From lifelong faithfulness to calculated risk.
Modern economists meddle in everything and are apt to apply their models to economic and non-economic topics alike.
Marriage and family not excluded. And what results?
That one divorce brings forth another, according to British economists Kenneth Burdett and Melvin Coles.
Marriage means a promise of lifelong faithfulness. Yet, all too often partners from different marriages are drawn to each other. Which leads to new relationships. When that happens, we have two new additions of ex-partners on the free market of supply and demand (the dating or wedding market).
Because of this new supply other marriages run a greater risk of becoming instable, according to Burdett and Coles. Economic theory teaches that new supply creates new demand. So... when two potential candidates enter the wedding market place, new divorces come closer, according to the economists.
In several places in the Old and New Testament, marriage is pictured as an institution by God, in which a man and a woman are connected to each other for life through a promise of faithfulness.
Whether the emphasis is on not committing adultery in the newer bible translations or on not breaking the covenantal agreement in the older, or as Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount including coveting, lusting after in one's heart, everything comes down to being faithful. The essence is faithfulness in every aspect of the relationship, heart, mind, body and soul. The two shall become one. Our professor in Ethics (James Olthuis) would call it a troth relationship, in which truth, trust etc, come alive in a covenantal relationship. There is no more existential way of living than in this kind of relationship.
At least, that is the potential if the two partners decide to make it work. That decision is as crucial as is the commitment.
Since the middle of the 60's the number of divorces has increased steadily in the western world, among other things probably also because of a more flexible legislation. In February 2001 there were, for the first time, more divorces than weddings in The Netherlands: 3222 weddings and 3324 divorces.
At the moment one in every three marriages results eventually in a break up in The Netherlands and lifelong faithfulness' has changed into 'calculated risk''.
However it is true that couples with children stay together longer. Yet, one in six children experience a divorce of parents.
For a long time the damaging consequences of a divorce have been relativised. A professor (Veenhoven,1985) wrote, some twenty years ago,that there are also positive aspects of a divorce.
" As a consequence of a divorce children often get more attention from the parents than before; the transition to a more independent role is made easier and the atmosphere in the house is improved"
"What Veenhoven wrote in 1985, was wishful thinking and contradicts what we now know about the issues", reacts Johan van Ophem, professor and Department Head Economy of Consumer and Domestic Sciences, University of Wageningen.
Together with 50 lawyers, researchers and social scientists, he signed a Manifest in 2004 in which they demanded attention for the immense problematics ensuing the wave of divorces.
They emphasized the negative social problems and the consequences for the community , especially when children are involved.
" Fights and raging disagreements are not conducive for a balanced development of children, but being abandoned by one of the parents is even more traumatizing."
But the consequences reach further. It may appear bizarre to connect the break up of relationships to economic consequences, but Van Ophem hazards the thesis that " divorce in the long run is bad for the economy"
Broken marriages, divorces appear to be an important cause of poverty. According to sociologist Anne-Rigt Poortman, women who stay single after a divorce, lose on average at least one third of their income. And it is usually those women that are left with the care for their children.
"Mothers often end up on social assistance and welfare and we often see houses sold at a loss", adds Van Ophem.
For children the consequences with regards to wellbeing and wealth are at least as far reaching. A quarter of the children who grow up in a fatherless family, is even after many years, socially and emotionally still negatively affected. "They feel more unhappy and perform generally poorer in math and verbal skills"
The result is that they run the risk of a lower income and even unemployment.
" In this way the growing number of divorces clashes with the stimulating of the knowledge economy"
The Wageningen professor does not argue for a stop on divorces; but he does argue that a divorce should really become the hard road it really is. A last resort only after a lot of mediation has not worked out and only after the parties are fully aware of what they are proposing to do, the immediate and longterm financial implications and the devastating effect it will have on their children and the extent to which they are handicapping their children's chance of success in later life.
The "divorce culture" has to be changed. Which includes not just the parties in troubled relationships, but also the community around it and society at large through assistance with mediation etc.
Van Ophem: "The direct and indirect financial damage of divorces is considerable. If we take into account the extra workload for the legal profession and the Council for child protection, the unnecessary costs incurred within the healthcare, higher than normal sick leaves in the workplace etc. we will discover that the costs to society run into the billions ".
Van Ophem: " If we look at the consequences of divorce, we see that wellbeing and wealth go hand in hand".
And it is here that the grim reality has to be faced by the different players in the economic environment in which these trauma's are being caused in such large numbers. We can talk about “divorce culture” as if it is people's voluntary choice to break up a relationship. A relationship, it should be noted that was in most cases a well thought out, loving interaction of two people who definitely did not have divorce on their minds.
In most cases, work happened, jobs happened, promotion happened. More time at the office happened. Meaningless work happened, job frustration happened, lousy bosses happened.et.
And we usually take our frustrations out on the ones closest, the ones we trust, the ones we love.
And the beginning of the end has arrived.
In some cases one can say, the couple never had a chance. The job took it all.
We have to learn and begin to accept that the human factor in an economical situation has to be considered from a different perspective than merely economic.
We also may have to begin to realize that providing free therapie and marriage counseling should be considered an investment in th social and economic well being of a country.