Content warning: this article contains discussion of non-nuclear families which the reader may find upsetting. These views are those of the author.
By Max Minkin
There are many things that we associate with the culture of Durham: the collegiate rivalries, the gowned formals, the Southern students complaining endlessly about the absence of a Waitrose within the city limits. None of these things, however, are as unique or prominent as our university’s so-called “70% figure”.
While most Durham students and staff need little explanation of what this figure is, I will nonetheless offer one for readers outside the university community: according to some reputable sources — by which I mean word of mouth and an old article in The Independent — a whopping 70% of Durham students go on to marry someone they met in Durham. As a fellow contributor to this newspaper points out, this number “is considerably higher than that of other UK universities, where on average 20% of students marry [each other]”.
However, we must ask whether the “70% figure” is something to embrace, to be proud of, and to actively promote? Or does our obsession with it assign undue importance to traditional institutions which no longer matter to many young people? Personally, I subscribe to the former view, but I will begin by analysing the positions of my opponents.
One argument against talking about the “70% figure” is that the institution of marriage is losing its relevance in our society. It is simply not as important to our generation as it is to our parents’. In fact, many young people perceive marriage as a tired remnant of an old, patriarchal order in which brides in white dresses that symbolise their “innocence” and are “given away” by their father. However, this need not be the case: marriage can, and should, be progressive — the most obvious example of this is the extension of the right to marry to same-sex couples. Surely, if this institution is capable of defying heteronormativity, there is no reason why it cannot overcome its patriarchal origins and regain its relevance.
Another argument says that our focus on the “70% figure” places too much pressure on people struggling to find a soulmate or trying to concentrate on other things in life for the moment. This point is difficult to argue with as it is largely a matter of individual perspective. To some, the “70% figure” might bring discomfort — but, to others, it will bring hope and comfort in the knowledge that finding a partner may not be as difficult as they previously thought.
My own perspective is that marriage is an institution of paramount importance. To understand why this is the case, one needs to ask oneself the following question: what is it that makes societies prosperous, local communities safe, and individual lives stable? Is it the existence of a strong welfare state, with a well-funded health service, a proper education system, and affordable housing for all? Maybe.
However, the truth is that there is no guarantee of success for the individual, and of safety for his local community, quite as strong as growing up in a loving, two-parent family. Children who grow up in this way are much more likely to find stable employment and enjoy the comfortable middle-class lifestyle that most of us aspire to. And marriage, with the commitment that it demands from the parties entering it, is in my opinion, the most solid foundation for the creation of such families.
Hence, Durham should embrace its “70% figure” and not shy away from it. Strong marriage strengthens our society, and it is only commendable that, as a university, we should play a part in promoting and celebrating it as an institution.
Image: Michael Rowen via Flickr.