(by Heather Laskin) -- In a new study from The Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in Bonn, Germany, titled “Are Pornography and Marriage Substitutes for Young Men?”, researchers found that the consumption of pornography leads to declining marriage rates.
Researchers Michael Malcolm of West Chester University of Pennsylvania and George Naufal of Timberlake Consultants and IZA analyzed data from 1,512 surveys completed by American men aged 18-35 between 2000-2004. What they found is that pornography makes marriage unappealing to men as they can find “low-cost sexual gratification” outside of it.
“Traditionally,” the report says, “one of the reasons to enter into a marriage was sexual gratification. But as options for sexual gratification outside of marriage have grown, the need for a marriage to serve this function is diminishing.” Pornography, as well as the acceptance and prevalence of premarital sex, mean that men can appease their sexual desires without entering into a marriage first.
The researchers attribute the proliferation of the Internet to the increase in porn consumption (because of the increasing ease of access), and thus the decline in marriage. In 2010, 71.1% of Americans had an Internet connection in their homes, compared to 50.5% in 2001 and 26.2% in 1998. Between July 2009 and July 2010, close to 15% of all Internet searches were for erotic content. Four percent of the one million most heavily visited sites are porn sites.
(Interestingly, the study found that heavy Internet usage, whether pornographic or not, leads to lower participation in marriages in all cases but one – when men are looking at religious websites. In those cases, men tended to be pro-marriage.)
Malcolm and Naufal found that the rate of marital formation dropped 39% between 1950 and 2010, with a 17% drop between 2000 and 2010 alone. The percentage of men between the ages of 25 and 34 who have never been married is more than six times higher today than it was in 1970, and more than four times higher for men between 35 and 44 years old. Those who do get married are twice as likely to divorce than they were in 1950.
These declining marriage rates impact society and the economy. The report notes that “stable marriages create substantial welfare improvements for society, especially to the degree that marital stability produces high-quality children.” When marriage rates fall, the study says, society suffers.
To combat this problem, Malcolm and Naufal point to the UK, which in 2013 announced a plan to require Internet Service Providers to block hard pornography by default and require customers to “opt in” if they want to access the blocked content. The plan also requires search engines to take additional steps to block illegal content, especially videos. “While it is probably impossible to eliminate online access to pornography at this point,” they write, “policies like those in the UK can at least increase the cost associated with accessing it.”