Conservatives, for all their complaining about the breakdown of the family, seem to have missed the “cash and prizes” incentive structure of divorce law as a big part–perhaps the biggest part–of the complete devolution of marriage over the last 40 years, particularly among the working classes. And the threat created by this system goes beyond divorce itself; the day-to-day rhythms of marriage change as well, as reflected in our “Dumb Dad” pop culture motiffs.
A “man for all seasons” over at another blog made a useful analogy to unemployment insurance:
I think a unemployment insurance is a good analogy for modern marriage, but with a twist. Currently, if you are laid off from a job, you are eligible for unemployment. If you are fired for cause, you can be denied unemployment, but you can usually get it anyway, because it’s not worth it for the employer to dispute it. However, if you quit the job voluntarily, you are not eligible for unemployment.
Imagine if you were eligible for unemployment after quitting your job. Employers would really have to kiss their employee’s asses to keep them, and employee motivation and work quality would be much worse. Employment would still pay more than unemployment insurance, but the frustration level needed to quit would be far lower. Employers would be at a significant disadvantage in a system like this, compared to the current system.
Marriage is like this now. Women can quit anytime they want, and continue getting money. In comparison, men are like the employers, who are at a disadvantage in the marriage, and have to kiss ass to keep the wife, because she can keep a large part of her support from him even if she leaves.
Outside of a few leftists, nobody would seriously expect unemployment insurance to pay if the employee quits, but that is how marriage works today.