Dutch Decline?

In a recent article in the NRO and carried at MD.com, Joshua Livestro give us his spin on the effect of SSM on marriage in the Netherlands. Suggesting we re-read two articles by Dr. Stanley Kurtz, Mr. Livestro provides a tiny new snippet of data. He tells us the marriage rate in the Netherlands has dropped, and suggests this is due to SSM.

It is worth examining this tiny nugget of data, and seeing whether or not it seems to support Mr. Livestro’s claim. I must warn the reader: It does not.

Let us begin with Mr. Livestro’s claim:

As it turns out, 1989 – the year in which gay-marriage campaigners filed their first legal challenge to the existing marriage laws – is something of a tipping point in marriage statistics as well. Before that year, both the absolute number of marriages and the marriage rate (number of marriages per 1,000 people) were on an upward trend. Since 1989, however, that upward trend has turned into a downward slope, from more than 95,000 new marriages in the peak year 1990 to just over 82,000 – including 1500 gay marriages – in 2003. This equals a decline in the marriage rate per 1,000 people from 6.4 at its peak in 1990 (out of a population of under 15 million) to just 5.1 in 2003.

Yes. The marriage rate declined in the Netherlands over the last decade. However, it is very odd to suggest this is somehow caused by the campaign for same sex marriage. The figure below shows the marriage rate in the Netherlands, the European average[1] and the average for Scandinavia.[2]

Figure: Click to see slightly larger. EuropeMarriages-thumb.gif

The marriage rate in the Netherlands closely matched the European average in 1991; it still does. Arguably, no country in Europe tracks the average more closely than the Netherlands. Many attribute the decrease in the European marriage rate, in part, to the aging population in Europe; it is plausible the aging Dutch population also has some effect. It boggles the mind that anyone would attribute the Dutch drop to legalized SSM.

However, Mr. Livestro prefers to suggest this:

And besides, maybe it’s just a coincidence that the birth of the gay-marriage movement in the Netherlands coincided with the start of the decline of the institution of marriage.

On my graph, I noted two key events in the campaign for SSM in the Netherlands. At least to my eyes, the drop does not appear particularly connected to the legalization of either Registered Partnerships or Same Sex Marriage.[3]

I guess Mr. Livestro can attribute this decrease to whatever he likes; I think it’s a coincidence. The campaign for same sex marriage in the Netherlands occurred just as the marriage rate was dropping all over Europe. The mailman delivered my mail just as the garbage man picked up my garbage. Unless I see evidence to connect the two things, one doesn’t seem to have much to do with the other.

Nevertheless, let us examine an intriguing possibility that Mr. Livestro attributes to Andrew Sullivan.

He claims that allowing gays to marry would not only not undermine marriage, it would also help strengthen an institution under threat of countercultural erosion. It would do so, he says, not just by boosting marriage statistics, but more important by presenting marriage as something to be desired, a special status worth fighting for.

As those who have been read Stanley Kurtz’s various articles know, SSM, and “de facto” same sex marriage exist in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Interestingly, if we examine the average for Scandinavia, we see a slight rise in the marriage rate in those countries. Since this rise is totally at variance with the erosion we seen in the rest of Europe, it supports Andrew Sullivan’s premise that the campaign for SSM could strengthen the institution under the threat of countercultural erosion.

It’s rather interesting to go further. Examining the balance of the evidence, we see mounting support for Andrew Sullivan’s view:

  • In Europe, the non-marital birth rate has risen less in Scandinavian countries with legal or de-facto SSM than in countries that without SSM. This comparison includes the Netherlands where the rise in illegitimacy hardly breaks out of the European mold. See “Tired”
  • In Europe, the marriage rate has risen slightly in Scandinavian countries with legal SSM or defacto SSM. See figure above.
  • In the US, the rate of increase in the non-marital birth ratio decelerated soon after the campaign for SSM went national. See “Reemergence of Marriage”. At a minimum, the campaign for SSM didn’t cause unmarried American women to rush out and get pregnant; in fact, it would appear many refrained!
  • In the Netherlands, notwithstanding Mr. Livestro’s laments, the marriage rate has declined at the average rate for the rest of Europe. See figure above. So, SSM seems to have caused no harm.

So, based on fuller examination of the data than provided by either Dr. Kurtz or Mr. Livestro, SSM tends to benefit the institution of marriage. Sure, maybe it’s just a coincidence that the same sex marriage movement in Scandinavia and the US coincides with the improvements in the institution of marriage. As Mr. Livestro might say ( if he liked the data), “Maybe– but it would be an awfully big coincidence.”

Or maybe, Andrew Sullivan is right. If we legalize SSM, we will see marriage strengthened!4

End notes====
[1] To obtain the European average, averaging all countries listed by newCronos. I excluded Lichtenstein because Lichtenstein failed to report 4 years.

[2] I calculated the Scandinavian average using Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

[3] I can’t help but wonder if that blip in 2000 isn’t due to enthusiastic couples wishing to marry at the turn of the millennium.

[4] I was hoping I wouldn’t have to fulfill my pledge quite so soon! I hope Mr. Livestro has taken over for Stanley Kurtz; Mr. Livestro’s articles are shorter.

Ohh.. I edited a sentence for clarity! Those who read first can guess which one.

This entry posted in Same-Sex Marriage, SSM: The Scandinavian Question. Bookmark the permalink. 

9 Responses to Dutch Decline?

  1. 1
    Jake Squid says:

    Unsurprisingly, the declining marriage rate in the Netherlands corresponds exactly to the date that my first marriage started.

    Coincidence? Maybe– but it would be an awfully big coincidence.

    Unsurprisingly, the declining marriage rate in the Netherlands corresponds exactly to the date that one of my best friends died of cancer.

    Coincidence? Maybe– but it would be an awfully big coincidence.

    As Mr. Vonnegut says….. And on and on.

  2. 2
    NancyP says:

    It is perfectly obvious that changes in the age composition of a population are going to affect incidence of an event which is limited to a specific age subset of that population. Why can’t these bozos correct for an age cohort in which 90% of first marriages occur? eg., First marriage incidence per year for cohort 18 to 35 years old. That way the denominator is “those likely to have first marriages”, not “everyone, including the 90 year olds in nursing homes who have been married already anyway”. Yes, there are relatively modest trends on a year to year basis for average age at first marriage.

  3. 3
    lucia says:

    Hi NancyP,
    Guess what? To an extent, the data are available at newcronos. I was tempted to correct…. but I think it’s best to be purely reactive. Mr. Livestro wants to say it’s the marriage rate measured this way? Well… ok. But even using HIS choice, the case is pathetic.

  4. 4
    Amanda says:

    I don’t buy the whole “gays can marry so straights won’t” crap. For one thing, the fact that the gay couples we know are hanging in without marriage probably makes it easier, not harder, for my boyfriend and me not to bother getting married. But if everyone, gay and straight, around us got married, well, the heat might be higher on us.
    But hell, open, liberal straight couples like us might be the minority. Maybe there are legions of straight people who won’t marry if gays can. I know anecdotal evidence doesn’t prove anything, but I think that it might support the “gays marry, so straights won’t” argument if they could cough up a couple of examples.

  5. 5
    TonySprout says:

    As a Men’s Rights Advocate, I see the decline as due to anti-father legislation. Rates are dropping all over the world. Women can get a divorce at the drop of a hat, then get the kids, house, and the money. Many men have come home from a hard days work to find out they now live on the street thanks to assistance from the police and judges. A small amount of those also find they’ve been charged with some sort of abuse. Why get married?

  6. 6
    Kip W (thinking of pianos) says:

    Gays have oral sex, so straight people don’t.

    And gays play the piano, so straight people won’t play the piano either. We must act harshly without reflection to put a stop to this evil insidiousness. Think of the pianos!!

  7. 7
    Judith says:

    Being married to a Dutchman, having relatives in Holland (including nieces and cousins of marriageable age) I can tell you exactly why people (especially the younger ones) are declining to marry. It’s the tax on married couple incomes. It’s high…more than double the single rate.

    While their parents were and are content to pay it, the youngers are not.

    It has had the double benefit of lowering the birth rate in the country that is second only to Bangladesh in density of population.

  8. 8
    bad Jim says:

    It’s obvious from the graph that 2000 was a big year for marriages. Someone I know got married January 1; a niece got married a few months later. It was the millenium, a typical time to force decisions.

    The Scandinavians actually seem slightly more inclined to marriage than they were a decade ago; the rest seem to be settling into the same equilibrium.

    It’s more than a stretch to suggest that gays marriage has an affect on straights. [Shakes head, mutters to self.]

  9. 9
    lucia says:

    Judith, I’d be interested in learnign about hte tax issues! Are married couples really taxed a lot more? That would be a serious disincentive to marry!