Marriage in America

Current Affairs

The Economist has a sobering article detailing the differences between the classes in the USA in terms of their experience of marriage and family life. (With class being defined by education level.)

“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’.”

Read the rest here: Marriage in America | The frayed knot |

Thanks to the New Virginia Churchman for the pointer

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. This isn’t a new phenomenon. Coming from the lower-to-working class, this is just something that others didn’t want to notice in the past or didn’t have to notice, but because of downward mobility, is now more obviously a problem.

  2. Caelius Spinator says

    *Christopher is right. This always has been a problem. But I think something has changed. I remember there being social pressure on unstable men to marry the mothers of their children. (The result is disastrous, frankly.) I think we need to think carefully about how young men mature to be suitable husbands.

  3. What “this” are you referring to? The extent of the problem seems to be growing.
    Point taken about shotgun marriages and often disastrous consequences. I note, too, that in something like half of all marriages during the colonial period a child was born less than 9 month from the date of marriage.
    One does have to ask – I think – what is going on that so many Afro-American women without a high school diploma choose to have a child when they are young. And for us to consider what the consequences are for those children as children and as adults. It does hamper their chanes for upward mobility.
    As for the falling divorce rate much can be explained by marriage at an older age, and by those most likely to divorce never marrying.

  4. A MacArthur says

    I wonder if some of the breakups are due to the stresses of trying to live and raise a family on wages that have not kept pace with inflation. This of course has the biggest impact on those with little education.
    And regarding the third comment, urban teenage girls without prospects for a rosy economic future often see motherhood as the only option open to them. And the pool of marriageable partners is not great for them.

  5. Paul Martin says

    Tom Friedman defines the middle class as those who have hope for a better future. Here, at the margins of society, we are looking at the decisions of those who have no hope. The context makes all the difference.

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