It’s always good to see the New York Times acknowledge reality: that marriage is better for parents, better for children, and better for society. In a lengthy article based in my hometown of Ann Arbor, Mich., reporter Jason DeParle profiles two mothers — one married, one not — and observes the contrasting lives of their kids.
Here’s the basic summary:
The economic storms of recent years have raised concerns about growing inequality and questions about a core national faith, that even Americans of humble backgrounds have a good chance of getting ahead. Most of the discussion has focused on labor market forces like falling blue-collar wages and lavish Wall Street pay.
But striking changes in family structure have also broadened income gaps and posed new barriers to upward mobility. College-educated Americans . . . are increasingly likely to marry one another, compounding their growing advantages in pay. Less-educated women . . . are growing less likely to marry at all, raising children on pinched paychecks that come in ones, not twos.
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.
And this negative dynamic tends to reinforce itself. Later in the article, DeParle writes,
The reasons [for growing inequality] are manifold: the growing premium a college education commands, technological change that favors mind over muscle, the growth of the financial sector, the loss of manufacturing jobs to automation and foreign competitors, and the decline of labor unions.
But marriage also shapes the story in complex ways. Economic woes speed marital decline, as women see fewer “marriageable men.” The opposite also holds true: marital decline compounds economic woes, since it leaves the needy to struggle alone.
In short, inequality is a product of culture (families falling apart) and economics (middle-class incomes declining). Too bad neither political party seems willing to admit both aspects of the problem.
More data on the relationship between family structure and inequality is here.