own young ones.' To account for maternal love we must thus assume the existence of some other stimulus besides the perception of smallness and helplessness, which produces, or at least strengthens, the instinctive response in the mother. This stimulus can only be rooted in the external relationship in which the offspring stand to the mother from the very beginning. She is in close proximity to her helpless young from their tenderest age; and she loves them because they are to her a cause of pleasure.

The stimuli to which paternal love responds are apparently derived from the same circumstances as those which call into activity maternal love, the helplessness and proximity of the offspring; wherever it exists the father is near his young from the beginning. And, as in the case of maternal love, the instinctive response may be assumed to be the result of a process of natural selection, which has preserved a mental disposition necessary for the existence of the species in which it is found. Professor McDougall asks how we can account for the fact that men are at all capable of this emotion and of this protective impulse; and his answer is that in its racial origin the instinct was undoubtedly primarily maternal, but, like many other characters, was transmitted to the other sex. To me it seems that the origin of the paternal instinct offers no more difficult problem to solve than that of the maternal instinct. How could Professor McDougall's theory account for the parental instinct of those species in which it is found exclusively in the male, as is the rule among fishes that take any care at all of their offspring, and among certain frogs? I Among the birds there are a few species in which both the brooding and the care of the newly hatched young devolve exclusively on the male. In mankind knowledge of the physiological function of the father in the conception of the child has no doubt intensified the sentiment of paternal love, but is not essential to it. Among animals there can of course be no such knowledge; and the paternal sentiment exists also among those peoples who are said to be ignorant of the father's participation in parentage or whose ideas about it are of the very vaguest description.

It might perhaps be supposed that the prevalence of the custom of infanticide among a large number of peoples testifies that parental instincts must be very feeble among them. Among many of the lower races custom decides how many children are to be reared in each family, and not infrequently the majority of infants are destroyed. There can be little doubt that this wholesale infanticide is in the main due to the hardships of savage life. The helpless infant may be a great burden to the parents both in times of peace and in times of war. It may prevent the mother from following her husband about on his wanderings in search of food, or otherwise encumber her in her work. Moreover, a little forethought tells the parents that their child before long will become a consumer of provisions already too scanty for the family. Savages often suffer greatly from want of food, and may have to choose between destroying their offspring or famishing themselves.

Hence they often have recourse to infanticide as a means of saving their lives; indeed, among several tribes, in case of famine, children are not only killed but eaten. Urgent want is frequently represented by our authorities as the main cause of infanticide; and their statements are corroborated by the conspicuous prevalence of this custom among poor tribes and in islands whose inhabitants are confined to a narrow territory with limited resources. Infanticide on a large scale prevails, or has prevailed, not only in the savage world but also among semi-civilized and civilised races, such as the Chinese, the ancient Arabs, and various Hindu castes. The exposure of new-born infants was practised by Indo-European peoples in ancient times. In the case of deformed or sickly infants it was a custom in Greece and Rome, approved of by their philosophers. Aristotle even proposed that the number of children allowed to each marriage should be regulated by the State, and that, if any woman happened to become pregnant after she had produced the prescribed number, an abortion should be procured before the foetus had life. These views were in perfect harmony with the general tendency of the Greeks to subordinate the feelings of the individual to the interest of the State. Confined as they were to a very limited territory, they were naturally afraid of being burdened with the maintenance of persons whose lives could be of no use.

It is important to notice that the custom of infanticide in most cases requires that the child should be killed immediately or soon after its birth, when the parental affection for it is as yet only dawning. We are told of the Society Islanders that " if the little stranger was, from irresolution, the mingled emotions that struggled for mastery in its mother's bosom, or any other cause, suffered to live ten minutes or half an hour, it was safe; instead of a monster's grasp, it received a mother's caress and a mother's smile, and was afterwards nursed with solicitude and tenderness ". Almost the same is said of other South Sea Islanders and of Australian tribes. That the custom of infanticide is generally restricted to the destruction of new-born babies also appears from various statements as to the parental love of those savages who are addicted to this practice. So, too, among more cultured peoples whose customs allow or tolerate infanticide, the child who is not suffered to live has to be killed in its earliest infancy. Among the Chinese and Rajputs it is destroyed immediately after its birth. In the Scandinavian North the killing or exposure of an infant who had already been sprinkled with water was regarded as murder. At Athens parents were punished for exposing children whom they had once begun to rear.

It has been said that among ourselves the maternal instinct seems to be more pronounced in the poor and ignorant than in the cultured and civilised. Clara Thorbecke observes that among the labouring classes in German cities unmarried mothers are reluctant to commit their children to the care of strangers; but when women of the upper classes behave differently in similar situations we must remember the social degradation that threatens them. Bertrand Russell thinks " that civilization, at any rate as it has hitherto existed, tends greatly to diminish women's maternal feelings. It is probable ", he says, " that a high civilization will not in future be possible to maintain unless women are paid such sums for the production of children as to make them feel it worth while as a money-making career "'. His prophecy of this novel kind of business is connected with his idea, already referred to, that even nowadays women only profess maternal feelings in order to please the men. Neurologists also tell us that there are many women who are absolutely lacking in such feelings.' But in my opinion it would be a true marvel if an instinct so indispensable for all mammalian species as is the maternal instinct could ever disappear; we might as well imagine that this would happen to sexual love, nay even to the pure sexual impulse. True, there are writers who dream of a time when our present method of reproduction will be replaced by artificial generation without sexual intercourse.'

So far as I can see, then, there is every reason to believe that the unity of sensual and spiritual elements in sexual love, leading to a more or less durable community of life in a common home, and the desire for and love of offspring, are factors which will remain lasting obstacles to the extinction of marriage and the collapse of the family, because they are too deeply rooted in human nature to fade away, and can find adequate satisfaction only in some form of marriage and the family founded upon it. There will of course always be large numbers of people who for some reason or other will not marry, who are not suitable for marriage, who never fall in love or cannot marry the one they fall in love with, who do not miss the kind of home provided by married life, who have no desire for children. Marriage is not made for everybody, not attractive to everybody, nor good for everybody who embarks in it. It is- the cause of much suffering; it is bleeding from a thousand wounds. As Stevenson said, " marriage is like life in this—that it is a field of battle, and not a bed of roses ". But without it there would presumably be still more suffering in the world, and much less happiness. It is flexible: it may be improved by increasing knowledge, forethought, and self-control, by changed social and moral attitudes towards sexual relationships, by legal reforms. And while the persistence of marriage is conducive to individual welfare, it is apparently indispensable to the social order.

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