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[photo]-Reflections on the Institution of Marriage

Reflections on the Institution of Marriage

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Does it still have a place in the Canadian social fabric?
Marriage: many women desire and expect to wed, and can describe exactly how they envision that momentous milestone down to the very last detail. But in the last few years, this traditional institution has seen a steady decline as other forms of unions have come into play and subsequently changed the Canadian family structure. How did this change come about? And as varying new family portraits become more and more commonplace, how will this affect the once prevalent social institution? We ponder on the topic below.
 
Perceptions and the evolution of the social landscape
When Prince William and Kate Middleton were married last year, an estimated two million viewers worldwide tuned in to witness the historic nuptials. The glitz and glam of a royal wedding may explain how the event drew such a large audience, but given the interest and fascination that celebrity weddings, reality TV weddings, and one might even argue, fictional weddings on both the big and small screens routinely generate, it’s safe to say people still find the traditional custom alluring.
 
However, the numbers tell a different story. *In Canada, there are approximately five married couples for every 1,000 people as opposed to approximately 11 per 1,000 back in 1940. What accounts for this significant decrease in matrimony? One explanation is the ratio of women to men, which since decades prior to the turn of the past century, has been higher than the ratio of men to women. But is that a sufficient explanation? Other than women outnumbering men in Canadian industrial centers, it has been argued that men and women’s choice of partner has greatly affected the institution as well. A man is more likely to take a woman younger than he for a wife, which in turn explains why women are more likely to only find a spouse in their prime, and find the selection pool narrowing as they age.
 
Evidently, economic factors also come into play. Not only at the macro level, where it has been shown that marriages are less likely to occur during an economic downturn, but at the micro level, whereby men have a tendency to get married only once they feel able to support a wife and children.
 
But beyond these basic influences on marriage, what other societal changes can account for the decrease in popularity of what was once a mainstay of Canadian society?      
  
The rise of common law unions
Historically, marriage was first and foremost a religious rite. But the separation of church and state has led to a steady increase in the incidence of common law marriages. In Canada, as in most industrialized countries, common law marriages are becoming more and more prevalent. Interestingly, the degree to which Canadians opt for common law unions—as opposed to civil unions and marriage—varies greatly across provinces. *In Quebec for instance, 30% of unions are common law marriages, or rather de facto unions (not considered a form of marriage under Quebec jurisdiction), as opposed to 8% for the rest of the country.
 
While this high incidence of common law unions may indicate a preference towards a more liberal type of romantic union, unofficiated by the church or justice of the peace, some experts argue that Quebecers choose this type of union simply because they believe common law partners are afforded the same rights and obligations as legally married partners under the law. However, the opposite is true: in case of a breakup or separation, neither spouse is legally obligated to support the other or equally distribute assets. Could it be that, as more Quebecers become aware of the jurisdiction as it pertains to de facto unions, that this would decrease the percentage of common law unions in Quebec and increase the percentage of marital unions? And could it be that people in common law unions nationwide see this form of union as a more economically viable, or more convenient partnership than marriage, the latter of which can only be dissolved through annulment or divorce?
 
While the latter remains to be seen, changing social conditions have inarguably played a significant role in the decrease of matrimony in the past few decades. Women becoming more financially independent, men and women seeking professional advancement over starting a family, and both men and women facing much less social reproach or sanctions when they get divorced, have all contributed to the shift in the Canadian family structure. And speaking of Canadian family structure, no change has been more conducive to its redefinition than the recognition of same-sex unions as part of the social fabric.
 
Ladies, we want to know: what is your take on marriage? Is it an antiquated institution or is it here to stay? Do you still dream of walking down the aisle one day? Sound off in the Comments sections below!       
 
 

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We wanna know! Post your comment below. 4 comment(s)

  • Deb
    September 11, 2012 at 9:07 am
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    I think people have given up on marriage because "living together" does not have a stigma to it anymore. I believe that living together is selfish in a way - it says that I don't have to legally commit to someone. I have been married for 15 years and am still totally in love and committed to my partner. I have three daughters and only hope that they also marry and see how wonderful it can be - it is definately not easy or fun all the time, but knowing that we support each other fully and completely keeps me planted.
  • Jen
    September 11, 2012 at 1:40 pm
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    My take on marriage is that it is not antiquated at all! It's a beautiful ceremony and a powerful commitment made by a man & a woman to love one another as long as they both live.



    Sadly, today's society thinks nothing of breaking promises or commitments, and marriage vows are no exception. I was in my 30's when I married my beloved, and we are very happy together. Do we have disagreements? Of COURSE we do! Do we get through them? Absolutely!



    I agree that living together as common-law is more of a selfish option - you don't have to commit to the other person, and if you get into an argument, you can just leave! People today are good at running away from their problems, and this seems to be evident in the marriage field as well.



    As for same-sex unions: I don't believe they should be called "marriages." By common dictionary definition, a marriage is a union between a man & woman. If 2 people of the same sex want to join together as a couple, that's up to them; but don't call it marriage! Don't take a word that means one thing and transform it into something else just so it suits your own situation. It's a union, sure! Same with common-law partners: they never got married, so why call it a marriage? Perhaps I'm old-fashioned, but I just don't understand why people who want to be DIFFERENT insist on being treated the SAME! Why can't people be happy to have their own unique terms?
  • Val
    September 11, 2012 at 2:29 pm
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    There will always be people who want to commit to the person they love for the rest of their lives. Marriage isn't going to go away. I do think, though, that different kinds of marriage have differing levels of commitment, and that the laws surrounding these practices should reflect that. There *should* be a difference between marriage involving vows and a license, and people who've simply been living together for a long time. They are two different commitments. One has publicly vowed to remain faithful until death, but the other has not. Often those who opt for common-law marriage do so because it is less committed and gives them an easy way out if (and often when) things get tough.



    Marriage is good. It's not a failed institution, as some say. But you have to work on it. You get out of it what you put into it. Marriages don't fail "just because"...they fail when one (or both) person doesn't pull their weight.



    And I have to say, I'm very proud to live in a country where gay people are allowed to marry. I think it is important that all of our citizens are afforded the same rights and given legal equality. Gay people are no less deserving of the right to have a wedding day of their own and to make the same commitment that I as a straight person got to make, to spend my life with the one I love. Everyone should be allowed to do it, even if there are folks who don't like it or think it's wrong or that it violates their personal religious beliefs. Personal freedom should not be bound by one group's faith. It isn't right. And I write this as a born-again Christian, too! I wouldn't want my personal liberty to be curtailed because something I do goes against another religion - say, forced to wear a burqa because it violates the conscience of Muslim men to see me out and about in jeans with my hair uncovered.
  • sara
    April 2, 2013 at 1:39 pm
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    Common law unions are on the rise because men do not want to get married. I know this because I've been involved in 2 long term relationships (3 years and 6 years) that turned into common law relationships. It can be nice to play "house" for a while but if you really want to move on with your life and get married, have kids, etc, you start to feel very unfulfilled and unhappy. My advice is to not live together, even though it can look great for financial reasons or to spend all your time together, if you really want to get married. Common law unions are a big let down at the end of the day because that man is not committed to you and can leave as soon as the going gets rough (the same goes vice versa).
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