Throughout 2010, a series of studies and surveys did not bode well for the prospects of marriage and the family in America.
First came a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that unwed childbearing has reached an all-time high. Currently, four out of 10 babies are born out of wedlock in the general population (five out of 10 among Hispanics, and seven out of 10 among blacks).
Then came results from a collaborative Pew/Time magazine survey reporting that four in 10 respondents said that marriage is becoming obsolete.
Most recently, research by Brad Wilcox of the National Marriage Project at University of Virginia probed further to see just where the erosion of marriage is having its greatest impact. It turns out that it is in “Middle America,” as denoted by education level (those who have completed high school but not college). In fact, regarding non-marital childbearing, divorce, and marital quality, the stats for Middle America have been steadily drifting toward those of the most impoverished and least educated sector. Sadly, that sector has felt the greatest impact of the decline of marriage, which is foundational for social and economic stability and the next generation’s prospects for the future.
The trends away from a culture of marriage in Middle America are especially troubling, for it is this demographic that has been a longstanding bulwark of traditional values regarding marriage and the family. This was true even as, throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, the ranks of the college-educated elite experimented with values-free sexual practices and “freeing” relationships from the bonds of commitment and responsibility. Ironically, the college-educated third of the nation’s population is now trending toward a culture of marriage and family stability as other sectors of society founder.
Wilcox’s study, “When Marriage Disappears: The Retreat from Marriage in Middle America,” should be a clarion call to action among those who have expressed concern that the middle class has borne the brunt of the recent recession. Those who call for initiatives to enable Middle America to regain its economic footing would do well to promote policies conducive to sustainable marriage—a recognized cornerstone of financial stability and upward mobility.
In other words, as Wilcox urged at a recent presentation at The Heritage Foundation, those in the upper-educated echelon who have turned toward a culture of marriage in their personal lives should incorporate those same values in the public institutions they influence. This would positively affect the lives of the remaining two-thirds of Americans and their progeny.
With such a commitment on the horizon, there would be good reason to cheer the arrival of the New Year.