Thursday, March 22, 2012

Why working class young adults are missing out on marriage

Link: (via

Marriage has become optional, even among people who are having (or have had) children.

A friend of mine told me he's about to become a father.  His girlfriend is pregnant, and they've decided to keep and raise the baby. 
I asked him if there was a marriage in the offing, and he said yes, in a few months, but he's keeping that secret for now.  More interesting, out of all the people he's given this news, including his mother, I was the first to ask about marriage plans.

For some years, now, researchers at the Institute for American Values have been pointing out that, while the great majority of people still highly value marriage, the meaning of marriage has undergone a profound change. There has been a marked shift away from the institutional concept of marriage, which is focused on the begetting and rearing of children, to the soulmate concept, which is focused on the happiness of the couple and has no essential connection to children.
David and Amber Lapp, a young married couple who have been doing qualitative research for the IAV on how young working class adults view marriage, have written about their findings from face-to-face interviews. This section of the US population (from the 58 per cent of Americans with a high school diploma but no college degree) was chosen because it is the one most impacted by the changing idea of marriage.
Births outside of marriage to women from this group have risen from 13 per cent in 1982 to 44 per cent in the late 2000s (compared with only 6 per cent among college educated women). This is the "new normal" among the working class or "moderately educated" Americans. And it is driven not by single motherhood but by cohabitation: 52 per cent of all non-marital births, and 61 per cent of births to white women, take place within a cohabiting relationship.
What's going on? Basically, these young working class folks believe in "love, commitment, permanence and, family" but they also buy into the soulmate notion of marriage - which does not work for them. There are other reasons, social and economic, for their failure to marry, but an inadequate philosophy of love and marriage, that it is merely about individual happiness, is very influential.
In their Public Discourse article the Lapps use some brief profiles of interviewees to illustrate this point. In most cases, the ideals and dreams of interviewees -- as well as, often, their experience of divorced parents -- leads them believe that "the surest way to test if you've found 'the right person' is to live together, perhaps for years, before you marry." Since most are open to children, they become parents. (But that won't necessarily keep them together; cohabiting relationships break down at twice the rate -- or more -- of marriages.)

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