Friday, May 21, 2004

Marriage and population

There's a rock-em sock-em battle between Stanley Kurtz {thanks to Frank for the link} and Andrew Sullivan going on regarding gay marriage and its effect on marriage as a whole. Both of them have been citing statistics from Scandinavia to support their case, but as far as I'm concerned neither one of them has made a case from the numbers and examples they've used.

Kurtz uses a lot of statistics and does a good job of illustrating how marriage and, consequently, family life is dying in Scandinavia. However, his linking of this trend to partnership rights for gay couples seems tenuous. I agree with him that the move to allowing homosexual marriage is part of the continuing, long-term effort to separate marriage and parenthood. However, any real claim for cause and effect between gay marriage and the decline heterosexual marriage is still unproven with these numbers.

This morning Sullivan is claiming the debate is over because of an article in Slate by M. V. Lee Badget, who uses statistics to show that Scandinavian marriage rates are actually rising after those countries passed registered partnership laws in the 90s. Although Kurtz's use of statistics is somewhat stretched, Badget's seems bonkers. She believes that the fact that the rate of increase of unmarried, cohabiting couples with children was lower in the 1990s than the 1980s is somehow good news. After it rose by 70% in the 80s a slowing in the rate of increase was inevitable, but the rate is still growing. Good news would show a fall.

However, neither Kurtz nor Badget have bothered to factor in immigration in their numbers. Between 1980 and 2003, the percentage of immigrants of Denmark's population rose from 2.6% to 6.2%. And, if you consider that most immigrants are probably young, it stands to reason that immigration could be a significant influence on the marriage and child birth statistics over that time frame. Without a more thorough look at the marriage and child birth statistics for immigrants, the numbers do not support either case.

My own guess is that immigrants, especially those from the former communist bloc and Islamic countries, are more likely to be boosting the marriage statistics. I definitely think it's important to separate the native Danish experience from the immigrant experience as this gives a better understanding of the effects of the changes to marriage on Denmark's culture and population.

{Note: My population chart is based on populations statistics from Danmarks Statistik and the immigration numbers from Migration Information Source.}