Marriage and the “self-perpetuating class divide”

12.09.2012, 2:00 PM

At National Journal, an important article by Jonathan Rauch on working class American men.  As they say, read the whole thing.  Here’s an excerpt with a killer graph on the role of family structure in both reflecting and generating widening inequality:

Given the diverging economic destinies of men at the top and bottom of the education curves, you might expect such a self-reinforcing cycle to lead to something like a self-perpetuating class divide. You would be right. “If you look back 50 years ago, there were not major class divides in marriage or family structure,” Wilcox said. Today, as Chart 6 shows, marriage and earnings correlate strongly. In 1970, more than three-fourths of men, no matter how much they earned, had wives; men at the bottom of the earnings scale were only slightly more likely to be single than were men at the top. Today, nearly half of the low-earning men are single, versus only a seventh of highly paid men.


Family structure, in short, has become both a leading cause and a primary casualty of an emerging class divide. At the top are families with two married earners, two college degrees, and kids who never question that their future includes a college degree and a good job; at the bottom, families with one (female) earner, no college, no marriage, and kids who grow up isolated from the world of work and higher education. And the two worlds are drifting apart.

2 Responses to “Marriage and the “self-perpetuating class divide””

  1. Diane M says:

    For me the key issue is that family structure makes the class divide self-perpetuating. Whatever other factors go into the problem, being a child from one of one-parent family makes it nearly impossible to break through when all the wealthier families are two-parent systems.

  2. Diane M says:

    Thanks for the link. My main take-away from the article is that to strengthen marriage, we need to help less educated men get jobs. The educational measures suggested would be a good first step.

    I would go further and push for:

    Actually creating jobs as was done in the Depression. Ideally they would be jobs that trained people.

    Improving education before high school for kids in poor neighborhoods.

    Recognizing that boys in particular may need more academic support than one parent can give them and developing programs to help children with one parent succeed in school.