Marriage in America Today

marriage

Marriage in America Today

The number of people getting married is declining. Experts say the marriage rate today is lower than it was in 1880, another time when extreme differences in income affected the social landscape. Though marriage is touted in America and many societies as helping to preserve the social order, the atmosphere with which we operate is far from conducive in promoting it. In the original Gilded Age as Mark Twain called it, a new class of industrialists slashed wages and with it the prospects of workers of marrying age, mostly male factory workers. Sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin at John Hopkins University wrote that one difference today is many are choosing to cohabitate and have children without a marriage license filed away in the family home. That would never do in the 19th century. But today it’s quite common.

One problem is the gatekeepers to pop culture, the TV and movie writers, musical artists and others have failed to keep up and give us an image we can hang onto for this new state of affairs in how long-term love should be.  Zoë Heller at the New York Review of Books says films today and other cultural milieu are filled with simplistic plots and clichés about love, without delving into the complicated minutia of modern relationships and how best to navigate them. They don’t reflect what people are actually experiencing, nor do they give a strategy for which to encounter the prickly paradigm of modern love. Supporters of traditional values decry the end of marriage as it once was. But couples staying together longer show greater stability, know each other better and perhaps can best negotiate differences. The expense of a wedding, weakening norms and lack of financial benefit may result in a further decline in marriage, experts believe. On the upshot for advocates, statistics show that those who are getting married stay together longer. Also, the divorce rate has dropped dramatically. In fact, since the 1980’s, divorce has been in deep decline. 70% of those who married in the 1990s celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary today. That’s 5% higher than those who married in the 70’s and 80’s. Those who tied the knot in the new millennium have an even lower divorce rate.

According to economist Justin Wolfer at the University of Michigan, two-thirds of married couples today stay together. For those cases where divorce does occur, two-thirds of the time it’s the wife who wants it. The reason is women’s expectations for marriage have vastly changed. Gender roles in America saw a dramatic paradigm shift over the past two decades due to the Feminist movement. This in turn affected how both sexes interact with one another. Today, marriage isn’t only about raising a family or having financial support. It’s about love and partnership. People also want someone who will help lead them into personal growth. They want to grow and better themselves and they look to their partner to help them complete their metamorphosis. A lot of times, when we feel as though we are in a stale relationship and the well has gone dry, we feel it’s time to move on. The baby boomer generation remains the one with the highest rate of divorce. People are living older nowadays, and so when the children have moved out and they still have decades of life left, they want to make the most of it. That sometimes means leaving someone they no longer connect with in order to enjoy those years with someone they do. For more on this topic read, The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today by Andrew J. Cherlin.

Many women Marry Less Educated men

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According to a new study released by the Pew Research Center, a record number of women are marrying men that are less educated than they are. Almost 21% of women who married in 2012 were more educated than their new husbands. That’s three times higher than in 1960. Another shocking find, a little less than 20% of men were more educated than their wives. It’s been over 50 years since the Pew Research Center started keeping track of such data. This is the first time in all of those years that more educated women have married less educated men in such numbers. Researchers pointed to the fact that for the past two decades more women have been graduating from college than men. 39% of women who had a college degree married a non-college educated man, compared with 26% of men with a degree who married a non-college educated woman. Even if this could be seen as marrying down in terms of education level, this wasn’t true once income was factored in. 58% of college educated women still had a lower income than their husbands. 39% of women earned more than their husbands.

It’s important to judge a person for who they are and not just for a statistic, whether or not they’ve been college educated. Of course education is important, more and more as our economy grows and diversifies. But there are plenty of other factors that are important for a marriage to work. Kindness, compassion, love, open and honest communication, sharing in values and a vision for the future, conscientiousness, mutual support and caring. These qualities are more important than whether or not someone has a degree. Sure one should be honest, forthright, hardworking, and be able to support one’s self and get along in the world. But in terms of a relationship, the deep inner personal qualities count for a strong, healthy supportive relationship. There are lots of people who are very well educated and earn a nice living that are cold, selfish, poor communicators or have some other character flaw. What color shirt you wear to work shouldn’t make as much of a difference as the contents of one’s heart. Get married to the right person for the right reasons and the rest will fall neatly into place. For more marriage advice, read 12 Questions to Ask Before You Marry by Clayton and Charie King.

Marriage Contributes to Income Inequality

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Though Cinderella stories do exist, most people marry someone within the same race, religion, social-class, who have similar values, mores and outlooks. In fact, recent data out of the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that between 1960 and 2005 there was an increase in marriages between people of the same education level, which also indicates that these were most probably marriages of people within the same socio-economic level. In 1960 and before, it wouldn’t matter very much if the two had the same level of education, particularly since men were the breadwinners generally and the women stayed home to keep house and raise the children. With the influx of women into the workforce, this data tells us that people marrying within the same class keeps that amount of wealth locked up in that class. Whereas those who married up were more likely to move up socially as well. Before 1960, men married whoever they wished. A woman’s education level didn’t have much bearing. But today, since the couple is more equal and is expected to understand each other on every level, education level is considered important.

The New York Times when evaluating this report said it this way, “Not only are people more apt to marry someone similar to themselves today, but their choices also matter more to society.” Though most people marry within their same class, it’s important to note that someone is not their education level. Nor are they their social class. The high divorce rate, particularly in the U.S. where we have the highest in the world, may pay testament to this fact. Of course, no one is suggesting that one should marry someone simply to raise them out of a certain class, nor should you marry someone for money or their education level. What is important is to try and date many different kinds of people and see who you truly are compatible with. Don’t evaluate someone simply on the basis of their education level. Nor should you rule them out for not reaching the same income level as yourself. Oftentimes, possible mates are thought to be not datable because they haven’t earned a college degree, or a higher degree. Blue collar work can still be challenging, fulfilling, you can make a nice living, and those who work different kinds of jobs can still share the same values, mores, senses of humor and plans for the future. To learn more about the issue of income inequality in the U.S., read the insight of Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz in his New York Times bestseller, The Price Of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future.