Texting, TV, and the Internet may be ruining your marriage.
These techno-distractions are at least one factor in the disintegration of civic engagement, and as a result, in the quality and stability of marriages, according to W. Brad Wilcox, editor of the most recent edition of "State of Our Unions," an annual report detailing the state of marriage in America. On Tuesday, Wilcox discussed the study's findings in New York with Elizabeth Marquardt, the director of the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute of American Values at New York's Center for Public Conversation.
The conversation hit on the major points of the study, mainly that divorce is rising and marital quality is dropping in middle America because of both economic and cultural causes. Asked to explain why he believed the quality and stability of marriages were on the decline in America--especially middle America, the group his study defines as those possessing high school, but not college degrees--Wilcox blamed increased disengagement from civic activity. "What are they spending their time on instead?" he asked. "Reading!" someone in the audience called out, to raucous laughter.
Asked this question in an earlier interview, he said: "If I had to guess, watching more TV, more time texting, more time on Facebook. If you're engaged in civic institutions there's a certain cri de coeur that's more meaningful than watching the Eagles play at your buddy's apartment."
Statistics from the General Social Survey seem to back up this statement: while only 11% of the highest educated Americans watch more than three hours of television a day, 25% of the middle educated do, and 41% of the least educated.
Apart from television, similar inquiries into the link between romance and technology have yielded some noteworthy results. A recent study in Italy found that couples with televisions in the bedroom had sex half as often as those without. Another British study in 2008 found further that 80% of people "boot up a variety of high-tech gadgets" before sleeping, while 33% of people send or receive texts or emails in bed.
More concrete evidence tying the incidence of divorce to the prevalence of the Internet include British statistics that 1 in 5 divorce petitions cite Facebook as a cause. According to lawyers handling the cases, social networking sites like Facebook not only tempt spouses to cheat, but have also been used by victims of infidelity to find proof of an affair. The rising popularity of the web has also spawned sites like Ashley Madison, a dating website for already-married people, whose tagline reads, "Life is short. Have an affair."
Whatever the causes to blame for the declining quality of marriages, Wilcox warns that stable, lasting unions are necessary for society to flourish. "If marriage is in trouble, the American dream is in trouble," Wilcox said.