By J. DeVoy
Last night was the state of the union address. I did not watch. I was working and then at the gym. The successful (and attractive, since there is a correlation) people I know have little use for politics, and I have come to agree with their position. Sure, they care about broad issues like equality, the availability of birth control, and abortion, but the primary focus is always on self-improvement through developing new ideas, honing better skills and making more money. These skills are desirable no matter who is in office (assuming, charitably, there is any difference between the political parties). The minutiae of politics is for, and best left to, the trolls. You want to know who gets all excited about politics? This person. Great company, I’m sure.
However, because of the scourge of social media, some exposure to the bread and circuses is inevitable. From what I gleaned, the President made comments about the need to incentivize fatherhood. This morning, I pulled the transcript of his speech to see the exact comments:
And we’ll work to strengthen families by removing the financial deterrents to marriage for low- income couples and do more to encourage fatherhood, because what makes you a man isn’t the ability to conceive a child, it’s having the courage to raise one. And we want to encourage that. We want to help that.
That’s ironic, since the state of the law over the last 30 or so years has had the opposite effect. I don’t think low-income people are really obsessing over the marginal rates for married couples filing jointly versus filing as a head-of-household or filing separately while residing at the same address and potentially claiming the same dependents.
In reality, financial deterrents to marriage are the dual threshers of child support (which you can be incarcerated for not paying, and held in custody until payments are made – which creates an interesting catch-22 if you’re unemployed) and alimony. How strong of a deterrent are these? Considering the failure rate of all marriages is around 50%, it’s a pretty strong deterrent. Ironically, the people more likely to be influenced by and understand statistics – and avoid marriage because of this deterrent – are generally higher-income and better educated than average.
There’s some dispute over what the divorce rate really is. This is important, as it signals to men what their risk is of losing half of their assets, the chance of losing access to their children, and a radical downward shift in standard of living – even without considering all that emotional stuff. A much-vaunted study says that a full half of all marriages will end in divorce, while other analyses show that first marriages are more likely to succeed, with subsequent marriages being more prone to failure. Whether the total failure rate for all marriages is 50%, 40%, or even an unfathomably small 30%, guess what number is lower: The divorce rate for mail-order-bride marriages, which is only 20%.
The Center for Immigration Studies has found that 80% of these mail-order-bride marriages are successful. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had posted a study that drew significant attention until it was mysteriously removed, which read in part that “marriages arranged through [mail-order] services would appear to have a lower divorce rate than the nation as a whole, fully 80 percent of these marriages having lasted over the years for which reports are available.” Still further research shows that these arrangements are not maintained out of fear, but genuine happiness; the bogeymen of spousal abuse and threat of deportment have no support in fact or law – U.S. law in particular goes to great extent to protect an immigrant spouse’s citizenship, even before it is finalized, unless it is procured fraudulently.
What we see here is the reality that mail-order-marriages carry a much lower risk than marrying a fellow American, and are less than half as likely to end in divorce and its ensuing asset-grab. There are other deterrents that can be removed as well. The federal government can eliminate or sand down the must-arrest requirements that many police departments have enacted in response to the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”), which provides for generous federal funding to police departments adopting these objectives. The practical effect of VAWA’s adoption and resulting mandatory arrest policies has been to turn the prelude of every divorce into a psychological game where a wife tries to agitate her husband into hitting her, at which point he will be arrested and, as a scary and violent criminal, face a tough challenge in obtaining meaningful custody of his kids. (Forget the house; once he’s out of it and in jail, it’s as good as hers.)
Another deterrent to successful marriage that could be removed is the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act, or IMBRA, which requires mail-order bride services to regulate and even restrict the speech of individuals who use their services. Increasing the pool of people who can pursue marriages with better than a coin flip chance of success can only help the cause of fatherhood.
Other deterrents that I’m sure will go unaddressed: Maybe it’s not only the no-good-totally-evil men’s fault that divorce rates are so high. More than a third of women are obese. While there’s much noise made about how women are outnumbering men on campus and in obtaining bachelor’s and master’s degrees, little is said about the fact that they mostly get useless liberal arts degrees that come with lots of debt and little prospect for paying it off. Student loans are only theoretically dischargeable in bankruptcy, so that debt is for life (while your spouse may not be). And then there’s the cultural zeitgeist that it’s cool and braggable to be a self-identified “slut.” As the saying goes, why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? I think most people would agree that these are unattractive qualities when evaluating a marriage partner, and especially one who can grab half of your present and future assets out of boredom.
If we want to remove the deterrents to fatherhood and the stable nuclear families that are highly correlated with growing, healthy societies, it won’t be through the tax code. Instead, throw open wide the gates to Croatia and Ukraine. Give Michelle Obama more air time to “fat-shame” and campaign against obesity at all ages. Tie federal funds to states adopting more rational policies on alimony and child support, in much the same way the federal government cajoled the states to raise the drinking age to 21. And stop assuming it’s solely fathers, rather than both parents, that have caused the broken family structure hollowing out America from its core.