At a time when everyone wants to talk economics and politics using words like marginal money supply and cyclical de-alignment, let me offer, for the month of June, a set of really important economic and political facts.
Last year, in 1980, there were more marriages in America than in any previous year in our history -- about 2.41 million. By comparison, in 1960 there were 1/52 million marriages. In 20 years, then, the number of marriages went up by about 60 percent.
All the nuptializing has been caused in large measure by another profound fact: every 12 months each of us gets one year older. That means that the "baby boom" babies are becoming adults. And that is probably the single most important political and economic fact we will all have to deal with for the rest of our lives.
For a 20-year period, roughly from 1945 to 1965, birth rates soared. Eighty million Americans were born. They were in many ways an invading army. As they occupied America, they caused overcrowded schools, the depopulation of the central city, campus turmoil, a crime wave and high unemployment rates. They also committed rock 'n' roll.
And now they are becoming adults. More important, it seems as if they are becoming certain kinds of adults -- sort of, uh, normal-type adults.
That is not what was predicted for the little darlings. Remember, these youngsters were variously characterized as flower children and rebels. We were told that they were engaged in a sexual revolution and entanbled in a drug culture, that they were value-busting and anti-materialistic.
Some of their spokesmen modestly informed us they were the brightest generation in history and that they doubted they would ever be co-opted to work "within the system."
And now, normal-like, they are marrying (albeit at later ages than their parents did). They also divorce at high rates but then typically remarry in short order. Paul Glick, the Census Bureau's expert on marriage, estimates that by the time this generation finishes it coupling about 90 to 92 percent will have married. That compares with a 96 percent rate in the previous generation.
These rates are among the highest in the world. We were -- and we are -- a marrying folk. All the evidence isn't in yet, but it looks like these young people will be doing other normal-type things in the years to come. Taken collectively, these likely activities tend to put a rosy hue over the economic outlook of the 1980s.
Take housing. The housing business today is a disaster: high prices, high interest rates, few starts. But consider: What happens when 80 million children become older and get married? Intensive scholarship has revealed that they will ive somewhere. Moreover, most of the marriages will yield children (although in smaller doses than in the previous generation). Finally, a marriage with children typically means a family that will live in a swelling bigger than a breadbox.
Looking out over the '80s, there are only two real housing scenarios: Either those 80 million young adults (with small children) will move in permanently with their parents (that involves runny noses on new upholstery). Or else there will be a housing boom. I can't tell you whether the housing boom will stress single-family, multi-family or mobile homes, whether it will occur in city, suburb or exurb -- I only covenant that there will be a housing boom.
The same young adult in the 1980s will also buy rugs, cars, cameras, vacations, clothes and stereo sets. And so, economically, we are in for a demand-side "adult boom."
That is not without danger in its second-order effects. High demand could trigger more inflation. But at its root the massive adulting we will witness is very positive. Adults have lower unemployment rates. Adults earn more money. They work hard, yielding great benefits on the supply side. They are, in the old phrase, taxpayers, not tax-eaters.
Our politics may also change. It is very hard to generalize, but young married adults -- compared with what they recently were, which was even younger single people -- seem to have one new and important human characteristic. Let us call that trait "stability."
Young single people, we all know, drink all night, get up late, beat up on one another and talk loudly. When they are politically lucid, they decry material values and then plot political deeds that involve acquiring more material goods.
But young marrieds are different. They try to save money to buy a house. They wake up early -- if they don't do it voluntarily, their babies do it for them. Early risers are not radicals and vice versa. Young parents learn that it is hard to plot revolution and pay for orthodontics at the same time.
There are those who will tell you that the 1980s will be a decade of political and economic instability with the spotlight on the supply side. Not I. Five million people a year getting married means a decade of demand-side stability. That's good.
It's the least the little darlings could do for us.