Reflections on the Institution of Marriageby Katia Jean Paul
published September 07, 2012
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!
*Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia
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