Does Marriage Still Matter?

Does Marriage Still Matter?

“Marriage is outdated” became a recently popular idea in many publications based on opinion polls. Truth be told, most of these articles are describing a social perception of marriage in developed democracies. Social scientists have used several arguments to support this statement, two key arguments among many being the decriminalization of same sex marriage and a decline in religiosity. The latter is playing a vital role in marriage and, similar to the state, religion also defines, endorses and regulates marriage. Nevertheless, unlike the state, religion rarely restricts on a racial basis, but it does so regarding those of other faiths.

In this column I am not going to discuss factors that distinguish marriage from other relationships and whether unmarried partnerships can be more permanent compared to married ones, and even what will be the fate of marriage when life expectancy reaches its possible maximum, further expanding the time that a couple stays together.

Personally, I believe the institution will be around even after Mars is colonized, but it will evolve together with humankind. And this is not because I don’t like the idea that a government should validate my love, nor because feminists have been objecting to marriage for at least couple of hundred years. From the 1980s onwards, various feminist theorists such as Marjorie Maguire Shultz, Lenore Weitzman and Martha Fineman advocated the use of relationship contracts to replace marriage. The idea is that such contracts enable each couple to come to an agreement that matches their own unique circumstances and preferences. Such contacts are becoming normal, but at a slow pace. Therefore, the question that we can ask is if Orthodox Europe is ready to consider marriage as anachronistic and move to an alternative form, such as even civil partnership?

For the sake of comparability, using the data from the European Value Study (EVS) 2017-2018, and choosing 4 Orthodox countries which are similar to each other in many parameters, I wanted to show our readers how people see the institution of marriage today. These countries are: Georgia, Belarus, Bulgaria, and Russia.

The European Values Study (EVS) is a large-scale, cross-national, repeated cross-sectional survey research program on basic human values that started in 1981. GORBI has been part of the project since 2008 and is the data provider for Georgia and Azerbaijan for 2017-2018 EVS Survey.

Chart 1. Rejectors of Marriage by none religious vs general public (%)


Source: European Value Study, 2017-2018 

As we can see from Chart 1, compared to other countries surveyed, Bulgaria is the biggest believer in the idea that marriage is outdated. Nevertheless, even in Bulgaria, a majority of the population does not agree with the idea that marriage is an outdated institution. Moreover, among these 4 countries, Georgia is the most firm believer in the family institution, with around 91% of the population disagreeing with the idea that marriage is an outdated institution. For Georgians and 3 other Orthodox countries, marriage still matters a lot. Even though in Southern Europe people have less firm beliefs in family institutions, with 36% of Spaniards saying that marriage is outdated, even these number are not the majority, and we can say that overall Europe still believes that the traditional family is a valid institution.

As research by Bosoni and Mazzucchelli (2016) based on the 2008-2009 EVS data demonstrates, religiosity appears to be the most important independent variable for the belief in the institution of marriage for Italians. By looking at Chart 1, we can also easily note that there is difference in how people perceive the family institution according to their religiosity, where religious people tend to believe in marriage much more than non-religious ones. This is true for all of the countries presented, but we see a more extreme gap between the opinions of religious people vs the non-religious in Georgia.

It is interesting to note that for all of the noted countries, belief in the institution of marriage is changing by age. Older people tend to believe more strongly in the family institution than younger ones. This gap is even more visible if we look at Bulgaria and Belarus in Chart 2. If 43% of young Bulgarians (aged 15-24) believe that marriage is an outdated institution, only 12% of older Bulgarians (65 years and older) think the same way. A lurking variable such as religiosity can also be responsible for this trend, since for countries that were part of EVS survey the older people get the more religious they become, and we can also see a positive correlation between religiosity and belief in family institutions.

Chart 2. Rejectors of Marriage  by age group (%)

Source:European Value Study, 2017-2018

To summarize, even though religion, social institutions and society in general play a key role in the stability of family institution, new democracies can also contribute, for example by implementing different regulations for married and single taxpayers. And this is even more important for Georgia where unemployment and poverty is almost as widespread as khachapuri.