For Love & Money

While media attention has focused on marriage equality for same-sex couples, almost no attention has been paid to a historic transformation in marriage that has far-reaching consequences for economic equality in the society as a whole. Without much fanfare, the nature of marriage has undergone a profound change. It used to be a democratic institution, open to the many. It is evolving into an elite institution, open chiefly to the well-educated few. In short, marriage is becoming yet another form of privilege.

Rich or poor, most Americans prize marriage above all other intimate unions. Most want to marry and to stay married for a lifetime. But increasingly, those who seek a long-lasting marriage are divided in their ability to actually achieve this goal. The marriage “haves” are those with four-year college degrees. The marriage “have-nots” are those who lack this credential. The college-educated are the most likely to marry and to stay married. And happily so. Women with college degrees report higher levels of marital satisfaction than other married women. Those who do not have the college credential are more likely to forgo marriage altogether or to have marriages that end in divorce.

Clearly, the restructuring of the economy, notably the dramatic decline in blue-collar union jobs, has played a part in the growing “marriage divide.” The upheaval in the job market has led to an upheaval in the marriage...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, author of The Divorce Culture (Knopf), directs the Center for Thrift and Generosity at the Institute for American Values.