Conservatives often talk as if we’re combating hedonism and the solution is bourgeois normalcy. This makes our arguments look silly (everybody points out that “blue states” have lower divorce and teen pregnancy rates, or some other statistic indicating that they are winning on the bourgeois-normalcy front) and I think it probably makes our audience resentful. Nobody likes to be told that they’re not doing life right, but I think we especially feel indignant and even self-pityingly resentful when we’re working very, very hard to follow the rules and somebody comes along and tells us we’re just out for our own pleasure.
We don’t have a marriage crisis in this country because everybody has stopped following the rules. We have a marriage crisis because the rules don’t work.
Traditional marriage gives young people a map of life that takes them step by step from childhood to adolescence to college or other work training—which might well include postgraduate education—to the workplace, to marriage, and only then to childbearing. A marriage orientation also requires a young woman to consider the question of what man will become her husband and the father of her children as a major, if not the major, decision of her life. In other words, a marriage orientation demands that a woman keep her eye on the future, that she go through life with deliberation, and that she use self-discipline—especially when it comes to sex: bourgeois women still consider premature pregnancy a disaster. In short, a marriage orientation—not just marriage itself—is part and parcel of her bourgeois ambition.
Just noting that there’s a little tension between these different views.
My only contribution to this question will be to point out that the first of Tushnet’s “rules that don’t work” – “Don’t marry before you’re ‘economically stable’ (an endlessly-retreating horizon)” – may have more than a little to do with why Hymowitz’s prescription – more “bourgeois ambition” – is falling on deaf ears among the non-college-educated. The problem isn’t the prescription – “don’t marry until you can afford it” is advice as old as the hills, and good advice, too. The problem is the “endlessly-retreating horizon.” That has something to do with deepening economic inequality and the status-consciousness that comes with it, something to do with wage stagnation at the low end of the economic spectrum, and something to do with economic changes that have had a differential impact on male and female incomes. (Hannah Rosin had something to say about that, I believe.) None of these are problems that either hectoring or witnessing will alleviate on their own.
A marriage culture requires a material basis, which means a higher return to labor, including especially labor by workers who are not cut out for a four-year college degree. I’m not saying that’s a sufficient condition. But I do think it’s necessary.