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. (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/us/two-classes-in-america-divided-by-i-do.html?_r=2)
What’s most troubling about these figures is that marriage is good for children.
“Researchers have consistently found that children born outside marriage face elevated risks of falling into poverty, failing in school or suffering emotional and behavioral problems,” write Mr. DeParle and Ms. Tavernise. Most births outside of a marriage are to couples who are living together, but marriages last longer than alternative arrangements. Tax-saving economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers may be the exception, but statistically, co-habitation arrangements in the United States are more than twice as likely to dissolve than marriages. (
But that’s a mantra, and a stigma, that’s unfair to the reality of many families. Parents who choose single parenthood (mostly women, but far from all) at an established stage of their lives face different challenges than those who parent as a couple, but theirs is a different story than that of the single parent in less-secure circumstances.
In other words, the problem isn’t Murphy Brown (the television character criticized by Dan Quayle for choosing single motherhood) but the arguable Murphy Brown effect: What works for Michelle Williams, Minnie Driver and Sandra Bullock is a whole lot harder for Jessica Schairer, the single mother of three children featured in “Two Classes, Separated by ‘I Do’.” Jason DeParle’s profile of two Michigan mothers lays out stark differences in family experiences for the children of two very similar women, one married, the other raising her children alone after a failed relationship that never led to marriage,
differences come not just from the absence of a second parent. They also come from the economics of a family of four living on a single income that’s not large enough to replicate the income of most two-parent families. From there, the inequalities branch out into those very different childhoods: fewer activities, less help with homework, fewer vacations, less time to read and a far smaller margin for error.
It’s hard to separate the economic impact from the impact of the absence of that second parent, but regardless of causation, results appear to be far-reaching: lower scores on standardized tests, poorer grades and an increased likelihood of dropping out of high school or failing to attend college.(For a deeper view of the numbers, read Mr. DeParle’s Economix blog post “Economic Inequality and the Changing Family.”)(
Abstinence is a major part of the solution here. Despite contraception use by the vast majority of Americans, as well as 1.2 million abortions annually, 41% of births are outside of marriage, and 53% of births to women under 30 are out of wedlock. While both contraception and abortion are immoral, they are usually symptoms of the overall problem of a lack of abstinence until marriage. (
Kids have a hard enough life without having extra burdens placed on them of a single parent.