During the 1990’s, Western Civilization went through two radical, irreversible transformations. These societal upheavals were so significant that future historians will likely pinpoint the 1990’s as the social and economic turning point of the Western world (or at a minimum, the second greatest turning point after the 1960’s).
This 90’s change was the permanent loss of two pillars of Western society:
1. Lifetime Employment
2. Lifetime Marriage
The loss of these two conditions is fascinating history, but what’s even more interesting, at least to me, is the radically different ways in which society reacted to these two losses.
How Society Reacted to the Loss of Lifetime Employment
It’s amazing how fast people forget how things were just a few decades ago. Prior to the 1990’s, and for most of the 19th and 20th Centuries (if not longer), when you got a job as a young man out of school, you more or less stayed at that job, or at least stayed at that company, for your entire working lifetime.
You got your job as a young man, worked at that firm for 40 years, then retired. They gave you a gold watch and a pension that was virtually guaranteed income for the rest of your golden years, and then you reached the average age of life expectancy and died.
Things like job interviews, resumes, and job searches were barely relevant and not nearly as integral as you and I consider them today. Once you got a job, you were pretty much set. I realize there were exceptions to that rule, but they were the exceptions.
I was born into this world. My dad was raised in this world. I relay the story in my book about how my dad was utterly confused that I was making all the money I was making as a very young man, even though I never had a job on my resume that was longer than about 18 months. In his world, a world that no longer existed, you got a job and were more or less set for life, or at least for a very long time. If you worked at a job for just a few years, it looked “bad” on your resume and no one in their right mind would want to hire you.
Nothing lasts forever though, and things change. With every decade, government grew, and grew, and grew. Regulations increased. Taxes went higher and higher. (Tax rates eventually decreased, particularly for the rich, but the actual mount of taxes paid by the typical family increased, and increased dramatically.) America went off the gold standard and started printing money, crashing the purchasing power of the dollar. Inflation increased.
On and on this went.
Finally, after decades of this, during the early 1990’s, regulations on business and employers became so expensive and difficult that companies discovered they could save literally billions of dollars by shipping their jobs overseas to third-world workers.
And so they did. The free market reacted to changing government conditions, as it always does.
For those of you who are my age or older, you remember what happened. Millions of people were instantly laid off from their jobs. Blue collar workers who had worked at their companies for over 20 years suddenly found themselves not only jobless, but with skills companies no longer wanted.
All over the country, the news screamed a new word: “downsizing.” Corporate downsizing was the greatest news story for years. Millions were furious as the West converted from a manufacturing economy to an information-based economy. People screamed. People cried. People committed suicide. It was very hard for everyone.
Yet, about ten years later, by the early to mid-2000’s, society adjusted. People emotionally accepted that lifetime employment was gone and was never coming back. They accepted that the company you worked for could no longer be trusted to be loyal to you, and would likely fire you or lay you off the instant they didn’t need you anymore.
People learned new skills. Blue collar guys grudgingly became HTML guys. People who never before gave a shit about their resumes polished them off and made new ones. People went back to school to learn new skills.
Society said, “It really sucks that I can’t rely on a long-term job anymore, but okay, if that’s the way it is, I’ll adjust and make do so I can feed my family.”
Today, in the 2010’s, no one even thinks about this anymore. Everyone knows that when you get a job, you’ll be there for just a few years (at best!) before you need to find a new one. It’s become the new normal that everyone has accepted.
Now let’s look at the other thing society lost in the 1990’s, and how people reacted to that…
How Society Reacted to the Loss of Lifetime Marriage
A few decades ago and for most of modern history, when you got married, it was for life, barring the statistically rare exception to the rule. The divorce rate in the 1950’s was around 7%. Even if your marriage was horrible, even if you cheated or your spouse cheated, you stayed together for The Good of the Marriage™, for The Good of the Children™, or because it was God’s Will™.
Cultural pressure to stay married no matter what was immense. Even men who tried to divorce their wives would get laughed out of court by the judge who would say, “What? You’re trying to divorce your wife? You can’t do that! Get out of here and get back to your family! Next case!”
Moreover, most women were unable to support themselves financially due to cultural reasons, so if you were a woman who actually got divorced, you were in very big trouble. So married women just stayed married, even if they hated their husbands, which they often did.
Then came the Sexual Revolution of the 1960’s and second wave feminism of the 1970’s, and things started to change. Slowly, women started to detach from husbands and set their own paths. Slowly, courts started letting people get divorced more liberally. Slowly, religions became more accepting about people getting divorced.
My dad was one of the statistical exceptions. In the mid-60’s, he got divorced from his first wife. Today, damn near everyone over the age of 30 has been divorced, but back then, a middle-aged divorced man was a pariah. When he tried to marry my mom, her Catholic family was horrified. “You can’t marry a divorced man! That’s disgusting!” The intolerance against divorced people was so intense that my parents almost didn’t get married. (Fortunately, they did and created me, or else you wouldn’t be reading this blog right now.)
However, over time, as more and more people started getting divorced, even the most conservative people in my mom’s family started accepting my dad as “normal.”
So, in the 60’s, the divorce rate increased for the first time ever. In the 70’s, it increased again. In the 80’s it really shot up, but was still not as prevalent as it is today. When I was a kid back in the 80’s, there were always one or two kids in my classroom who had divorced parents, so it was a normal and understood thing, but there was just one or two of these kids in the class. Today, almost all the kids in the classroom have either divorced parents or never-married mothers.
By the 1990’s, marriage had reached a breaking point. The divorce rate in many cities in the US and Europe went north of 60%. Lifetime marriage was now officially a thing of the past unless you were an exception to the rule.
Since then, the divorce rate has grown even worse. I’m not talking about the overall divorce rate, which is a ratio of marriages to divorces in any given year, or per capita divorce rate, which is the number of divorced per capita. These numbers have actually gone down since less people are getting married. I’m taking about the divorce rate among people who actually get married, which now hovers somewhere around a staggering 70%, and is still rising. (Feel free to read the stats I lay out here if you think that number is not correct, or at least not close.)
How did society react to all this?
The answer is… they didn’t. Other than getting divorced more often, they didn’t change their behaviors much at all. The divorce rate kept climbing and climbing, but people still got traditionally married in droves anyway. The cheating rates kept climbing and climbing, but people still got monogamous anyway.
For decades, everyone just covered their ears, said “lalalala!” and pretended that it was still the 1950’s. Men still married women, planned on staying married to them for the rest of their lives, and planned on their new wives to never change their minds. Women still had babies with irresponsible dumbasses, assuming their new husbands would always be around and would always be financially solvent. Virtually no one got prenuptial agreements, since those were “not romantic” (said the women) or “cost too much money” (said the men).
When warned not to get traditionally married, people said, Fuck you! That won’t happen to me! I know what I’m doing (said the men). We’re really in love (said the women). I’m not stupid. You’re just being negative! And then they got married. And then they got divorced.
And the divorce rate continued to climb.
Men got divorce raped left and right. Men had their children torn from them. Men lost their homes and their retirements. Many men were sent to jail because they couldn’t afford their child support or alimony payments.
And men kept getting married anyways… and kept recommending marriage to others.
Women got cheated on left and right. They got divorced, and many of them couldn’t receive child support because their deadbeat husbands didn’t make enough money, got under-the-table jobs, or moved far away. The economic status of the typical mother plummeted. Women filed bankruptcy. Women became depressed. Children suffered. Millions of women went on welfare, food stamps, and “disability.” Millions more went on anti-depressant medication. They spent their entire lives cursing their ex-husbands and living in financial lack. The average happiness of adult women plummeted; the studies and surveys clearly showed it.
And women kept getting married anyways… and kept recommending marriage to others.
And the divorce rate continued to climb.
Society emotionally accepted the loss of lifetime employment. Yet, even though we’re almost into the 2020’s, to this day society still has not accepted the loss of lifetime marriage. While people are waiting a little longer to get married today, they’re still getting long-term monogamous, still getting legally, traditionally married, and still expecting it to work.
I’m not saying they eventually didn’t react at all. People in their 20’s are avoiding marriage, that’s true, but according to the census data, the number of unmarried people suddenly plummets as soon as they hit their 30’s. People aren’t saying no to marriage. They’re just waiting a little longer, getting married in their 30’s, and then getting divorced.
Many people are now embracing serial marriage, where they get monogamous, legally married (with no prenup), and plan on getting divorced anyways. Yet even these people are the exceptions. The vast majority of people who engage in TMM (traditional monogamous marriage) actually expect it to last forever, base all their future plans around it, and are shocked and furious when it doesn’t last forever. And it usually doesn’t.
So, one huge shift society accepted within a quick, ten-year time span (lifetime employment going away), but another huge shift (lifetime marriage going away) society still refuses to accept after 25 years.
Isn’t that interesting?
This won’t last forever, of course. Eventually, and it might take another decade or two, normal, everyday, Societally Programmed people are going to finally have to admit that traditional marriage doesn’t work anymore and that men should probably look at one of the other eight options for relationships.
Until that day, more people will get divorced, more men will be financially raped, more women will be cheated on, and more children will get screwed up.
Sometimes we are slow to learn.