A recent Huffington Post article on Australian marriage statistics gave rise to me pondering whether marriage is in many cases, conspiratorial.
Australians have generally seen marriage as a wonderful exciting celebration of a man and a woman where family gets together in both solemness and festivities. Television programs such as 'Yes for the Dress' highlight the dramas associated with this kind of traditional marriage (my wife Delma delights in this show).
But these newly released statistics reveal perhaps, a little too much about the ideas about marriage. Let me explain.
In another article on the same day from News.com we read where young women are being groomed for marriage since birth in ethnic-cultural communities where there is no choice and according to this article, it reveals that seemingly suicide is one way out.
Surely, if one word might be found to describe such situations, it's conspiratorial.
Then we hear how in North Carolina USA has the highest rate of organised and celebrated Abstinence Celebrations where little girls in beautiful attire stand and make sacred promises of abstinence before their father's (with family and friends all around them). It's become a huge social movement.
Then puberty arrives. Everything changes in a young women's body. Something is happening for which no one told them, and boys are no longer annoying and painful, but fascinating and playful, 'and all the way with LBJ' (as it were). North Carolina has the highest teen pregnancy rate in America.
There is definitely something conspiratorial about that mix.
Then there are the Christian evangelical churches across all cultures and nations where sex before marriage is taboo with an endless supply of horror stories and bible verses where such fornication leads to lives "not being available" to live up to their potential.
I am amongst this lot. We taught our children, as our parents taught us, that the ideal is for sex to be within the marriage bed which breeds trust, fulfillment and a life based on all that is good and wholesome. It is the best basis for children within such solid Christian families and we hold to this.
But I can't help but consider this too in a sense is conspiratorial. Parents, church youth leaders, bible study groups, prayer meetings, ministers, men's meetings – all go to constantly re-emphasise that the marriage bed is for 'safe sex'.
The Huffington Post recently provided Australian Institute of Family Studies statistics - released to coincide with World Statistics Day.
These show 118,962 people were married in Australia in 2013, equating to a marriage rate of 5.1 per 1000 people. That's down from a marriage rate of 6.1 in 2005 and 7.5 in 1975. The statistical terms, they are not inconsequential figures.
What night be some considerations for this?
"Cohabitation is quite prominent among young people," researcher Lixia Qu noted, adding that more people were also living together before getting married. 77 percent of couples cohabited before marriage in 2013, up from just 16 percent in 1976, according to the statistics. "Cohabitation has in a way become a screening process for marriage," Qu said
She said high rates of cohabitation means poor relationships often break up before getting to the stage of marriage. "Marriage is another step, it's a considered decision now."
Another is that Australians are getting married at an older age. In 2013, the median age for first time marriages was 30 for men, up from 23 in 1975. For women it jumped from 21 to 28 over the same time period.
Qu also explained that young people may wait until they are financially stable to get married, for instance deciding to save to buy a house first.
Certainly in the West, being poor and married has in the past led to too many pregnancies and not least pressure on the wider family to help out in a wide variety of ways.
Divorce is down
The statistics also show divorce rates have fallen, dropping from 2.8 per 1000 people in 2001 to 2.1 in 2013. The basis of this statistic is as a consequence to marrying later.
I can recall an incident in a Pentecostal church (as I was there) in a small country town. A couple with their three children had been attending church for three years. The 'wife' got up in a sharing time (as is the custom in such congregations) and with excited tones and to the roar of a hearty handclap by everyone, that she was getting married. He had finally popped the question!
The times they are 'changin'. Even in my own family, two are married, one with children. One has been divorced and now cohabiting. The other is cohabiting. They all frequent Christian churches. We love them all just the same.
What looms ahead is a national outcry – for the studies show that looking ahead at the types of families in Australia, they forecast that couple families without children would outnumber couple families with children by 2030. That is only 15 years.
The nation's ageing population was the key driver for the change, and there are two factors. One is that older people are living much longer and therefore without their children in households. The other the declining birth rate.
In terms of national economic long term survival, it means more immigration. More religious diversity. More educational demands upon the public purse. Need I go on.
Indeed, marriage with children in such stable relationships as has been the norm for centuries, and absolutely central to a nation's future. The scriptures are attuned to this. Christians know this. Too many of our politicians choose not to know it.
Surely the population debate is a big enough issue to deal with this for national survival and security reasons (that means my family and yours) where abortion and same sex marriage have direct impacts.
It's a national crisis and perhaps the encouragement of marriage toward child birth needs a little conspiratorial effort: What did former Australian Treasurer Peter Costello say: One for the mother, one for the father and one for the nation.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html