While the upscale college-educated crowd continues to marry at very high rates, marriage rates are plummeting among those further down on the socioeconomic ladderOver the weekend, thanks to CPAC, there was a lot of talk about gay marriage and "marriage inequality." Well, I've been supporting gay marriage for a long time -- much, much longer than Barack Obama. But if you're talking about "marriage inequality," there's another kind of marriage inequality that isn't getting nearly as much attention and that is doing more harm to more people than the gay-marriage thing.
That's the inequality in marriage rates between the upper-middle-class, and the lower and lower-middle classes. While the upscale college-educated crowd continues to marry at very high rates, marriage rates are plummeting among those further down on the socioeconomic ladder. Unfortunately, the people who are foregoing marriage are probably the ones who need it most.
This past summer, Jason DeParle noted in The New York Times that we are now seeing "two classes divided by 'I do.'" And while people are going on and on about Wall Street and income inequality, it turns out that marriage inequality is one of the biggest things making people less equal, accounting for as much as 40% of the difference in incomes: "It is the privileged Americans who are marrying, and marrying helps them stay privileged."
This isn't new. Five years ago, The Washington Post noted the trend: a class-based marriage gap. "We seem to be reverting to a much older pattern, when elites marry and a great many others live together and have kids."
What we're seeing here, and elsewhere, is a breakdown in the great Progressive project of the late 19th and early 20th centuries of elevating the lower classes into the middle class. That project involved changes in society and in social mores that encouraged behaviors giving children more stable home environments and better prospects for social improvement. All of that is fading now.