Jonathan V. Last, A Nation of Singles:
Instead of trying to bribe single America into voting Republican, Republicans might do better by making the argument—to all Americans—that marriage is a pillar of both freedom and liberalism. That it is an arrangement which ought to be celebrated, nurtured, and defended because its health is integral to the success of our grand national experiment. And that Julia and her boyfriend ought to go ahead and tie the knot.
I think Last has it backwards, or at least half backwards. He notes correctly that incentives to marry have diminished — IOW, people are behaving rationally — but then says that the way for Republican pols to get more votes is to encourage people to marry. But how do you do that? He leaves this question unasked other than to suggest an appeal to patriotism. I don’t think that will do it.
On the one hand there are disincentives to marriage that are probably here to stay, such as rising levels of female productivity and income that reduce women’s need for breadwinner husbands. On the other hand are disincentives created by bad government policies, and here is where thoughtful pols could focus their efforts. High rates of taxation increase costs of child rearing, and welfare-state subsidies diminish women’s need for husbands. Cut tax rates and subsidies. No-fault divorce and a backward legal system make divorce in many cases a good deal for women and a Damocles sword hanging over the heads of men who are married or considering marriage. Change the rules to shift more of the expected costs of divorce to women.
There’s also female hypergamy, a corollary of rising female education levels and incomes. Women have a strong preference to marry up. One result of this tendency is that, in any given society, as women become more accomplished the population of men they will consider marrying shrinks. This is human nature. There may not be a remedy for it, other than widespread recognition of the problem in a way that leads to changes in the way that parents raise their children, and in the educational system (in short: stop paying attention to feminist theory). At the least, government sponsored sexual preferences favoring women in education and hiring should be stopped immediately.
Will any politician dare to touch such issues? Few will. Maybe the best that we can hope for is gradual reform of our tax system and divorce laws. These are areas where Republicans might do some good. However, merely hectoring young people to get married for the good of the society, without changing the incentives to which they are rationally responding, is a sure loser.