The State of Our Unions
The Social Health of Marriage in America
Essay: The Future of Marriage in America
© Copyright 2007
In this year’s essay, David Popenoe argues that long-term trends point to the gradual weakening of marriage as the primary social institution of family life. More Americans today are living together, marrying at older ages or not at all, and rearing children in cohabiting or solo parent households. Overall, the U.S. trends are following the far-advanced trends toward nonmarriage in Northwestern European nations, albeit at a slower and more uneven pace.
Popenoe attributes the weakening of marriage to a broad …show more content…
Whatever the reasons, this marriage and divorce gap has been a major contributor to the growing economic inequality in America.
Some expect the marriage gap to grow larger in the future because children tend to follow the family behavior of their parents. Children of the educated and financially comfortable are better socialized to marry successfully and to contain childbearing within marriage, whereas children of the lower classes often do not have this advantage. But it is doubtful that this gap will have much effect on the over-all drift of marriage in America. The increase in the college-educated portion of the population has been slowing appreciably. And the fertility of college-educated women has dropped. Twenty-four percent of college-educated women aged 40-44 were childless in 2004, compared to only 15 percent of women that age who didn’t finish high school. (2) On a national scale, the continuation of this fertility discrepancy could seriously counteract any beneficial family effects of higher education.
The European Direction
No matter how weak it has become, however, compared to other modern nations marriage remains at the center of American life. About 85 percent of Americans are expected to marry sometime in their lives, compared to less than 70 percent in a number of