Marriage study leaps to wrong conclusions

By Alan Bean

A new study by the Institute for American values and the The National Marriage Project finds that support for marriage is rising among the most highly educated sectors of America and falling among the less well educated.

There is this:

Percentage of 25–44-year-olds Agreeing That Marriage Has Not Worked Out for Most People They Know, by Education

Percentage of 25-44-year-olds Agreeing That Marriage Has Not Worked Out for Most People They Know, by Education

And this: 

Percent in Intact First Marriage, 25–60-year-olds, by Race, Education, and Decade

Percent in Intact First Marriage, 25-60-year-olds, by Race, Education, and Decade

 On the basis of this evidence (and a great deal of similar data) the executive summary reaches the wrong conclusion:

Today’s retreat from marriage among the moderately educated middle is placing the American Dream beyond the reach of too many Americans. It makes the lives of mothers harder and drives fathers further away from families. It increases the odds that children from Middle America will drop out of high school, end up in trouble with the law, become pregnant as teenagers, or otherwise lose their way. As marriage—an institution to which all could once aspire—increasingly becomes the private playground of those already blessed with abundance, a social and cultural divide is growing. It threatens the American experiment in democracy and should be of concern to every civic and social leader in our nation.

The report consistently fails to grapple with the obvious fact that, from a strictly financial standpoint, marriage is becoming less feasible for a steadily increasing demographic.  It isn’t that less educated (and therefore, poorer) Americans don’t want to get married, or that they have a marked preference for divorce; it’s that many have given up on marriage because they can’t support a family or, once married, are finding it hard to stay together.  Nothing breaks up a relationship faster than unpaid bills.

We are not talking about an aspiration gap; it’s a reality gap:

Figure 7. Percentage of 25–60-year-olds Reporting Marriage as “Very Important” or as “One of the Most Important Things” to Them, by Education

Percentage of 25-60-year-olds Reporting Marriage as 'Very Important' or as 'One of the Most Important Things' to Them, by Education

The statement, “Today’s retreat from marriage among the moderately educated middle is placing the American Dream beyond the reach of too many Americans,” betrays an educated and affluent bias.  Are we talking about a retreat from marriage or a retreat from the American Dream.  It would be more accurate to say that as the American Dream becomes less realistic for many Americans, we have witnessed a retreat from marriage.

The study also find that participation in organized religion is falling much faster among the uneducated than among the highly educated.  No surprise there either.  The aesthetics of affluent religion are specifically designed to repel the riff-raff.  Middle American religion is all about family and professional advancement–themes the poor folks have a hard time relating to. 

Until recently, attendance statistics in black churches weren’t dropping nearly as fast as in white churches, but that is beginning to change.  Poor blacks have a hard time getting charged up about the prosperity gospel that has taken black religious life by storm.  The alternative, in many cases, is a middle class religion overlaid with sentimental odes to the civil rights movement.  As in the days of John Wesley, poor folk no longer feel welcome in many churches.  Only a gospel that restores the poor to the central place they hold in Scripture can turn that around.

One thought on “Marriage study leaps to wrong conclusions

  1. Wow–that’s a sobering thought–that the poor are dropping out of church–or rather, that they’re not being welcomed at church, that they’re being pushed out of church. I wonder what sociologists of religion have to say about this–or if they’ve given the matter much thought?

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