“The desire to protect wealth beyond a lifetime led to the concept of marriage.”
This is the instant reaction to the discovery that 53 percent of the children born to women under 30 are illegitimate.
The New York Times reported the finding on February 18, and the journalists who wrote the article did interview some young mothers in Lorain, Ohio, to find out why they didn’t want to marry. Lying west of Cleveland, Lorain is a town that has lost a huge number of blue-collar jobs in recent years and where the number of single mothers is rising rapidly. Their explanations included the following:
- They didn’t think enough of the father to marry him.
- The father was reluctant to marry them.
- The marriage probably wouldn’t last anyway.
- Just living together was fine.
- If they married, they might lose government benefits like food stamps and child care.
- They were making enough money to provide for a child themselves.
The article went on to say that, in these economic times, men are worth less than they used to be. Of course that statement pertains to the men most disadvantaged by the recession, but it brings up a question: How did the institution of marriage develop anyway?
In his book, In Search of the Lost Feminine, attorney and author Craig Barnes tells the story. During the time of the goddess religions in early human history, women enjoyed high status and a great deal of sexual freedom. According to tradition, they would offer a man an apple as an invitation to have sex (the origin of Eve’s apple in the Bible).
The suppression of women began in the Bronze Age when trade routes opened all over the Mediterranean area. Men began to develop great wealth through trade and through wars plundering the wealth of others. The desire to protect wealth beyond a lifetime led to the concept of marriage. Through the enforced fidelity of their wives, men intended to pass their wealth on to sons they could be sure were the fruit of their own loins. Women ultimately submitted in exchange for the security that was provided.
The goddess religions yielded to the concept of the randy Zeus, and Zeus was eventually replaced by the biblical, all-powerful, heavenly father who also favored the subordinate status of women in marriage. Simply put, the institution of marriage was inspired by economic conditions that made an inheriting lineage appealing to the masculine. Now different economic conditions seem to be challenging the institution. If things don’t soon get back to the kind of normal that has made men attractive marriage material for several thousand years, then what?
The young unwed mothers in Lorain and elsewhere seem to be pioneers exploring an entirely new social frontier. The inclination is to judge and dismiss, but maybe we should just observe for a time, see how it goes. If they endure the hardship and danger that lies ahead, they may ultimately help transform the feminine experience for the better.