The XX Factor

Kids, the Marriage Disincentive

Children are a disincentive to marry or co-habit, ” says Susan Stewart, a sociologist at Iowa State University, in today’s New York Times . Stewart is talking about existing children, in cases of divorce in particular. And what’s true in the U.S. is apparently even more true in China, still at least partly in the grasp of the one-child policy: Divorce rates in China are rising, and with them, custody battles. But there’s a twist: in one-third of cases, says divorce counselor Ming Li, neither mother nor father wants the child. “They want to remarry and have another child to give stability to the new marriage.” Because that clearly worked so well last time.

Kids complicate things, clearly. The Times Style section today is focused on couples with children from prior relationships who chose not to go for the standard, as the NYT puts it, Carol-and-Mike-Brady blend but instead maintain some form of separate households, rosily pictured in that trademark New York real-estate glow. Two apartments within one brownstone. Two houses, one block. A wide variety of apparently functional family units, not just in New York but in Iowa, Minnesota, and across the country, that don’t look much like Father Knows Best at all. One way in which families, and not just one or two families, are valiantly defying any stereotypes of “what it’s supposed to look like” in favor of “what works.”

I’m not exactly sure what this says about anything, except that here, at least, is apparently one thing we handle rather better than the Chinese. I’d just like to leave you with one thought: Imagine the Chinese divorcing mother who doesn’t want custody of her child on the listserv Taffy Brodesser-Akner describes on Salon , the one where the mothers rip another mother to shreds for co-sleeping. Now, that would give them something to all-caps talk about.