Marriage is declining in America. There were only 2,077,000 marriages in 2015 – fewer than the 2,159,000 in 1970 when the population was only 203 million. If the same percentage were getting married today, there would have been 1.3 million more marriages last year!
Sadly, a large minority of the population – 44% – say that marriage has become obsolete. They are wrong. Marriage has never been more important to everyone.
Dr. W. Bradford Wilcox, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Family Studies and a Professor at the University of Virginia, spoke about the importance of God’s first institution to 100 marriage leaders at the Falls Church Anglican congregation recently.
He described marriage in America as “separate and unequal.” The college educated “are more likely to enjoy high-quality, stable marriages” than the less educated. For example, the divorce rate of the college educated is low and falling, dropping from 15% in the 1970s to only 11% in the 1990s. However, the divorce rate is 36% for both high school dropouts and those who have had some college.
Only 6% of recent births to college graduates were to unwed parents, while it was 54% for high school dropouts and 44% for those with some college. “This class divide imperils the well-being of lower-income children who are increasingly likely to grow up outside of a married home,” Wilcox asserted.
“There is strong evidence that family change preceded growing economic inequality. Specifically, the rise of non-marital childbearing and divorce date back to the 1960s, well before economic inequality began growing in the 1970s…All of the increases in child poverty over the last 30-40 years can be explained by changes in family structure.”
Two-fifths of children will live in a cohabiting household. He said those homes are “less stable, have less trust, less sexual fidelity, more violence, and are five times more likely to break up than homes with intact, married parents.”
By contrast, married couples “who share a union deepened by time together, a common faith and acts of service and are committed to marriage `till death us do part’ – are more likely to flourish and be faithful to one another. Couples who set aside time to pray together, enjoy markedly high quality marriages,” Wilcox asserted.
George Akerlof, a Nobel laureate who is married to Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, states that “Men settle down when they get married. If they fail to marry, they fail to settle down.” Many men are transformed by marriage in ways that make them significantly more successful. Married men earn about $16,000 more per year than single men of the same age!
However, why did a marriage divide emerge in the first place? William Julius Wilson argues that the shift away from an industrial economy towards an information economy has rendered the less educated men less “marriageable.” That is partially correct.
However, Isabel Sawhill, a scholar at Brookings Institution, says this “purely economic theory falls short as an explanation of the dramatic transformation of family life in the U.S. in recent decades.” There was no great uptick in family instability during the Great Depression when economic dislocation and devastation were much more severe.
Wilcox quotes scholarly studies that between 20% – 40% of the growth in family income inequality “is associated with the rise of divorce and of nonmarital childbearing which leaves many children in homes with only one potential income earner.”
He also notes that the growing marriage divide is “fueling an historically unusual type of gender inequality in low-income communities.” He cites a study by MIT economist David Autor that poor boys from fatherless homes in Florida are much more likely to be absent from school than are poor girls from homes without fathers. “The fallout of fatherlessness has also hit poor boys harder than poor girls when it comes to school failure, violence and incarceration.”
Another factor fueling the low marriage rate in lower income areas is that single mothers have found it easier to get welfare than married families.
Finally, there is a surprising element – the decline of weekly church attendance by those without a college degree has been much greater than among the better educated.
Families who pray together, stay together – and those who don’t, don’t.
“Marriage is the gold standard for flourishing financially, socially and emotionally – especially for men,” asserts Wilcox.
Curiously, however, very few sermons are preached on the importance of marriage.
“It’s not love that keeps your marriage alive. It’s marriage that keeps your love alive.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer (writing to a young bride from his prison cell in Nazi Germany, 1943).