Friday, August 12, 2011
A recent article in the Economist on the "sorry state of marriage in the United States" quoted Census data that show that, for the first time, married couples now make up less than half of all households. The article concludes:
Do not expect the Democratic Party, however, to make an issue of the marriage gap in next year's elections. Unmarried women voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. "You don't want to suggest to someone who isn't married and has children that they should be married," says [Isabel] Sawhill. "That is a denigration of their lifestyle."
Ms. Sawhill is right that Democrats will not denigrate those on the losing end of the economic changes remaking America. And Democrats shouldn't suggest that single mothers get married for the sake of having a ring on their fingers. Marriage doesn't solve the underlying problems.
Because the "sorry state of marriage" in the United States isn't the declining number of married couple households. Instead, the sad truth is that just like access to health care, stable employment, and higher education, access to marriage has become a class-based affair. The Economist correctly observes that marriage and the two-parent family has become a marker of income level. According to the National Marriage Project, a half century ago, marriage rates did not vary much by education, and college educated women were less likely to marry than those without college degrees. Today, the likelihood of marrying, staying married, and raising children within marriage correlates strongly with education. Indeed, for white college graduates the non-marital birth rate has stayed at 2%; for African American high school dropouts, it's 96%. In between is a steeply slanted line that links family form to education, income, and race.
Read more here.