Hugh Mackay is a highly respected Australian social researcher. His latest book Advance Australia Where? gives us some interesting insight into where Australia has come from over the last few decades and what some of the trends are for the future.
This book is very worthwhile reading for anyone interested in Australian society. For those of us who are Christians living in Australia, it is important that we understand our culture and the people we are seeking to reach out to with God’s love.
According to Mackay’s research, Australians are a little restless and a bit edgy due to the changes that have taken place over the last 30 years. There is a lack of connectedness, a growing materialism, as well as increasing selfishness. He evens predicts a new space for religion in the hearts of many Aussies.
Here are a few of his other quotes and insights, just in the area of relationships and family:
- More than 40% of marriages here in Australia end in divorce today – resulting in about 1 million Aussie kids living with only one parent.
- Divorce has become very easy (the Family Act of 1975 established ‘no fault’ divorce), providing an opportunity for a couple to abandon a hopeless marriage and seek happiness with someone else, but it also can discourage people from making sufficient effort to work things out when the going gets tough. Divorce is never a pretty sight, causing much pain and anguish.
- About 66% of marriages are first marriages, compared with 90% thirty years ago.
- The marriage rate is the lowest in 100 years, and falling.
- 30 years ago, 90% of people were married by the age of 30. Today it is only 50%.
- In the past 30 years, the proportion of women marrying by age 20 has fallen from 25% to just 4%, and there are now more unmarried than married women in Australia (though many technically ‘unmarried’ women are in live-in relationships that qualify as de facto marriages).
- Most couples live together before they marry (up from 16% to 76% in the past 30 years), and about one-third of all babies are born to unmarried parents.
- We seem to be prepared, as a society, to accommodate a more flexible, more transient attitude to marriage, and to view de facto marriage as a perfectly acceptable alternative to the legally sanctioned variety.
- ‘Partner’ has become part of the language, even being adopted by married couples (more than ‘de facto’ or even ‘spouse’).
- Many young people don’t want to get too committed to anything too soon and want to keep their options open. They’re not rushing into marriage anymore. For some, observing their parent’s divorce has created a certain wariness toward marriage.
- Marriage used to be spoken of as an ‘institution’: once you’re in it, you stayed in it, as if the institutional door shut behind you as you entered. Groucho Marx said, “Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution?” Today marriage (whether legal or de facto) is seen more as a ‘relationship’. “If our relationship works, we might get married. Once we’re married, if the relationship breaks down, the marriage will be over.” It’s now about whether it’s working for me?
- The Marriage Guidance Council of Australia changed its name to Relationships Australia in 1994. Marriage is now just one of many sorts of relationships for which people need professional help. Now only 46% of its clients are ‘married’ in the legal sense of the term.
- A relationship is easier to terminate than a marriage. “I’ve had several relationships’ sounds better than “I’ve been married several times”. In a similar way, being “re-partnered” feels better than being “remarried”.
- Mackay speaks of the ‘dangerous cult of perfectionism’. We are obsessed with perfection – in everything. We want excellence and the extra-ordinary – life to the max. This makes it tough for mere mortals – with all of their frailties, flaws and imperfections, particularly where intimate personal relationships are concerned. This leads to expecting too much from a partner and from a relationship. It makes us too cautious in our approach to prospective partners and unrealistic in our demands and expectations. It can infect our experience of love and happiness with a gnawing doubt that things aren’t as good as they should be; that perfect bliss is eluding us; that romantic love should never fade; that we should be able to establish perfect relationships without too much hard work. The hazard is obvious – if we are banking on the perfect relationship, we’re bound to be disappointed. The human journey is characterised by chaos and contradictions, and the cult of perfectionism can blind us to the fact that ‘perfectly reasonable’ may be as close to perfection as life gets, for most of us, most of the time.
- The cult of perfectionism has already damaged many relationships that might have otherwise survived. It has caused many couples to decide they could do better with someone else – only to find that ‘someone else’ turned out to be human, too, and that feet of clay are standard issue, after all.
- Low marriage and high divorce rates are caused by many factors. But the cult of perfectionism is making its own quiet contribution by raising the threshold of contentment.
- Doubt and reservations paralyse many single people from entering marriage. “How could you ever know that someone was the right person to spend the rest of your life with?” No wonder many people are reluctant to marry.
- There are many stable and satisfying marriages. Don’t forget that 60% of marriages survive! Minor irritations? Yes, often. Occasional strong words? Yes. Disagreements? Of course. Even fury at times. But marriage works, the rewards are great … and it’s a dream that many people still long for.
How can we respond to this? What can the church do? What can you do?
May we pray for wisdom and courage and grace to live as God would have us to in our times.