The Corner

Marrying down

According to Melanie McDonagh in The Times of London, the marriage rate in the United Kingdom is at an all-time low:

A couple of generations ago, it would simply not have occurred to anyone that marriage could go out of fashion… Back then, even progressives got married after living together, people like John Lennon who fancied themselves as subversive; now even the Queen’s granddaughter cohabits and doesn’t care who knows it…

The truth is that marriage is coming perilously close to being a matter of class, along with church attendance, home cooking and male employment. This was never so before. As Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, never tires of pointing out, one of the defining characteristics of the underclass is that its members do not marry – that requires a degree of commitment, of emotional and financial stability. Think of the difference between Shannon Matthews’ mother with her several children by different fathers, and her grandparents, for whom marriage and jobs were the norm.

“Underclass” is an interesting word in the British context. When you wander around Glasgow, Liverpool, Birmingham or almost any other British city, the “underclass” seems pretty much the overclass: its mores dominate. Thatcherism liberated the British economically and, despite ten years of Blair and Brown, they still pay less tax than most of their Continental neighbors. But, lacking any meaningful equivalent to America’s social conservatives, values voters, small-government types, Second Amendment gun nuts and other familiar figures of the US scene, Britain has become a land of economic plenty with a welfarist sensibility. The “yobs” who rampage through town shopping centers turn out to be not downtrodden and impoverished but living in suburban cul-de-sacs with two-car garages. This is a very contemporary problem: an underclass that’s too rich. The Queen’s granddaughter is merely one of the more obvious symbols of an entire nation’s downward mobility.  

Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human-rights activist.