Marriage Markets

wealthymattersThe fundamental divide in the United States today runs along the lines of class and marriage. College-educated Americans and their children reap the benefits of comparatively stable, happy marriages, while less-educated Americans—especially the poor and the working-class—are more likely to struggle with family lives marked by discord and marital instability. This two-tiered story ie articulated powerfully by June Carbone and Naomi Cahn in “Marriage Markets: How Inequality Is Remaking the American Family.”

Ms. Carbone and Ms. Cahn focus on macroeconomic changes to trace the retreat from marriage among the poor and working class. By their account, the new economy makes marriage a good deal for well-educated Americans, who can now pool two high incomes to the benefit of themselves and their children. By contrast, less-educated women are more likely to encounter “laid off or slacker” men who have been left in the lurch by the new economy. In 2010, only about 5% of college-educated men age 25-34 were unemployed, compared with almost 20% of men aged 25-34 with a high-school degree or less.

Ms. Carbone and Ms. Cahn point to an unbalanced “sex ratio” at the lower end of the economy—comparatively fewer marriageable men available to a comparatively larger pool of marriageable women. Such ratios make men “more likely to become unreliable cads and the women more likely to give up on the men and invest in themselves.” To the extent, then, that distinct cultural problems plague poor and working-class communities—increased infidelity, distrust and idleness—they flow from the fact that men have lost ground economically, making them less marriageable to the women of their class and circumstances, which explains why more than 50% of births to women without college degrees are out of wedlock.

College-educated women, by contrast, live in a social world where the ratio of marriageable men to women is close to even, where the men in their lives typically enjoy a stable and comparatively high income, and where men embrace a comparatively egalitarian approach to child care and housework. All these qualities make marriage a more attractive undertaking for the third of Americans who hold college degrees and explain why less than 10% of births to college-educated women are out of wedlock. Read more of this post

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