Family Fact of the Week: What the Record-Low Marriage Rate Means for Americans’ Well-Being
Collette Caprara /
Though the marriage rate in America has reached an all-time low, there is a small sign of hope. Within the next two years, there will be a slight rise in the number of weddings as Millennials hit the marriage life stage, according to a recent study by Demographic Intelligence.
Given the positive effects of marriage for men, women, and children, even this short-term reprieve is welcomed news. But that slim ray of hope dims among those who are most in need.
As the report indicates, this short-term increase in the marriage rate will occur within the most affluent, college-educated sector of society. Rates will stagnate or continue to decline among the least affluent and those who have only a high school education or less.
There have been a number of early warning signals regarding the cultural drift between the two societal sectors of our nation. In his 2012 book Coming Apart: The State of White America, Charles Murray notes that in the 1960s, marriage rates between upper-class and lower-class Americans were fairly similar (94 percent and 84 percent) and that, while the rate among the college-educated has since declined to about 84 percent, it has plummeted to only 48 percent among those with the lowest level of education.
Earlier this year, research noted that the age at first marriage was increasing at a faster rate than the age of first childbearing and that 48 percent of first births currently take place outside marriage. Once again, this trend will have the greatest impact among the most disadvantaged. Among college-educated women, a substantial majority of births still take place within marriage: Childbearing as well as marriage has been delayed for this sector. In contrast, among those with a high school education or less, the concepts of marriage and childbearing have become disconnected: Among high school dropouts, 83 percent of first births are outside marriage.
The rise of single-parent families takes its greatest toll on those born outside marriage. Without the benefits of an intact family, children born and raised outside marriage are 82 percent more likely to live in poverty and tend to fare worse on a wide range of economic measures. In their teens, they are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors, such as becoming sexually active, engaging in substance abuse, and exhibiting anti-social behavior. They fare worse on emotional and psychological outcomes and have lower levels of academic achievement and educational attainment. Given these disadvantages, the prospects that these young people will one day marry and start their own families on a stable foundation are dim, and the downward spiral will continue.
The decisions that men and women make regarding marriage and childbearing are not isolated individual life choices; they have profound societal effects. Today’s trends signal an urgent need for efforts in the cultural and policy arenas to promote marriage and strong and healthy families, especially among those who are least advantaged.