The collapse of marriage in our poorest communities — and its tragic impact — is a familiar story. But increasingly, marriage is becoming a marker of class privilege in America, something increasingly reserved for the affluent. If progressives want to tackle the scourge of inequality, then the retreat from marriage is an issue they can’t ignore.
The reality is that the retreat from marriage is pervading the working middle class — the two-thirds of Americans without a college degree. This is occurring even as in upscale America, marital bonds remain comparatively strong.
“This is the marriage gap, and it’s something new in America,” declares a manifesto on “marriage opportunity” unveiled in a recent Washington Monthly cover story. It was penned by four astute social and political analysts, David Blankenhorn, Jonathan Rauch, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and Bill Galston. (Full disclosure: I’m a signer of their statement.)
“Over the past several decades, the norm of marriage has eroded across all economic and educational classes, but much less among the elite,” they write. “But for millions of middle- and lower-class Americans, marriage is increasingly beyond reach, creating more fractured and difficult family lives, more economic insecurity for single parents, less social mobility for those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder, more childhood stress, and a fraying of our common culture.”
True, overall U.S. marriage rates have fallen from 72% of U.S. adults in 1960 to just 51% in 2012, according to The Economist. But drill a little deeper into the data, and a marital class divide emerges. Less than half of men with high school degrees are married, compared with 76% of men with college degrees. The pattern is similar among women, except that those with graduate degrees have somewhat lower marriage rates than those with four-year college degrees. And because the college-educated tend to look for mates with similar education and earning power, their unions push them even higher up the income scale — further widening the economic gulf between marital haves and have-nots.
Continue reading at CNN.