One thing that people occasionally mention in the comments on this weblog is that it seems futile to be “conservative” because the arrow of history goes in one direction. Even many conservatives, including myself, have fallen into this assumption. But upon a closer inspection of history I think we need to be careful about this, as the truth can sometimes confound our coarse models. For example, I strongly suspect that when it comes to love and marriage the realized element of individual liberty has not had a monotonic trajectory over human history. More plainly, free choice declined over the past 10,000 years, and has reemerged in the past few centuries. Whether this is liberal or conservative is less relevant than that it shows that attitudes, beliefs, and practices, do not always change in magnitude in one direction, only at different rates. More recently, sexual mores in the West shifted to a more puritanical direction between 1750 and 1900, only to switch back to a more relaxed attitude over the 20th century (with a punctuated shift in the 1960s).
And these sorts of trends are evident even over a shorter time scale. So it may be with attitudes toward divorce. One could argue (I probably would) that “liberal” attitudes toward divorce in the 1970s was a correction from an unsustainable equilibrium leading up to the 1960s. But over the past few decades it does look as if college educated whites have had second thoughts about the “arrow of history.” At the very least they are now more likely to stand athwart history and yell “stop.”
Below are results limited to non-Hispanic whites with college educations. Note especially the change in those with “No religions.” They seem clearly to have had enough.
There’s a cliche, which isn’t totally false, that more education tends to lead one toward heterodox viewpoints which challenge conventional norms. But one issue that has been coming to the fore over the last 10 years or so is that college educated Americans tend toward social liberalism, and yet often continue to live very bourgeois lives. In other words, the freedoms which they favor are those freedoms which are ever operative in their own lives. In contrast those Americans without college educations tend to have a less libertarian attitude toward personal mores, but have lives characterized by greater disturbance and disastrous choices.
And yet this does not hold in the case of what articles such as this report, How Divorce Lost Its Groove:
Though she wasn’t entirely surprised. Ever since her divorce three years ago, Ms. Thomas said, she has been antisocial, “nervous about what people would say.”
After all, she had gone from Park Slope matron, complete with involved husband (“We had cracked the code of Gen X peer parenthood”) and gut-renovated brownstone, to “a Red Hook divorcée,” she said, remarried with a new baby and two children-of-divorce barely out of preschool. “All of a sudden, this community I’d lived in for 13 years became this spare and mean savannah,” she said.
It was as if, she said, everyone she knew felt bad for her but no one wanted to be near her, either. Even though adultery was not part of the equation, Ms. Thomas said, “I feel like I have a giant letter A on my front and back.