An uneasy political marriage... or not.
Is polarization killing romance, or is it something else?
Happy belated Thanksgiving. I hope that all of our readers successfully avoided fights with too-political uncles and effortlessly ducked “when are you getting married” questions from nosy aunts.
There may have been more of those this year, thanks to an editorial published in the Washington Post last week just in time to make dinner conversations a little less bearable.
“If attitudes don’t shift, a political dating mismatch will threaten marriage,” the headline read. It described how single women, particularly those in Gen Z, are becoming more liberal while single young men are not following suit — and may in fact be growing more conservative. (I should note here that I am a member of the Washington Post’s Editorial Board, but I did *not* write this editorial.)
That means that there are significantly more single liberal women than single liberal men, while the reverse is true on the conservative end of the spectrum. And increasingly few are willing to date or marry across the aisle. Unless, as the Post dares hope, they give up their principles?
“This mismatch means that someone will need to compromise… 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.”
First, let’s point out that there are issues far more important than stated political affiliation that couples ought to agree on before agreeing to marry. How children are raised, or whether to have children at all. Sex. Finances. Religion (which may be correlated with politics, but more on that in a moment). Compared to such core determinants of long-term compatibility, the question of whether one identifies as R or D seems interesting, but minor.
Unless, of course, that identification is a synecdoche for all the rest. Which, increasingly, it is.
Today, expressed political affiliation is often correctly read as a statement of values. In a moment in which politics are increasingly core to identity, political party is read as shorthand for how one answers any number of life questions, many of which might well be be core to how one’s marriage is conducted. Would your partner be okay with an abortion? Divorce? The curriculum of your local public school? A financial setup in which the wife is the highest earner?
That last issue leads me to another question, which the editorial touches on but doesn’t fully explore. Political polarization may well make dating more difficult. But is that a reason for falling marriage rates, or a symptom?
If you look at the picture more closely, the cause and effect seem to reverse— at least a little bit. Hear me out: what if men (in aggregate) are less appealing to women generally in this moment, due to well-documented social and economic factors. And women, newly empowered and able to manage financially on their own, simply don’t want to be with many of them. Men are becoming more conservative — at least socially and in public identification — as a response. And many women, out of justified self-interest, are running to the opposite end of the ship.
In which case, calming political polarization isn’t going to help marriage rates. Something much deeper will need to change.
P.S. For the lucky DC members of the Crowd— there are a few spots left for a related live event:and I will be discussing men, masculinity, and gender norms more generally on Wednesday Night at The Imperial. will be moderating/provoking. Merriment will ensue. Register here!