Monday, March 05, 2007

Marriage is for the rich

Taking apart this article on marriage becoming an elite institution.  The article, by Blaine Harden at the Washington post uses statistics to determine that while the institution of marriage is declining in the lower income groups in this country, it’s still strong in the top 20 percent of earners.  Leading Harden to explain that married with children will soon become solely available to the wealthy class.

      As marriage with children becomes an exception rather than the norm, social scientists say it is also becoming the self-selected province of the college-educated and the affluent. The working class and the poor, meanwhile, increasingly steer away from marriage, while living together and bearing children out of wedlock.

The author spends much time on the causes (or the effects?  Hard to tell).  Mainly that income is amongst them.

      In recent years, the marrying kind have been empowered by college degrees and bankrolled by dual incomes. They are also older and choosier. College-educated men and women are increasingly less likely to "marry down" -- that is, to choose mates who have less education and professional standing than they do.

What the article fails to do is indicate whether there’s any evidence that one or the other is cause and/or effect.  Do higher income people tend to want to marry more, or is marriage a more stable way of life (when done right) leading to higher incomes?  By higher incomes, by the by, I’m not saying that marriages will produce people who make incomes in the top 20 percent.  I’m just saying that it might be that it would increase somewhat the money you make, leading to more people in that group breaching the 20 percent.

I’ve seen articles and research that indicates that college educated WOMEN are “marrying down” as the article says, but not men.  Traditionally women marry men whose earning power is higher than theirs, but men traditionally don’t look for that in a mate (at least to the same degree), so I’m skeptical at that statement.

      Among its many benefits, marriage raises the earnings of men and motivates them to work more hours. It also reduces by two-thirds the likelihood that a family will live in poverty, researchers have learned.

I would more likely see it from this point of view.  That marriage increases the earning power, and therefore the status, and not the other way around.

The article spends lots of time talking about the increase in people living together instead of getting married.  Then it gives this little tidbit.

      As far as marriage with children is concerned, the post-World War II version of normal began to fall apart around 1970.

However, the article spends absolutely NO print, doesn’t even mention, that all this could possibly be, oh I don’t know, a social problem not an income or class problem.  The income part of this comes in because during the sexual revolution, people in higher incomes tended not to take part in the social restructuring.  Their children were usually the ones who held on to the values and the model of how to become an upper income individual (and, yes, more likely to have the money to go to a really good college).

      "The poor aren't entering into marriage very much at all," said Smock, who has interviewed more than 100 cohabitating couples. She said young people from these backgrounds often do not think they can afford marriage.

      Arguments that marriage can mean stability do not seem to change their attitudes, Smock said, noting that many of them have parents with troubled marriages.

Harden moves in on a “racial dimension” but then has to relent that class is supposedly a much better tool for predicting whether Americans will marry.

They profile the lives of a wealthy married couple with children and then a low income (and much younger) couple living together.  Despite the obvious problems comparing couples of vastly different ages, there’s another aspect.  The poor couple have parents that had big time marriage problems themselves. 

Which is where this ties in with the changes from 1970.  We’re now well into the 2nd generation since the sexual revolution of the late 60s, and those people’s kids have been grown up for the last 10 or 15 years and are already having kids of their own. 

But the social disfunction of “free love” caused a tremendous rise in divorce and marital problems, and today’s new adults have a very bad idea about what marriage is all about and what it’s benefits are.  Or how to hold one together for any length of time.  Plainly, the benefits of marriage have not been modeled for a growing portion of our population.

But I don’t see the class-marriage link other than that of existing upper class people avoiding the social upheaval of the 60s.  Having extra money might make marriages easier when there’s not money issues to argue and fight about, but it’s far from the only problems people face in marriage.  In my mind the overwhelming cause of the decline in marriage in ANY class of people is the attitude that people bring to it, the models they observe, the support they get and the values that shape their life.  There are plenty of healthy marriages amongst poor and middle class peoples in America.  This is a social and moral problem.

Hat tip to Instapundit, who notes that the costs of raising a child in America today, which can be from a quarter of a million dollars to one million dollars through the child rearing years, might be driving the birth rates down. 

Perhaps that might be contributing to the declining rate of birth, but it still doesn’t explain everything away, as the rate of birth is still pretty high in lower incomes.  It’s just that the single parent and unmarried parent rate is much higher there.

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