But when you look specifically at sex itself, at patterns of actual sexual activity and their link to marital happiness and longevity, direct evidence for a permissiveness premium is extremely hard to find. And for women, almost all the the data points sharply in the opposite direction. Notwithstanding the potential for regrets, women who only had sex with their future spouse are more likely to be in a high quality marriage than women who had a higher number of sexual partners. Divorce rates are higher for women with multiple premarital partners than women who had only one; they’retwice as high for women who have cohabitated serially than women who only cohabitated with their future husband. Independent of marriage, relationship stability is stronger when sex is initiated later, and monogamy and a restricted number of sex partners isstrongly associated with female happiness and emotional well-being, period. And these results hold irrespective of education levels, as this piece by Brad Wilcox and Nicholas Wolfinger points out: There’s a stronger correlation between multiple premarital partners and marital instability among less-educated Americans, but well-educated Americans, too, show much stronger marital outcomes when they have fewer premarital partners. (And interestingly, the usual connection between education and stability disappears entirely for people who married their first partner: They’re equally unlikely to divorce no matter whether they attended college or not.)To put it more succinctly, only 20% of women who are virgins at marriage will get divorced; even having one prior sexual partner raises the odds of divorce to nearly 50%; and 80% or more of the sluttiest (more than 15 partners) will be divorced.
And this added bit from the NYT article:
... what Smith and others are casting as a successful “liberal” marriage model still often has much stronger traditional elements woven in than that rhetoric would suggest. The division of labor in America’s more-successful upper-middle-class marriages, in particular, is more egalitarian than “Father Knows Best” but still often quite gendered (as this Wilcox post points out), with college-educated husbands bringing home larger shares of household income and wives often preferring part-time work. And that gendered division actually increases at the highest (and, in my experience, most politically liberal) levels of the meritocracy: Wives and mothers who are elite college graduates are more likely to opt out of the workforce than the college-educated norm.
Then similarly, college-educated Americas are more religious overall than the secularism of the Pacific Coast and the BosWash corridor would lead one to expect, and more likely to practice a religion than downscale Americans — and since religion is still a big factor in marital stability, with religious practice in particularcorrelating strongly with low divorce rates, this too seems like a case where “traditional” ideas or approaches are still providing crucial support to marriage’s contemporary resilience among the better-educated strata of society.
And then finally, if you try to pin down their attitudes and values, it isn’t obvious that working class America’s struggling men are all stuck in some antiquated patriarchal rut. At times, they seem almost too well adapted to the emotivist, individualist, therapeutic ideas that we tend to think of as more “progressive” or modern or what-have-you, when perhaps certain lost or fading elements of “traditional masculinity” might actually still stand them in good stead.