Is the institution of marriage under a threat?


By Viscount Francis K’Owuor.

In recent years the fortunes of the institution of marriage have dwindled significantly. Many men and women of marriage age remain single and there is a proliferation of single parent households majority of which are headed by mothers. Alongside these are insecure marriage partnerships arising from come-we-stay arrangements. Same sex marriages are gaining ground in the Western world. Divorce rates as another variable has also risen steadily. One is forced to wonder, is the family institution under attack?

A lot of factors have contributed to this state of affairs. Firstly, women empowerment that began in the twentieth century has paid significant dividends to women by opening up opportunities hitherto inaccessible to them; education, jobs, power and other entitlements that come with women rights and freedoms. Women are today freer and have more options in life as compared to how the situation was in the past. So instead of getting married a young woman may instead decide to pursue her career or further her studies.

Secondly, as women appropriate more power in the society men have consequently become more powerless. This is more so if we apply the Weberian (from Max Weber) concept of power that states that those who hold power do so at the expense of others. That there is a fixed amount – constant sum, of power and therefore if someone holds power, others do not. In this case, power holders tend to use power to further their own interests. Doesn’t this aptly capture the attitudes of women who have made it life? Unlike men, women don’t marry below their class, with few exemptions though. Additionally, unlike men, women are never keen on sharing their properties whether financial or material with the men in their lives. In fact, the moment a woman is financially independent she thinks she doesn’t need a man in her life. Marriage accordingly becomes less attractive.

Thirdly, the shift in our value system means that a lot of premium is put on individual happiness, personal freedom and primitive accumulation of wealth more than in the furtherance of the social fabric. Success in life is becoming less about homes, families, children and social stability but more about economic stability and financial independence. Accordingly, being prospective for marriage means possessing the capacity to establish material conditions for the woman and children, with less emphasis being laid on emotional and moral support. As a result poor men are scorned at.

In addition to all these is the state of anomie that has enveloped our society. Those values and norms that held the society together have been eroded. People are today freer to do all manner of things with their lives; engage in extramarital affairs, marry from the same sex group, break up and form relationships at will, etc. This has made the family look like prison and many do not want to be bound by so many rules.

Of course it must be pointed out that there are still so many successful marriages and families out there. This is part of Social Statics – the extent to which social institutions remain stable and all enduring. The threats to the institution of marriage on the other hand point to Social Dynamics – social change and the evolutionary nature of the society. Will the structure of the family evolve into something different and still perform its core mandates of reproduction, nurture, welfare and socialization? That is the question we have to grapple with.
The writer is a Human Rights Activist in Kisumu Kenya and also a student of Political Science at the University of Nairobi.


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