A recent Pew study on marriage has been getting a lot of attention, particularly for the finding that an increased number of Americans think marriage is obsolete. Another study, this from the National Marriage Project, provides some more interesting findings about marriage: “Marriage is an emerging dividing line between America’s moderately educated middle and those with college degrees.”
Ross Douthat explains some of the implications of this study:
This decline is depressing, but it isn’t surprising. 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.
But the Marriage Project’s data suggest that this paradox is fading. It’s no longer clear that middle America does hold more conservative views on marriage and family, or that educated Americans are still more likely to be secular and socially liberal…
There has been a similar change in religious practice. In the 1970s, college- educated Americans were slightly less likely to attend church than high school graduates. Today, piety increasingly correlates with education: college graduates are America’s most faithful churchgoers, while religious observance has dropped precipitously among the less-educated.
In part, these shifts may be a testament to the upward mobility of religious believers…
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.
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.
This is interesting: marriage, and those who both defend it and practice it, may be within the purview of the educated but not others. Does this suggest marriage has become something of a luxury, something that those with education (and presumably more money) can afford but those without this capital don’t see as a necessity? And when and why exactly did this shift take place?
I would be curious to know what sociologists think is the link between these findings and what goes on in college. Is marriage simply part of the typical life aspiration for someone who goes to college where it isn’t for people who don’t get a college degree? Is there something that happens in college or during that time period or having a college degree that pushes people toward marriage? How exactly is having the college degree linked to this action?
And in the final part of what I cited, Douthat makes a point about the role of churches: how exactly can or should they promote marriage, particularly to the parts of the US population that aren’t as open to it? Do churches promote marriage by promoting families (activities and education for the kids, etc.) or is there more that should be done? Have more churches in recent years shifted their attention away from the working-class to the more educated?
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