Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Marriage Gap

Interesting look at marriage by education levels in the US by The Economist. I hadn't realized the extent to which their was a marriage gap in the US.

There is a widening gulf between how the best- and least-educated Americans approach marriage and child-rearing. Among the elite (excluding film stars), the nuclear family is holding up quite well. Only 4% of the children of mothers with college degrees are born out of wedlock. And the divorce rate among college-educated women has plummeted. Of those who first tied the knot between 1975 and 1979, 29% were divorced within ten years. Among those who first married between 1990 and 1994, only 16.5% were.

At the bottom of the education scale, the picture is reversed. Among high-school dropouts, the divorce rate rose from 38% for those who first married in 1975-79 to 46% for those who first married in 1990-94. Among those with a high school diploma but no college, it rose from 35% to 38%. And these figures are only part of the story. Many mothers avoid divorce by never marrying in the first place. The out-of-wedlock birth rate among women who drop out of high school is 15%. Among African-Americans, it is a staggering 67%.

Does this matter? Kay Hymowitz of the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think-tank, says it does. In her book “Marriage and Caste in America”, she argues that the “marriage gap” is the chief source of the country's notorious and widening inequality. Middle-class kids growing up with two biological parents are “socialised for success”. They do better in school, get better jobs and go on to create intact families of their own. Children of single parents or broken families do worse in school, get worse jobs and go on to have children out of wedlock. This makes it more likely that those born near the top or the bottom will stay where they started. America, argues Ms Hymowitz, is turning into “a nation of separate and unequal families”.

A large majority—92%—of children whose families make more than $75,000 a year live with two parents (including step-parents). At the bottom of the income scale—families earning less than $15,000—only 20% of children live with two parents.

Those who marry “till death do us part” end up, on average, four times richer than those who never marry. This is partly because marriage provides economies of scale—two can live more cheaply than one—and because the kind of people who make more money—those who work hard, plan for the future and have good interpersonal skills—are more likely to marry and stay married. But it is also because marriage affects the way people behave.

A study by Adam Thomas and Isabel Sawhill concluded that if the black family had not collapsed between 1960 and 1998, the black child-poverty rate would have been 28.4% rather than 45.6%. And if white families had stayed like they were in 1960, the white child poverty rate would have been 11.4% rather than 15.4%.
You could make a compelling argument that the root cause of the Two Americas that John Edwards talks of is the difference in marriage rates. Not clear what can be done to raise marriage rates, besides the obvious one of getting more people to go to college.

Other interesting factoids and analysis in the article, worth the whole read.

via The Economist


Audacious Epigone said...

You could also make the argument that the sixties Cultural Revolution was an unmitigated social disaster. The Randish "do as you feel" message was most likely to be bought into by those least able to suffer its consequences. And so the black lot has, in many ways, become worse relative to that of whites over the last half-century.

Fat Knowledge said...


I don't know enough about the Cultural Revolution to really make a statement on that. I always think of Hippies as being college educated so they would not be in the lower half of the gap. And lots of those people are now happily married and have become mainstream.

But, did the larger message lead to lower marriage rates and the issues pointed out in this article? I don't know, but sounds like a plausible statement to me.

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