In an editorial published last week titled, “If Attitudes Don’t Shift, A Political Dating Mismatch Will Threaten Marriage,” The Washington Post’s editorial board points out that political polarization in this country has reached the point where it is now a prominent, often decisive factor in determining who Americans settle on as their potential mates. They emphasize this trend is now so acute it may actually threaten the institution of marriage as a whole. In particular, it seems that Democratic women are rejecting potential Republican suitors not only for marriage but as relationship material, all across the board. The message the editorial conveys—perhaps hyperbolically, perhaps not—is that as a consequence of this shift in attitudes, marriage itself in this country is in jeopardy.
Presumably the Post’s editorial board has a good reason for alerting us to this phenomenon. But what it doesn’t bother to do is tell us “why” it is occurring, and if what the editorial portends is true, Americans would be well served by knowing “why.” Had the Post bothered to provide some basic context, explaining that young American women, in particular, are loath to date right-wing (presumably Republican) men because they find some specific views, attitudes, and values they represent to be abhorrent, the editorial might live up to the serious social ramifications it implicates.
It’s easy enough to point to Donald Trump as the catalyst for such a drastic social upheaval, but by failing to address the actual belief and value systems his presence has stoked among Republican men and instead just throwing up their hands and asserting that such “attitudes” must change and that “someone will need to compromise,” the Post ends up simply doing a disservice to its readers. Because, quite honestly, an issue this profound affecting the country’s future deserves more than the shrinking, hesitant treatment the Post chooses to afford it.
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At least the Post’s editorial does a decent job in explaining the underlying issue. As the editors note:
The problem with polarization … is that it has effects well beyond the political realm, and these can be difficult to anticipate. One example is the collapse of American marriage. A growing number of young women are discovering that they can’t find suitable male partners. As a whole, men are increasingly struggling with, or suffering from, higher unemployment, lower rates of educational attainment, more drug addiction and deaths of despair, and generally less purpose and direction in their lives. But it’s not just that. There’s a growing ideological divide, too. Since Mr. Trump’s election in 2016, the percentage of single women ages 18-30 who identify as liberal has shot up from slightly over 20 percent to 32 percent. Young men have not followed suit. If anything, they have grown more conservative.
Maybe it’s just me, but is anyone else getting tired of hearing excuses about why “men” in particular are “increasingly struggling?” Higher unemployment? Really? It’s 3.9%. “Lower rates of educational attainment”? Nope. Those rates are higher than ever, for both men and women. Perhaps if the Post had acknowledged the reality of stagnant wage growth, out of control housing, and health care costs—which affect women just as much (if not more) as men—that might have proved a more enlightening exercise. As for the psychological traumas fueling drastically “more drug addiction” and “deaths of despair” among men (but apparently not as much among women)—it also might have been helpful to ask whether it isn’t more a case of the male ego and a wounded sense of their assumed primacy in our society that’s actually the root of these problems, which aren’t occurring to the same degree in other countries.
But I digress. The Post’s editors do acknowledge that political polarization seems to be a driving factor in explaining this “collapse” in (presumably heterosexual) marriages: “According to a major new American Enterprise Institute survey, 46 percent of White Gen Z women are liberal, compared to only 28 percent of White Gen Z men, more of whom (36 percent) now identify as conservative.” Also, we learn that ”Whereas 61 percent of Gen Z women see themselves as feminist, only 43 percent of Gen Z men do.” The Post observes that as a consequence of this political divide, “A 2021 survey of college students found that 71 percent of Democrats would not date someone with opposing views.” Implicitly, then, this appears to be a Democratically driven phenomenon (Republican men, apparently, are still willing to mate with anyone who will tolerate them). Accepting that premise at face value, then, the question still is “why?”
The Post grudgingly concludes that, well yes, there may be “some logic” involved:
There is some logic to this. Marriage across religious or political lines — if either partner considers those things to be central to their identity — can be associated with lower levels of life satisfaction.
What kind of “things” are so “central” to women’s identities that would compel them to so collectively reject Republican males? Rather than address that question, the Post instead chooses to punt.
This mismatch means that someone will need to compromise. As the researchers Lyman Stone and Brad Wilcox have noted, about 1 in 5 young singles will have little choice but to marry someone outside their ideological tribe. The other option is that they decline to get married at all — not an ideal outcome considering the data showing that marriage is good for the health of societies and individuals alike. (This, of course, is on average; marriage isn’t for everyone. Nor is staying in a physically or emotionally abusive marriage ever the right choice. But, on the whole, while politically mixed couples report somewhat lower levels of satisfaction than same-party couples, they are still likely to be happier than those who remain single.)
Those who click on the links in that paragraph will first be directed to an article in The Atlantic written by two members of the Institute for Family Studies, a right-wing think tank whose founders and contributors promote two-parent, heterosexual marriages, advocating fundamentalist “Christian” marriage principles and the abolition of no-fault divorce laws. The second link is to a survey on marital satisfaction conducted by the same conservative-leaning IFS. The rhetorical point being urged here, by both the right-wing think tank and The Washington Post, is that political polarization threatens the institution of marriage, and that marriage is desirable because married people are “likely to be happier.”
That’s a debatable proposition in itself, but again, it misses the point. Neither the Post editorial board, or the (uniformly right-wing) sources it cites explain the reasons this polarization is happening. While it’s quite understandable that the prospect of dating someone who regards women as vessels to be forced to endure unwanted pregnancies; who supports a man currently accused by at least 26 women of sexual battery, sexual assault, and rape; and who believes the solution to gun violence in our schools is to equip everyone with an AR-15, might just be a nonstarter for Democratic women (and maybe even some Democratic men!). Both the Post and its primary right-wing sources concede that this divide has greatly expanded thanks to Trump, but neither of them take on the task of explaining why women are reacting the way they are.
Well, here’s why: It’s because by aligning themselves with Trump, men are—implicitly and explicitly—declaring their allegiance to what he represents. Putting children in cages and tearing them away from their parents? Mocking those with disabilities? Making fun of and belittling American servicemen? Lying about serial marital infidelity? Insulting and degrading women? Demonizing people of different backgrounds and different faiths? Refusing to take responsibility for … anything (except, perhaps, for overruling Roe v. Wade)?
These are the “values” that Republican men are projecting to women when they align themselves with Trump. They’re values rooted in intolerance, bigotry and hatred. So, perhaps the more important question the Post should have explored is: Why any woman would want to commit the rest of their lives to such men? Why would anyone want to raise children with them?
But instead, the Post editorial board decides, in effect, that incorporating one’s politics into decisions about marriage itself is an idea that needs to be reevaluated:
A cultural shift might be necessary — one that views politics as a part of people’s identity but far from the most important part. Americans’ ability to live together, quite literally, might depend on it.
In essence, what the Post suggests is that Americans—and particularly Democratic American women—ought to sublimate their own values for the sake of preserving the institution of marriage. They suggest a “cultural shift” might be necessary to accomplish this.
But that cultural shift has already occurred. If the institution of marriage is in trouble in this country it’s because so many men inadvertently revealed to women exactly what they stood for when they pulled the lever for Donald Trump. Perhaps the greatest irony of all is that those same religious-based “think tanks” that the Post cites—all of whom supported Trump in the first place—have only themselves to blame for the destruction of an institution they claim to revere.
They shouldn’t worry so much, though. They’ll have the same opportunity to demonstrate their values in just a few short months.