December 9, 2010

What has happened to marriage?

The new report from the State of Our Unions which monitors the current health of marriage and family life in America has sobering implications for the future of the country.

New data indicate that trends in nonmarital childbearing, divorce, and marital quality in Middle America increasingly resemble those of the poor, where marriage is fragile and weak. Yet among the highly educated and affluent, marriage is stable and appears to be getting even stronger.

W. Bradford Wilcox, a co-author of the report, finds that shifts in marriage attitudes, increases in unemployment, and declines in religious attendance are among the trends are driving the retreat from marriage in Middle America. When Marriage Disappears

Ross Douhat comments on The Changing Culture War

We’ve known for a while that America has a marriage gap: college graduates divorce infrequently and bear few children out of wedlock, while in the rest of the country unwed parenthood and family breakdown are becoming a new normal. This gap has been one of the paradoxes of the culture war: highly educated Americans live like Ozzie and Harriet despite being cultural liberals, while middle America hews to traditional values but has trouble living up to them.

This means that a culture war that’s often seen as a clash between liberal elites and a conservative middle America looks more and more like a conflict within the educated class — pitting Wheaton and Baylor against Brown and Bard, Redeemer Presbyterian Church against the 92nd Street Y, C. S. Lewis devotees against the Philip Pullman fan club.

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But as religious conservatives have climbed the educational ladder, American churches seem to be having trouble reaching the people left behind. This is bad news for both Christianity and the country. The reinforcing bonds of strong families and strong religious communities have been crucial to working-class prosperity in America. Yet today, no religious body seems equipped to play the kind of stabilizing role in the lives of the “moderately educated middle” (let alone among high school dropouts) that the early-20th-century Catholic Church played among the ethnic working class.

--This, in turn, may be remembered as the great tragedy of the culture war: While college-educated Americans battle over what marriage should mean, much of the country may be abandoning the institution entirely.

This is Chilling News for Children

The precipitous decline of marriage among the moderately educated middle is a serious and enormous social problem. After all, stable family life is associated with all sorts of salubrious outcomes—behavioral, educational, and economic–just as unstable or non-existent family life is associated with all sorts of social pathologies. What’s more, if stable family life doesn’t help pave the way for social mobility, then we run the risk of introducing or making more permanent just the kind of class structure that can give the lie to the American Dream.

Is Middle America giving up on marriage?

Dr. Andrew Cherlin} and Dr. [Bradford] Wilcox say that the trends are troubling not because of some puritanical value on marriage, but because of the clear links between strong marriage and happiness, economic prosperity, and children’s well-being. “Their health, wealth, and happiness are all increased when women, and especially men, stay married,” says Wilcox, who notes that children are also much more likely to thrive when their parents stay married. Moreover, Dr. Cherlin notes that about half of all nonmarriage cohabiting unions - including those with children - break up within five years. “You could argue that there’s nothing wrong with living together,” he says. “But if it makes the family lives of children more unstable, then that’s a concern.”

The Economist reported three years ago in The Frayed Knot that the widening 'marriage gap' is breeding inequality.

Middle-class kids growing up with two biological parents are “socialised for success”. They do better in school, get better jobs and go on to create intact families of their own. Children of single parents or broken families do worse in school, get worse jobs and go on to have children out of wedlock. This makes it more likely that those born near the top or the bottom will stay where they started. America, argues Ms Hymowitz, is turning into “a nation of separate and unequal families”.

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Marriage itself is “a wealth-generating institution”, according to Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe, who run the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University. Those who marry “till death do us part” end up, on average, four times richer than those who never marry. This is partly because marriage provides economies of scale—two can live more cheaply than one—and because the kind of people who make more money—those who work hard, plan for the future and have good interpersonal skills—are more likely to marry and stay married. But it is also because marriage affects the way people behave.

More evidence that marriage affects the way people behave. Study: Marriage makes for good men: good men marry

I close with a quote from Representative Michael Pence.

"You would not be able to print enough money in a thousand years to pay for the government you would need if the traditional family continues to collapse."

Posted by Jill Fallon at December 9, 2010 10:59 AM | Permalink