(Dis)Affectio Societatis?

There is a widely held hypothesis that the advanced world faces severe ethical and moral crisis which manifests into at least two observable trends: Firstly, there is a downward trend in marriages, secondly, an increasing trend of one-person households has been also registrable.
But, there is also anew hypothesis arguing that because of the increasing welfare (for instance in the United States), more and more person can afford to live alone and have their own households. According to this logic, the old triumph of the institution of marriage has been showing a sign of wear. It was argued by Matthew Yglesias in the VOX magazine recently. It also implies that poorer countries’ people cannot necessarily afford to live alone, therefore they tend to form marriages by showing some sort of affectio societatis (i.e. it’s a French legal concept meaning that two or more people personally and jointly commit themselves to reach out their goals such as a targeted living standard, growing up children so on). Consequently, as Yglesias emphasises, the growing number of singles in advanced countries, like the US, should not be considered as a sign of crisis, but as the organic feature of increasing well-being.
We also propose another reading of such trends based on the experience of a country where economic policy injected uncertainties into the system and where the willingness of people to form marriages has been declining over the last decades as well. Due to the specific feature of the Hungarian national government (See: Kovács (2015)), the long-term perspective of people has started to be replaced by short termism (which can be captured in many ways either in terms of heightening emigration of young and older (!) Hungarians to foreign countries, or refraining from further investments in the private business sector etc.). As a corollary, the increase in the share of one-person households, that exceeds even that of the US, and the decline in the number of marriages reflect to a certain degree that achieving and maintaining certain level of standard of living has become even more difficult in Hungary and this situation does not inevitably leave much room for people for the fulfilment of their personal life through establishing relationships and getting married in the spirit of affectio societatis. Not just the delay of marriages is here to stay in Hungary, but there are plenty of factors forcing persons not to have time and capacity to create reasonable relationships. In short, not the spectacularly increased welfare and wellbeing stand behind the decline in marriage and thriving one-person households in Hungary (i.e. real GDP per capita convergence to the EU average has stucked since 2006 in Hungary, see the cited paper above), but coping with uncertainties, the increasing impoverishment are those might be blamed for such trends. Maybe, as growth regenerates, such trend will dampen somewhat in the future.
Chart 1. Marriages (right axis) and one-person households in Hungary and the United States (1970-2011) (left axis)

Kovacs_marriageSource: Hungarian Central Statistical Office, Census Bureau

Kovács, O. (2015 – forthcoming): The Hungarian Agony over Eurozone Accession. In: Magone, J. M. – Laffan, B. – Schweiger, C. (2015): Core-Periphery Relations in the European Union. The Politics of Differentiated Integration in the European Political Economy. Routledge, London. Chapter 16