“It is the privileged Americans who are marrying, and marrying helps them stay privileged”

A New York Times article looks at how marriage affects inequality. Here are some of the interesting tidbits:

Estimates vary widely, but scholars have said that changes in marriage patterns — as opposed to changes in individual earnings — may account for as much as 40 percent of the growth in certain measures of inequality. Long a nation of economic extremes, the United States is also becoming a society of family haves and family have-nots, with marriage and its rewards evermore confined to the fortunate classes.

“It is the privileged Americans who are marrying, and marrying helps them stay privileged,” said Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University.

About 41 percent of births in the United States occur outside marriage, up sharply from 17 percent three decades ago. But equally sharp are the educational divides, according to an analysis by Child Trends, a Washington research group. Less than 10 percent of the births to college-educated women occur outside marriage, while for women with high school degrees or less the figure is nearly 60 percent…

Sara McLanahan, a Princeton sociologist, warns that family structure increasingly consigns children to “diverging destinies.”

I’ve tackled this before (see here) but this is still interesting: marriage can have powerful economic effects.

The normative implications of such findings are interesting to consider. Should we pursue pro-marriage policies in the face of record number of adult Americans living alone? If we don’t want to have the government promoting such things, how do you close this gap working with other social levers?

This reminds me of the recent discussion-provoking cover story from The Atlantic titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.”  Marriage was not the primary focus of the story though it certainly plays a role in what both men and women can accomplish. Also, it is tied to a factor not discussed in the story: as Slaughter suggests, the women may be limited by the system but the interest couples have in both working might also be related to a desire to have two incomes. Indeed, having a certain standard of living in certain metropolitan areas generally requires two incomes unless one partner is in a lucrative job. Being married increases the purchasing power of a family which is no small feat.


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