Jason DeParle has a great piece in The New York Times showing that the growing marriage divide between Americans with a college degree and those without a college degree is a major driver of economic and social inequality in America. Money quote:
[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.
In other words, it’s not just recent changes in income, earnings, and assets that are driving inequality in American life, it’s also changes in marriage and family life. Today, in America, the educated and affluent largely get and stay married, to their benefit and the benefit of their children, whereas Americans without college degrees are more likely to sidestep marriage or fail at marriage, both to their detriment and to their children’s detriment.
We’ve covered this ground before in our report, When Marriage Disappears. But one interesting new angle is that Scott Winship at the Brookings Institution found that “just 15 percent of teenagers [from the top echelons of society] living with two parents fell to the bottom third, compared with 27 percent of teenagers without both parent.”
In their heart of hearts, educated and affluent elites of all ideological stripes are intuitively aware of the power of this statistical truth. This explains in part why marriage among the educated and affluent in America has become stronger since the divorce revolution of the 1970s and early 1980s. Elites definitely do not want to see their children falling behind. So, they have learned to steer clear of the easy divorce ethic of the 1970s and early 1980s (think Gingrich) and to embrace a more sober marriage-minded ethic for the twenty-first century (think Obamas).
The challenge facing the nation: How do we extend this marriage mindset to the rest of the country?