Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Who Gets Married

I had the good fortune to attend a lunch yesterday at the Heritage Foundation with the Editor of - and several contributors to - this cool new book. After reading parts of it, I can say that it is both amusing and interesting. And as a father of a 2-year old, I can relate to the experience of PJ O'Rourke, who says he became a conservative the moment his daughter was born.

Back to the point of the post: one of the speakers - I believe it was Danielle Crittenden - mentioned an interesting story in the Washington Post - suggesting that marriage is increasingly a province of the well-educated and those with higher incomes, while living together is more common in the rest of America:

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 culture is shifting, and marriage has almost become a luxury item, one that only the well educated and well paid are interested in," said Isabel V. Sawhill, an expert on marriage and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Marriage has declined across all income groups, but it has declined far less among couples who make the most money and have the best education. These couples are also less likely to divorce. Many demographers peg the rise of a class-based marriage gap to the erosion since 1970 of the broad-based economic prosperity that followed World War II.

"We seem to be reverting to a much older pattern, when elites marry and a great many others live together and have kids," said Peter Francese, demographic trends analyst for Ogilvy & Mather, an advertising firm.

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.

Married couples living with their own children younger than 18 are also helping to drive a well-documented increase in income inequality. Compared with all households, they are twice as likely to be in the top 20 percent of income. Their income has increased 59 percent in the past three decades, compared with 44 percent for all households, according to the census.

This doesn't sound like the sort of thing that can have happy consequences. I wonder where it will lead.

My wife suggests that maybe Mike Judge is on to something.

And thanks to Rob Bluey.

1 comment:

Philo-Junius said...

Marriage is not a luxury item; it's a niche item in which a disproportionate number of upper class couples indulge the same way they collect African art from tribes whose names they can pronounce only after extensive practice.

It's not that the upper income brackets in general value marriage per se any more than anyone else (as their divorce statistics indicate), it's that, on the one hand, moral behaviour generally produces positive outcomes--so people who embrace traditional norms such as marriage do tend to rise economically--and, on the other hand, upper income couples with no long-term respect or interest in marriage are disproportionately able to indulge in serial wedding parties and retain lawyers to sort out the ensuing divorces.