Saturday, November 3, 2012

Loneliness and Marriage

This column in the UK Telegraph notes there has been a huge increase in the number of people living alone. It isn't just more single young people, either.

As the ONS makes clear, the largest increase in solitary living is down to the 45-64 age group. Almost two and a half million Britons in that age category have no one with whom to share their home, an increase of more than 800,000 households since the mid-Nineties. Even allowing for the increase in total population size, that’s still a noticeable change, and they don’t all enjoy the experience.

In US terms, that would be an increase of around four million people living alone. Many might choose it, of course. Many more would not.

Much of this blog is about what leads to actual happiness or flourishing, rather than simply measuring welfare as GDP or material standards of living. And this is a sign of social deterioration. Loneliness is not part of flourishing, and it deserves far more attention than it gets in general public discussion. Gross National Loneliness is as important as GDP once you have a threshold of acceptable material living standards, as I've argued before.

Marriage, the author argues here, is the most important bulwark against loneliness, and the government should promote it.

Michael Howard deployed a powerful phrase in defence of his criminal justice policy: prison works. It’s time we used a similar phrase, in defence of social justice: marriage “works” too. It works for most people and definitely for civic society, yet we find it hard to say this, and shy away from its political implications. What started as a desire not to judge “lifestyle choices” has bred a generation living in lonely, quiet despair. Loneliness is a much harder political issue to tackle than, say, house-building, but – if we believe in “society” at all – hardly one of lesser significance.

Socially conservative? Yes. But then it's often the most vulnerable who are left worst off by declining social ties. More choice for some often has consequences. A libertarian or highly liberal approach to relationships and families leaves a lot of shattered lives. Liberal neutrality often produces meaninglessness and emptiness.


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