Studying the social effects of marriage is seldom without surprise for the researcher because those effects manifest themselves in some of the most unexpected locations. This dynamic confirms that the family is the foundation of civilization, and a concurring case study of this dynamic is Russia’s declining demography and its significant geopolitical import.
Writing recently in Foreign Affairs magazine, Nicholas Eberstadt of the National Bureau of Asian Research argued: “Over the past two decades, Russia has been caught in the grip of a devastating and highly anomalous peacetime population crisis.” Yearly deaths in Russia are exceeding new births by 800,000 per year, disease is ubiquitous, and life expectancy is below several developing sub-Saharan African countries.
According to Eberstadt, one of the many factors contributing to Russia’s decline is “family formation trends,” including sub-replacement-level birth rates and a divorce rate of 56 percent. These family-related factors are substantial in themselves, but a body of research shows that familial stability also correlates to better performance on a number of indicators that are also problematic in Russian society. A number of the other facts Eberstadt mentions as causes of concern – risky behaviors, educational performance, and public health – have correlatives with familial and marital stability, and the literature suggests that an increase in the strength and stability of familial ties in Russia might go far to ameliorate those problematic factors as well. Indeed, recent MARRI research on the social effects of marriage (and divorce) suggest that only an unfeasibly exorbitant amount of social spending would be able to rectify the social costs of fragmented families.
While simple reduction of all of Russia’s ills to a function of family structure exclusively would be too myopic, the Russian Case Study confirms the correlation between familial instability and social weakness more broadly, and it demonstrates that MARRI’s research has applicability on both a domestic and an international scale.