Love and Marriage.

Twenty years ago, about 21 percent of married men and 7.5 percent of married women would admit to having had an extra-marital relationship.[1] Today, the rate for men has stayed the same, but the percentage of married women admitting to having had an extra-marital relationship has climbed to 14.7 percent.[2] I suppose that counts as some kind of victory of feminism.[3] At the same time, a slightly larger share of Republicans (67 percent) than Democrats (60 percent) report being “very happy” in their marriage.[4]

Scholars have commented on both issues. On the one hand, some suppose that the growing equality of women in the work-place has made married women more financially independent and less likely to fear the consequences of discovery. That is, getting tossed out on their ear, and losing their children, and late-model used car, and Kohl’s charge card. On the other hand, some scholars have suggested that there is more social support for marriage in conservative areas. Religion, family values, and blah-blah-blah. However, a 7 percent difference doesn’t seem that significant.

If we conjecture that the continuing economic inequality between men and women (where women earn two-thirds of what a man earns) means that the same share of women as men are unhappy in their marriage, but only two-thirds of them are able to enter the infidelity market-place, then 21 percent of women are also unhappy in their marriages. If 21 percent of husbands have and 21 percent of wives either have or would like to trespass beyond the bounds of Holy Deadlock, then 21 percent of Americans are in unhappy marriages.[5] If you average Republican and Democratic “very happy in marriage” rates, you end up with 63 percent. If 63 percent of Americans are “very happy” and 21 percent are very unhappy, then 16 percent are in the middle. (Or they “don’t know” if they are very happy or unhappy. Probably in the first couple years of marriage when such disorientation is common, what with discussions of thread-count versus Sawzalls, how to allocate time between families during the holidays, and whether tuna noodle casserole is better with or without crushed potato chips.)

So, broadly speaking, either you get marriage right or you mess it up.[6] There isn’t much of a middle ground. Generally, almost two-thirds of people get it right and one fifth gets it badly wrong. Some of those go on to get it right the second time. How does this match up against law school admission or the stock market or going to the dog track? I dunno. Be worth finding out.

[1] This was long before the whole “Ashley Madison” thing. See: You don’t get points for boasting in an anonymous survey, so, either all respondents were being honest in return for a promise of anonymity or a bunch of people still decided that telling your secrets is a dumb idea. If anything, then, the number of unhappy marriages can only have been equal to or higher than the number reported.

[2] “Noted,” The Week, 19 July 2013, p. 14.

[3] Kind of like poor Al Gore’s people going “We would have won Florida if convicted felons had the right to vote,” until somebody told them to shut up.

[4] Noted,” The Week, 28 August 2015, p. 14.

[5] Obviously, gay men and lesbians off-set in this calculation.

[6] Thus, marriage is “protopathic” (all or nothing), rather than “epicritic” (recognizing fine distinctions). See; Pat Barker, Regeneration (1991). No, really, go read it. Easily one of the finest novels of the 20th Century. The movie is not as good, in my judgement.