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Monday, September 25, 2017

Income Inequality Alters Marriage Rates

Marriage in the United States used to be nearly universal, and nearly all children were born within marriage. That has changed in important ways in recent years, as noted by a story in today's NYTimes.
Fewer Americans are marrying over all, and whether they do so is more tied to socioeconomic status than ever before. In recent years, marriage has sharply declined among people without college degrees, while staying steady among college graduates with higher incomes.
Currently, 26 percent of poor adults, 39 percent of working-class adults and 56 percent of middle- and upper-class adults ages 18 to 55 are married, according to a research brief published today from two think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute and Opportunity America.
As blue-collar (working class) jobs have been automated and/or gone off-shore, people (men, especially) have found it harder to find good employment (the group that Donald Trump aimed for in his presidential campaign), and that has led to a drop in marriage rates.
“The sharpest distinction in American family life is between people with a bachelor’s or not,” said Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins and author of “Labor’s Love Lost: The Rise and Fall of the Working-Class Family in America.” [And, also, I might add, a Past President of the Population Association of America.]
But this doesn't mean that people without college degrees aren't making babies--they're just more likely to be out-of-wedlock births.
Researchers found a corresponding increase in births to unmarried mothers. The decline in marriage was not offset by more couples living together.
And, of course, those children born out-of-wedlock tend to have a heavier burden, especially if the father is not involved too heavily:
While researchers say it’s stability, not a marriage license, that matters for children, American couples who live together but don’t marry are generally less likely to stay committed.
This point was emphasized in an on-line article posted today by the IUSSP headquarters in France. Elena Mariani and Alice Goisis reported on their research in the UK where they found that:
Children whose biological father joined the household after their birth had better cognitive skills and were less likely to develop depressive symptoms than children who only lived with their single mothers. Conversely, the arrival of a stepfather in the family was not associated with improvement on any of the outcomes (and was instead associated with a marked worsening of cognitive verbal skills).
Overall, then, the evidence suggests that if we could create a more equal income distribution and increase marriage rates (and marital stability) among people with less than a college education, the kids as well as the parents would be better off. 

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