Salvo 04.25.2022 5 minutes

Fat and Lonely

Overweight man passing by healthy food

America faces a grim future as marriage rates plummet.

In 2012, The Atlantic’s Jen Dell asked if we had entered a “post-marriage” era.  A decade on, the answer appears to be most definitely yes. The marriage rate in the United States is at an all-time low. In 1990, the marriage rate was 9.8 per 1,000 people; in 2020 it had fallen to about half that figure.

According to the economist Aaron Clarey, the author of Menu: Life Without the Opposite Sex, there are many reasons for the decline in marriage, including “advances in technology, incredible economic growth,” as well as “a generous welfare state.” Additionally, the “political movement of feminism,” cannot be overlooked.  Today, he argues, “men and women no longer need each other in order to survive.” This statement is supported by hard, difficult-to-digest facts. Less than a decade from now, 45 percent of women in the workforce, ages 25 to 44, will be single. Getting married, once considered the worthiest of goals, now “ranks 5th place on women’s priority list.” Number 1? Independence, a proxy for career. In modern-day America, women are far more likely to be married to their jobs than to men.

Author and “manosphere” mainstay Rollo Tomassi, who has been talking about a post-marriage America for years, believes the “one man, one woman” system is unfashionable because “the twentieth century monogamy we know today is the result of a post-agrarian social order.”

In the past, “the monogamous tradeoff for women was long-term provisioning, protection (as far as the man was capable or could afford it), and parental investment, all things conducive to sustainable futures for women and their children,” says Tomassi. But that was then, and this is now. “Today,” he adds, “we know that women find 80 percent of men ‘unattractive’ as suitable mates.” That’s true, both in a physical and an economical sense. “Socially enforced monogamy served the reproductive interests” of yesterday’s humans, but norms and incentives appear to have changed. We are now desperately trying to superimpose a twentieth century template onto a twenty-first century world which it no longer fits.

Monogamy, according to Tomassi, “was a male institution masquerading as a female institution,” because “it ensured some level of paternity and stable bonds and responsibilities to arrive at a semblance of order among males in a community.” It came with a series of compromises, all to maintain “order, security, and reduce violence among males.” At the same time, he adds, the system “provided sex (at a limited scale) to a majority of males. It was a taming of nature invented by man that most likely allowed for the rise of civilization.”

Alan J. Hawkins, the director of the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, told me that America has “undergone a long process” of “deinstitutionalizing” marriage. Hawkins referenced the work of Andrew Cherlin, an academic who documented the many ways in which the “practical significance” of marriage has vanished from American society. Judging by the number of Americans willing (or unwilling) to get married today, one could argue that the symbolic significance of marriage has also vanished.

Hawkins told me that marriage is “closer now to a designer activity—setting personal parameters—rather than a highly institutionalized entity that sets the rules for its members.” This is because we, as a society, “have been changing the meaning of marriage for decades now.” Some changes, he believes, “have strengthened marriages (e.g., softer gender roles).” Although, as I have argued elsewhere, “softer gender roles” are part of the post-marriage problem. Hawkins noted that the rise in no-fault divorces and the elimination of sexual complementarianism—that is, of men and women—”as a necessary element of marriage legally” have contributed to the demise in marriage rates. 

The system of marriage that our parents or grandparents knew is gone, and it’s not coming back. People are less likely to settle down, and women are less likely to settle for an average guy. Marriage has gone upscale, and become something of a luxury product, but the men that women do want—known as high value males—are in very short supply. David M. Buss, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin who researches sex differences in mate selection, told me that there “are evolved sex differences in mate preferences, which combined with current cultural shifts,” have created or exacerbated “certain forms of sexual conflict.”

One key point to consider, he said, is that “women universally, in all cultures, have stronger mate preferences for men with status and resources. Since there’s been a ‘flip’ in education and higher professional degrees, with more and more women exceeding men, that means that there’s a smaller and smaller pool of men whom women consider eligible.” So, he adds, “women either wait and hope to find some man who exceeds threshold—at least as successful as they are, and preferably more so—or they opt out of the mating market; or they ’settle’ for men, and essentially ‘mate down.’ Women are typically very reluctant to do this.”

Of all the physical characteristics that matter to women, a man’s height appears to be the most important. This is true across cultures. The so-called “perfect” height is 6 feet.  That’s bad news for the average American man, who stands at 5 foot 9 inches. More bad news: American men are shrinking. In 1914, American men were the third-tallest group in the world. Almost a century later, they rank 37th. American men’s height peaked a quarter of a century ago. Poorer nutrition appears to be a reason why, though immigration from Latin America and Asia is probably a likelier answer.

What will the country look like in the next few decades as these trends play out? The aforementioned Clarey, told me that, two decades from now, “marriage will be the distinct minority of relationships,” with the vast majority of “people dating in perpetuity until they’re dead.” Oh, and “your average American woman will weigh 200 pounds, and your average American man will be 265.”

Clarey believes that “the marriage industry will tank,” and “cohabitation will be the primary form of households.” Roughly “75 percent of American children will be born out of wedlock.” Those are all estimates, he added. Clarey, a methodical researcher, believes that “Americans will continue to look more slovenly.”  Absent the social pressure to groom and compete for mates, “people will get fatter, dress sloppier, care less about their physique less, and end up looking like the People of Wal-Mart.  We will become physically disgusting and revolting people, and by many regards we’re already there.”

He’s right. One-third of American adults are now obese. This is a parlous trend. Obese people, especially obese men, are less likely to find love, and less likely to get married. By 2030, according to researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health, almost half the country’s adult population will be obese.  This is the future awaiting the country. You have been warned. An increasing number of Americans are waddling into the abyss, alone. 

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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