Americans appear to have fallen out of love with marriage, says USA Today, to the point where those saying “I do” have bottomed out at a historical benchmark low: 6.8 marriages per thousand for the years 2009 to 2011 (the latest data available). In 2000, the rate was 8.2; in 1970, it was 10.6; before then, it’s popularity waxed and waned depending on how well the statistics were collected, which is to say not especially well until the 1960s.
Explanations? Recession, recession, recession, which means – according to a new analysis cited by the paper – that the rate will go back up as under-employed and debt-laden 18-34 year olds recover economically. But such alter-bound optimism elides over the new face of married life in the US: it is one that radiates affluence.
Indeed, the story of marriage’s decline in America is a story of American decline. But while this is duly noted – “marriage numbers,” said USA Today “are stagnant or declining among those with a high school education or less, younger Americans, and the less affluent” – Republicans and Democrats have both drawn the wrong conclusion at a policy level. While there is clear association between being an unmarried parent and being poor, this doesn’t necessarily mean that being married would lift parents out of poverty; correlation doesn’t mean causation.
“The problem was we had no idea if being single or in distressed marriages was ‘causing’ poverty,” said Matthew Johnson, Director of the Marriage and Family Studies Laboratory at SUNY Binghamton by email. “In addition, we did not know if the existing scientific literature on predicting successful marriages would apply to poor families because it was mostly conducted on middle-class families. Some in the scientific community were trying to point out that we did not know whether investing billions in marriage education for poor couples would work, but our voices were drown out by those who felt that it was worth the gamble. Now we know that it does...
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