General News, Crisis of marriage in East and West: prosperity devours its children, 17.10.2014

Crisis of marriage in East and West: prosperity devours its children

Confucianism - Asian community values ??oppose "Western" individualism. This message is sent by Asian thought leaders such as Lee Kuan Yew, longtime prime minister of Singapore. They explain the impressive economic success of the East Asian "tigers" (Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, etc.) with the traditional Asian family virtues such as hard work, thrift and a strong individual willingness to sacrifice for the benefit of the community(1). And indeed, the rapid development of a vibrant economy in East Asia would have been impossible without fixed family ties, kinship networks and a sense of community. Confucian traditions have certainly favoured this, but the central role of community values ??for industrialisation is not an Asian specialty. The Western industrial nations owed ??their economic advancement since the 19th century to virtues such as savings and sacrifice, loyalty to colleagues, superiors and company, conscientiousness and reliability in observance of contracts. Economic life requires these pro-social behaviors but does not create them because far too often they contradict the short-term benefit calculus of the "homo economicus". The old industrial capitalism derived its social glue not from the market but from community ties, mediated primarily by the family(2). As the nucleus of the family, the marriage was an unquestioned self-evident and fundamental institution of civil society.

The symbiosis of family and industrial society culminated in the so-called "golden age of marriage". By 1960, higher wages and employment security enabled more couples than ever before to get married early and start a family, the post-war baby boom was the result. Just a few years later in all Western industrialized countries, a deep upheaval of private lifestyles started. Non-marital partnerships spread out; the age of marriage began to raise again, the inclination of marriage decreased dramatically. While only five percent of adults never married in Germany even in the 1960s, today among the younger generation almost 40 percent of men and more than one third of women remain permanently single(3). Parallel to this, the divorce risks skyrocketed - now almost every other married couple separates. Marriages are still more stable than non-marital partnerships, which often split apart after a few years or even months(4). A fragile relationship has consequences for children. More often than before, they grow up with blended families and single parents. Zeitgeist media market this "pluralisation of lifestyles" as emancipatory progress, at a price they ignore: billions of costs to the government through transfers to single parents, public education aids and immeasurable damage by the suffering of so many children in broken families(5). Discerning historians analyze this crisis of marriage as a symptom of postmodern narcissism, replacing long-term bonds by a morality of "every man for himself "(6).

Is the Asian-Confucian culture now a rampart of resistance against this individualism? The answer is negative: even in East Asia, the divorce rates have risen rapidly, young people are marrying later and the proportions of unmarried persons in the younger generations have grown, unmarried cohabitation is spreading, traditional bonds lose strength(7). East Asia has already overtaken the West in birth rate decline: Japan, Taiwan and South Korea are among the countries with the lowest birth rates in the world(8). In response to its aging society, the Japanese are today already developing care robots; this reminds one less of Confucius than science fiction. Given the crisis of the family in the East as in the West, there is the nightmarish question: Does the capitalist welfare society wear out the human resources, which once enabled its rise?

(1) Refer to Lee Kuan Yew in an interview with Time Magazine,9171,987978-1,00.html
(2) See: Eric Hobsbawm: “Das Zeitalter der Extreme - Weltgeschichte des 20. Jahrhunderts”, München 1995, p.424 and pp.429-431
(3) Regarding marriage behavior in Western industrialized countries in general: Ron Lesthaeghe “The Unfolding Story of the Second Demographic Transition”, Population Studies Center, Report 10-696, January 2011, pp.6-7. Regarding the change inthe partnership biographies especially in Germany :
(4) See:
(5) See:
(6) See: Eric Hobsbawm, “Das Zeitalter der Extreme” (cited above), pp.419-420; Hermann W. von der Dunk: “Cultural History of the 20th Century”, Volume I, Munich 2004 (first edition Amsterdam, 2000), pp.458-460 and pp.533-534
(7) Ron Lesthaeghe: “The Unfolding Story of the Second Demographic Transition” (cited above), pp.26-29. See also: Postmodernism: "Asian Marriage Revolution" (figure below).
(8) See: “Fall in birth rates in the Far East” (pictured below), furthermore: