Marriage Is Dead -- And Publishers Are Partly To Blame

While the tired debate over gay marriage consumes endless media attention, the real issue goes unreported:  Marriage itself is a failed institution.

Marriage is an outmoded idea reinforced by religious leaders, perpetuated by the media, and dragged out by a bunch of societal values that no one actually believes in anymore.

The proof is in the numbers.

A whopping 90% of Americans surveyed believe that adultery is morally wrong, yet more than 80% of both men and women admit to regularly flirting with someone at work. Even worse, more than 45% of married women and nearly 60% of married men will consummate that flirting with extramarital sex at some point during their relationship.

It does not end at cheating, either.

The U.S is Still the Best at Something
A study of divorce rates around the world shows an enormous bias toward developed nations. The United States leads the world in divorce rate, and other developed nations follow closely behind. The top 10 are:



1. United States
2. Puerto Rico
3. Russia
4. United Kingdom
5. Denmark
6. New Zealand
7. Australia
8. Canada
9. Finland
10. Barbados

And where in the world are there extremely low divorce rates? Impoverished nations: Uzbekistan,  Tajikistan, Mongolia, Libya, Vietnam, India, El Salvador, Belize, and Bosnia.

There is an undeniable correlation between a country's wealth and its divorce rate.

It Makes Sense to Commit For Life, When You Only Live to 28
Wealth is only one driver of divorce; the other is life expectancy.

We often forget that we have made huge strides in life expectancy in an extremely short period of time. Until 1,000 years ago, life expectancy was only 20 years. In 18th century London, 75% of children died before the age of five. It was only the advent of modern medicine and public health in the last 100 years that doubled our life expectancy from 35 in the early 1900s to more than 70 years today.

As Chris Rock once said, "People think life is short. Oh no! Life is long, especially if you make the wrong decisions."

A Brief History of Marriage
While we like to envision that marriage has its roots in love, it was actually borne out of wealth retention and opportunism.

Marriage was invented around 5,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, around the same time private property rights emerged. Marriage was a mechanism for clans to increase their wealth. It was also usually polygamous.

Religious guidelines were created several hundred years later to keep a church from losing wealthy followers by preventing them from marrying into another religion.

The one thing marriage wasn't: romantic. That didn't come for another 4,000 years.

Modern Marriage
Over the last 300 years, the goals of marriage began to change. No longer was marriage a mere financial contract, it was also supposed to provide companionship, and be the exclusive vehicle for intimacy and sex.

Now, marriage is changing once again. The "sanctity" of marriage is being warped by reality television shows and cheating websites, while infidelity is being made easier by the Internet and mobile devices.

All of this begs the question: What is the future of marriage?

The Answer Lies in a Secret Language
In the 1960's, an elderly woman passed out at a train station in the Hunan province in China, scattering dozens of odd papers and accidentally revealing an incredibly secret. For the last 1,700 years, the women of Jiangyong County had been using a second written language called Nu Shu, which was not understood by men. This language contains more than 2,000 unique characters and a vocabulary of more than 20,000 words.

Women printed Nu Shu on fans and paper, and embroidered it on handkerchiefs and quilts. They used it in letters to communicate secretly between each other, and chanted it at festivals and gatherings.

The women of Jiangyong were brave, operating within an oppressive regime that prevented women from being educated and forced them into arranged marriages. Much of the Nu Shu communication was focused on suffering caused by their marriages, and the tribulations of life as a woman in feudal China.

Today's women of Jiangyong found no use for Nu Shu, as they are now educated and no longer forced into arranged marriages. In 2004, the last remaining woman proficient in died, taking much of the knowledge with her.

Marriage shares a lot in common with Nu Shu. Both were borne out of necessity thousands of years ago, and both lost relevance as the world changed around them.

It is only a matter of time before it too fades into the past.


17 comments about "Marriage Is Dead -- And Publishers Are Partly To Blame".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Mai Kok from So What, October 8, 2010 at 10:41 a.m.

    Interesting article and I like your overall message. But an anthropologist you are not. Your "brief history of marriage" and the subsequent sections are stupid and pointless.

    But I like your thesis that the media is to blame for the death of marriage as well as the economics factor. You should focus on that and expand on that.

    Don't focus on religion as you have no idea, no clue, and are well, totally stupid on that subject. If you don't believe, you are just plain ignorant. Stick to an angle you can handle.

  2. Renee Mcgivern from Spark Plug Consulting, October 8, 2010 at 10:55 a.m.

    Thanks for being courageous enough to publish a strong opinion. I'd much rather hear people debating marriage rather than make an issue of who's in a marriage. To me, it's the more relevant discussion.

  3. Alex Carey from Jingle Networks, October 8, 2010 at 10:56 a.m.

    I find this article completely offensive and completely irrelevant to the media and advertising world. It is obvious that David is using this platform to distribute his ideals and personal opinion on the subject of marriage! He spends a tiny portion of the story on trying to tie in publishers with the subject but fails miserably! It is also obvious that David has all the knowledge about Marriage and it's history but is yet to experience a marriage and how it suppose to work.
    This is like a person who studied the game of baseball and the history of the game. They know every player and they know every rule but... they have never played a game in their life, in fact they have never even watched a game in their life! How is that person going to tell me how to play the game of baseball?
    David, if you want to see what the purpose of a marriage is....please come over my house for dinner. Site down with my two kids and talk to my wife. You will see first hand the true meaning of the "sanctity" of marriage and how beautiful it can be!

  4. Lauren Sorensen from Page One Rankings, October 8, 2010 at 11:10 a.m.

    Holy Moly! Did someone just get served with divorce papers???

  5. Mike Loomis from Eastco Worldwide, October 8, 2010 at 11:31 a.m.

    Whew! Hope you feel better. I'll forget you ever posted this, if you will.

  6. C. Phillipps from Yoohooville, Inc., October 8, 2010 at 11:38 a.m.

    I don't understand what this has to do with the media aside from the opening lines that the media is all to blame.

    If the media is to blame, there should have been a coverage of issues with media coverage, from tv shows to news reports. Instead, the article went into a poor history of marriage and a couple stats about divorce.

    Poor writing on the part of this individual. I'm disappointed.

  7. Kelly Wenzel from Centro, October 8, 2010 at 11:59 a.m.

    Holy wow. Nope, this has nothing to do with media and publishing, but I still found it an interesting read, even if I disagree with the premise. Marriage isn't dead, it's HARD. (As is anything else worth having.) Now, back to my regularly scheduled day, which DOES focus on advertising & media. :)

  8. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, October 8, 2010 at 12:18 p.m.

    You have to look long and hard to find any link to publishing, other than to blame a couple of web sites. Now I have to explain to my wife how I know of the existence of these sites ("It's my job to know, honey").

    I agree that this column is a CWOT.

  9. Jeff Weitzman from Go Factory, October 8, 2010 at 12:19 p.m.

    Fun article David! I have no objection to strong opinions, or their lack of connection to our profession, but I do take issue with your premise. You noted that the purpose of marriage has changed over the centuries, yet you declare that given the current statistics, marriage is a failed institution. No, marriage is again a *changed* institution. Where marriage was once inescapable, marriage is now a state rather than a condition. You are either married or not, your marriage is either healthy or not. The fact that statistically your marital state may change some time in the future in no way negates the benefits that you currently derive from your current state.

    That's why people continue to get married. And divorced.

  10. David Koretz from Adventive, Inc., October 8, 2010 at 12:28 p.m.

    Whoa... I seem to have struck a nerve ( they have anger management classes these days Mr. Kao)

    To answer all the questions asked (or implied):

    1. I'm single, and have never been married (I'm only 31)

    2. My parents have been married nearly 40 years, and are the most wonderful example of a happy marriage that I know.

    3. I'm not against two people spending their life together, or raising a family. My argument was purely an intellectual one about the current structure.


  11. Stewart Wills from, October 8, 2010 at 1:01 p.m.

    This seems to come pretty close to trolling to me -- certainly adding "publishers" to the headline doesn't make it germane to the topic of a MediaPost newsletter. But hey, it's Friday -- I'll bite.

    Yes, marriage began as an economic institution (and in some places it still is). But its meaning has changed since the days of ancient Mesopotamia. I suspect that a similar analysis, which I'm not qualified to undertake, would find that the meaning and role of other social institutions has evolved since then as well.

    It may be that the problem with marriage is really a problem with the expectations that people bring to it -- the expectation of a lifetime of immutable devotion and everlasting love, rather than a more realistic appraisal that recognizes that people and relationships change. Here, ironically, media -- and the poets -- may indeed be partly to blame through the happily-ever-after myths that they purvey. Raising those kinds of unrealistic expectations seems, at least to me, more problematic for the success of marriage as an institution than the reality shows and electronic aids to infidelity that the author cites. The best antidote that I've run across to that kind of thinking is a marvelous, humane book called "Marriage in Motion," by Richard Schwartz and Jacqueline Olds, that explores how the best long-term relationships are built with a sort of "engineering tolerance" that lets them withstand a natural ebb and flow of closeness between two people over time.

    For some of us, marriage, shorn of its economic and religious baggage, remains valuable today as a tangible, recognized sign of commitment that goes beyond cohabitation. For my wife and I it has provided that value for more than 26 years, and I am hoping for another 26 with all my heart. I recognize that we're fortunate in this respect -- but nonetheless believe that the visible commitment of marriage has added meaning and depth to our relationship.

    It may be that the need for such a visible token of lasting commitment, love and respect is a deeper need than the author realizes. That, in turn, may explain why gay people are fighting for the same validation -- even in an institution that, as practiced today in America, unquestionably has a mixed record. I don't think that need is going to go away, and for that reason, if nothing else, I believe that marriage will endure.

  12. David Koretz from Adventive, Inc., October 8, 2010 at 1:11 p.m.

    @Stewart, fantastic commentary. Thanks for sharing such a thoughtful perspective.


  13. Kate Lafrance from Hartford Woman Online Magazine, October 8, 2010 at 2:51 p.m.

    Wow! Guess every possible response has already been covered here. Unfortunately it's not "irrelevant" economically in 2010 - I personally know quite a few recently divorced women in their 40's who now have NOTHING. They have lost the safety nets of a spouse: the 2nd income, the health insurance that usually comes with it, their homes and even the love of their children (who side with their fathers - the ones still paying their tuition). Personally my spouse and I have each others backs and a friendship that has stood the test of time. 20+ years. I'll take that any day.

  14. Andy Giordano from Terri Bennett Enterprises, LLC, October 8, 2010 at 2:54 p.m.

    And how this has any relevance to the publishing industry is beyond me.
    You can lead a horse to water but you cant make her flirt with a lesbian.

  15. John Jainschigg from World2Worlds, Inc., October 8, 2010 at 5:46 p.m.

    I dunno. I think people have been saying this for years. Historians, anthropologists, first-generation feminists, angry divorced men, etc. This is not 'new news.'

    It's sad that you would characterize the debate over gay marriage in America -- something that's of present importance to millions of people -- as 'tired.' Sadder still that your article implies a pointed irony: that gay people may, after great cost of labor and much heartbreak, find themselves a place in the boat, only to discover that straight people have gotten off.

    I don't believe that's true. Certainly, marriage is changing in response to many dynamics, male/female economic equity and equal rights being the most important. But it's not going away, as long as there are houses to buy and children to raise. And as you note, since high divorce rates correlate with money, a globally declining economy in the West can only bring with it more two-career couples, gamely forming their little economic combines in order to acquire and maintain the trappings of security.

  16. David Koretz from Adventive, Inc., October 8, 2010 at 6:20 p.m.

    @John, You totally mis-understood my point.

    Gay marriage is a tired argument, because it should have been legalized 40 years ago when the public issue first arose.

    Whether it is woman's rights, African American rights, gay rights, or immigrants rights, the US seems hell bent on delaying equality for all Americans. These arguments are always layers of discrimination veiled by religious or economic arguments.

    As for economic arguments, a single downturn in the economy does not change the overall trajectory over the course of hundreds of years.

    The reality is still that divorce continues to climb, and will continue to climb, until we create a "Union" between two people that reflects the realities of the day. This one most certainly does not (and excluding gays is a part of it).


  17. Jerry Foster from Energraphics, October 9, 2010 at 4:07 a.m.


    Once again you've written an excellent article beginning a discussion that needs to take place among marketers (who should stop assuming we all want to get married and that the religious right has a future), however your comments reveal you're coming at this topic from a far left angle instead of the small-government conservative, libertarian or politically independent POV that would come to the same conclusions.

    If you check around the Internet, you will find tons of blogs with names like Don't Get Married dot com, etc. The most popular is at Most of the men who condemn marriage are politically conservative and see marriage as the big government institution it has become (telling the government that you are "married" is like handing a loaded pistol to them).

    Most people in the anti-marriage crowd refer to victim feminism as the main reason why the institution is no longer worthwhile for a MALE as opposed to a female. They show that marriage in the USA is an institution that now benefits women way more than men, especially now that the "Divorce Industry" and the US judicial bench are prone to favor women over men...basically reducing married men to a slave class (most child support above $500 per month is really stealth alimony).

    Blogs that deal with Evolutionary Biology and something called "HBD" (Human Biodiversity) explain that, because men tend to look sexually attractive for longer periods of time (sometimes decades longer), it is in a woman's interest to get a guy to commit before she "hits the wall", but not in a man's interest unless he knows he's fading fast looks-wise himself.

    And, yes, men are built to spread the seed while women are built to produce very few high quality offspring and raise them the best way possible. This scientific fact alone proves that marriage was invented to serve the ladies interest more than the gents.

    Especially in ancient times of war but even today when terrorists can wipe out an American city in a heartbeat, if a man had the financial resources, he would have wanted to have children being raised by various mothers in different geographical areas so, if one family were wiped out by marauders, he'd still have offspring that would survive elsewhere.

    Essentially, that's what Tiger Woods was thinking in the back of his head. He didn't need to get married to Erin in order to have 2 wonderful children with her and take care of them - in fact, it would have been in his interest if he had been legally able to have 200 children with 100 women and pay the mothers $100 per month each.

    Mel Gibson could have had 200 children with 100 Russian women and his child support obligations in Russia would have been no more than $100 per month per child. Instead he stupidly had unprotected sex in the anti-male state of California, and he got raped financially because of that.

    One has to ask: is it better to have 200 children or 2 children and, regardless of your personal opinion on that, should the state (the government) force men to have just 2 (for instance, with laws that tie child support to income level).

    The blogs that ask men to think in their own interest are split on the subject of monogamy and polygamy. Many insist that monogamy must remain the gold standard because, otherwise and as seen in Saudi Arabia, Alpha males will take all the good women and most males would find themselves left out of the party permanently...and these men would work less productively and maybe become terrorists.

    But most agree that, for the individual male who hasn't found a soulmate, its best to have something called an MLTR (Multiple Long Term Relationship) otherwise known as a harem (whether or not the women in the harem know each other exists or not). The wealthier a man is, the better he can afford to create such a situation (separate apartments and regular travel are often needed).

    More and more men would agree that religion is used to dupe males into entering an institution that is mostly in the interest of the woman, not the man.

    This is a big reason why the Republican Party needs to entirely drop religion as a platform stand if it wants to retain much of the younger male vote that would otherwise opt for small government politics.

    Marketers: Look to Coors and Remington for politically incorrect advertising that men respond well to.

Next story loading loading..