Recently, several statistical studies have shown that a decline in marriage rates may be associated with declining male success and male wages, relative to female wages. Do our men need to learn to deal with this, or will this shift in power between the sexes have significant and serious consequences?
In January of 2019, Fox News television show host, Tucker Carlson, delivered a monologue on declining marriage rates, allegedly caused by declining male success and male wages relative to their female counterparts. The thrust of his speech discussed how men in the United States are being left behind, specifically when compared to women. Read the transcript below:
Male wages declined. Manufacturing, a male-dominated industry all but disappeared over the course of a generation. All that remained in many places were the schools and the hospitals, and both of them are traditional employers of women. In many areas, women suddenly made more than men. Now, before you applaud that as a victory for feminism, consider some of the effects. Study after study has shown that when men make less than women, women generally don’t want to marry them. Maybe they should want to marry them, but they don’t. Over big populations this causes a drop in marriage, a spike in out-of-wedlock births and all the familiar disasters that inevitably follow. More drug and alcohol abuse, higher incarceration rates, fewer families formed in the next generation. This is not speculation, it’s not propaganda from the evangelicals. It’s social science. We know it’s true. Rich people know it best of all, that’s why they get married before they have kids. That model works.
Essentially, Mr. Carlson is making a point that declining wages and social standing of men makes them less attractive to women, which in turn causes women to disregard them as potential spouses. Mr. Carlson is advocating, both implicitly and explicitly, for the benefits of marriage not just to those in marriages, but to society at large.
Mr. Carlson’s comments drew a wide range of criticism. Many liberal people believed this was fear mongering and male insecurity. A modern man should be comfortable with a woman making more money than he does, and those who are not are insecure and clinging to outdated norms regarding relations between the sexes.
Are these people on the liberal end of the spectrum correct, or is there an implicit and unspoken truth to Mr. Carlson’s point? Do our men need to learn to deal with this, or will this shift in power between the sexes have significant and serious consequences?
The following essay explores two issues. The first issue relates to the benefits of marriage. The second issue relates to an ideological issue liberals and conservatives clash over: the ideology of progressivism.
Is marriage an outdated concept, or is it an institution with lasting value? In The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially, Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher systematically detail the benefits of marriage, citing study after study. Marriage is so intensely beneficial—not just to those in it, but for society at large—that the authors believe it is as important an issue as the health risks associated with smoking cigarettes, and the health benefits associated with wearing seatbelts. The more married couples there are in a society, the healthier the society.
One area they addressed is the benefit of marriage by gender. While women benefit immensely from marriage, relatively speaking, men benefit more than women. Why? Because men are more untamed: they produce more testosterone than women, which makes them more aggressive; and men are bigger risk-takers than women.
When men and women become serious about dating and the potential for marriage, women will often refuse to tolerate bad male behavior. Many men have friends of questionable character, hang out in less than reputable establishments, and partake in activities that are off-putting to women. Women dating these men frequently put their foot down and say something along the lines of, “It’s me, or your sketchy friends.” Almost always, the men choose the women over their objectionable friends, hangouts, and activities.
In, Marriage and Civilization: How Monogamy Made Us Human, William Tucker explains that the single most important factor in creating civil society is monogamous marriage. Men are capable of—and more prone than women to—violent and criminal behavior. The greatest deterrent to this undesirable behavior in men is in fact a stable marriage to a woman and living with her and any of their offspring.
As Mr. Tucker asserts, “Surplus male populations are characterized by high levels of crime, addiction, and poverty, and that governments usually end up turning these pent-up aggressions outwards against other countries.” The cause of this moral turpitude and aggression is the absence of females in the lives of men. A woman’s presence will cause a man to reduce risk-taking behavior. Women provide a calming and soothing influence on men, their behavior, and their work habits; men work harder, smarter, and safer when they have women and children in their lives who depend on them.
When men do not have women and children depending upon them, when men are not marrying, these same men who would otherwise mature and grow up fail to do so. When men are not needed or welcomed in their own homes, men are unmoored. When there is nothing tethering men to society they never develop any incentive to grow up and leave the “frat house.” These men without any incentives to mature and grow up are left with idle hands, and idle hands are the Devil’s playground.
David Popenoe in Families Without Fathers: Fathers, Marriage, and Children in American Society, and David Blankenhorn, in Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem, systematically document the problems associated with out-of-wedlock births and absent fathers are in a manner similar to that of Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher. Women’s increased wages, effective and easily accessible forms of contraception, and various forms of legislation that protect female professional interests have made men expendable to many women. Women have traditionally depended upon men for financial security. Men are now frequently downgraded to sperm-donors as female professional attainment rises commensurately with declining male attainment, while the norms regarding single motherhood are relaxed. This demographic change compounds the issues of single-motherhood, absent fathers, and men with idle hands. The more men there are with idle hands, the greater the likelihood of the problems of which Tucker Carlson spoke, such as out-of-wedlock births and absent fathers.
This information leads us to ask the next question liberals and conservatives disagree on: Are men just being insecure? Do we need to reverse this trend, or is this simply a case of society progressing and empowering women? To answer this question, we have to address progressivism as an ideology.
Progressivism as Ideology
Progressivism, as an ideology, was originally known as Meliorism. The two main tenets of Meliorism are the belief in the progress of human nature, and the belief that society is the cause of the world’s problems; so by fixing society, we can fix and eliminate the problems in the world.
Progress in human nature means that we, in the present, are superior to previous generations. The further back in time we look, the more obsolete the customs, norms, laws, terminology, and traditions are. We, in the present, must destroy the remnants of the past because they are the dead-weight of yesteryear, and create new norms in the present to satisfy the needs of a new and modern Man.
Applying the tenets of progressivism to the present issue, liberal progressivists believe the idea of men needing to be breadwinners is an outdated and oppressive concept. The liberal progressive believes this norm is a societal-induced inequity that is “predicated on power structure.”
Liberals believe in equity as a moral foundation, and equity is a pillar of liberalism. Through this moral foundation, liberals believe people are naturally equal and desire equitable outcomes, a natural and logical conclusion when all are originally equal. Equity is a well-intentioned concept in theory, but is troublesome in practice. An emphasis on equity erodes order, hierarchy, structure, and a sense of objectivity. Basically, equity has caused a
collapse of the idea of neutral, purely objective knowledge… any set of rules inevitably privileges certain individuals, groups, or ways of life, which in turn has led to the despairing conclusion that since reality is ultimately only a chaos of subjective interpretations, no true knowledge is possible.
If we are all equals, then my opinions, and my ideas, are just as good as anyone else’s. If we are all equals, then no one can establish objectivity, structure, or truth. Everything is merely subjective and a matter of perspective, including facts and knowledge. Therefore, because, “no true knowledge is possible,” the only way to establish order, truth, and structure in human societies is “by sheer power.”
The liberal progressives believe that because men are bigger and stronger than women, they use force to dictate the norm of men as breadwinners. Now that society has changed with the advent of birth control and contraception, title IX, and anti-discrimination-related legislation in the workplace, women are advancing, and men need to accept female ascension. Previously, men were only in these positions because of their power over women; but now since that power structure is being replaced and eroded, the natural equality of men and women is emerging.
Men will now need to learn to be subservient to women. The progressives believe that by tinkering with society’s laws, customs, and norms, we are overcoming societal inequities the patriarchy placed on women. Essentially, the progressives believe that they are capable of changing not just external conditions, but human nature itself. As Rousseau, the original liberal progressive, believed: “One who dares to undertake the founding of a people should feel that he is capable of changing human nature… of transforming each individual.”
The rejoinder to this ideological position is that society is not an arbitrary social construct, nor are our norms “predicated on power structure.” Society is the accumulated wisdom of our ancestors, bequeathed to us via a long trial-and-error process, handed down from generation to generation. Edmund Burke understood that our customs, traditions, and norms were created through
a deliberate election of ages and of generations; it is a constitution made by what is ten thousand times better than choice; it is made by the peculiar circumstances, occasions, tempers, dispositions, and moral civil and social habitudes of the people, which disclose themselves only over a long space of time.
Burke believed that a society’s mores and norms were the accumulated wisdom of many generations, and therefore contain the wisdom of the human condition. “The individual is foolish,” Burke posited, “but the species is wise.” No individual can possess a sufficient amount of wisdom to supplant custom, prescription, tradition, and norms.
Russell Kirk followed Burke in explicating this concept. For Kirk, progress did not consist in the destruction of old norms, nor in the creation of new ones, but rather, “Real progress consists in the movement of mankind towards the understanding of norms, and towards conformity to norms.” Kirk also proclaimed, “Deny a fact, and that fact will be your master.” Presently, that fact is women prefer to marry men who earn more money than they do. They do not like marrying men who make less money. This means that the more women there are outpacing men in professional and financial capacities, the greater the likelihood of women abstaining from marriage. As a result, there will be more unmarried men. The more unmarried men in a society, the greater the number of men there will be with idle hands, and the Book of Proverbs shows us the consequences of idle hands.
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Blankenhorn, David. (1995). Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Haidt, Jonathan. (2013). The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
Jardine, Murray. (1988). “Communitarian Thought.” In Ed. Peter Lawler and Dale McConkey’s Community and Political Thought Today. Westport, Conn.: Praeger Publishers.
Kirk, Russell. (1989). The Enemies of the Permanent Things. Peru, IL: Sherwood, Sugden & Company.
MediaMatters.com. (2019, January 2). Tucker Carlson Says Women Making More Money Than Men Leads to “More Drug and Alcohol Abuse, Higher Incarceration Rates.” Media Matters for America.
Popenoe, David. (2009). Families Without Fathers: Fathers, Marriage and Children in American Society. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.
Regnerus, Mark. (2017). Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. (1762C). The Social Contract.
Stanlis, Peter. (1986). Edmund Burke and the Natural Law. Shreveport, LI.
Tucker, William. (2014). Marriage and civilization: How Monogamy Made Us Human. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing.
Waite, Linda & Gallagher, Maggie. (2000). The case for marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier, and Better off Financially. New York, NY: Random House.
Weaver, Richard. (1948). Ideas Have Consequences. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.
 Media Matters for America. “Tucker Carlson Says Women Making More Money Than Men Leads to ‘More Drug and Alcohol Abuse, Higher Incarceration Rates’.”
 Tucker, William. Marriage and civilization: How Monogamy Made Us Human, p. 202
 Waite, Linda & Gallagher, Maggie. Why Married People are Happier, Healthier, and Better off Financially.
 Popenoe, David. Families Without Fathers: Fathers, Marriage and Children in American Society.
 Regnerus, Mark. Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy.
 Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.
 Weaver, Richard. Ideas Have Consequences.
 Jardine, Murray. “Communitarian Thought,” in Community and Political Thought Today. p. 32
 Ibid., p. 32
 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Social Contract.
 Kirk, Russell. The Enemies of the Permanent Things.
 Edmund Burke, as quoted by Peter Stanlis in Edmund Burke and the Natural Law, p. 167.
 Kirk, Russell. The Enemies of the Permanent Things, p. 20.
 Ibid., p. 46.
Editor’s Note: The featured image is “Le Get (The Divorce),” c. 1930, by Moshe Rynecki (1881-1943), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.