A new report from the Brookings Institute, written by one conservative sociologist and one liberal sociologist, suggests that marriage is helpful for achieving the American Dream:
To be sure, not every married family is a healthy one that benefits children. Yet, on average, the institution of marriage conveys important benefits to adults and children. This advantage may be due to the greater stability of the marriage bond, or to the kinds of people who choose to marry and to stay married, or to qualities associated with the institution of marriage (such as a greater degree of commitment and investment in family life). Let us assume that all of these factors play a role. The fact is that children born and raised in intact, married homes typically enjoy higher quality relationships with their parents, are more likely to steer clear of trouble with the law, to graduate from high school and college, to be gainfully employed as adults, and to enjoy stable marriages of their own in adulthood. Women and men who get and stay married are more likely to accrue substantial financial assets and to enjoy good physical and mental health. In fact, married men enjoy a wage premium compared to their single peers that may exceed 10 percent. At the collective level, the retreat from marriage has played a noteworthy role in fueling the growth in family income inequality and child poverty that has beset the nation since the 1970s. For all these reasons, then, the institution of marriage has been an important pillar of the American Dream, and the erosion of marriage in Middle America is one reason the dream is increasingly out of reach for men, women, and children from moderately-educated homes.
This strikes me as an odd defense of marriage. This reasoning is very pragmatic: because marriage is successful in helping people reach the American Dream, therefore, people should look for such relationships. I could imagine several objections to this argument:
1. There are better reasons for defending marriage as an institution. Tying marriage to a particular successful life sequence could take the emphasis away from the relationship and move it to acquiring particular material possessions, life chances, and statuses. Ultimately, it seems to me that the current debate around marital practices in the United States comes down to moral beliefs.
2. Perhaps the notion of the American Dream is changing. Just because this has worked in the past doesn’t mean that this is what Americans want to pursue in the future.
3. There are other notable reasons for the growing inequality and rise in child poverty in the United States over the last few decades.
All in all, I imagine this report could generate a significant amount of debate.