One central theme which has emerged recently is rising inequality across the world. The haves and getting richer and have-nots not as much. The result is rising inequality. This has been happening for a while but it took this crisis to point to this disturbing trend. And of course the crisis has made things even worse with most people getting effected at middle and lower income quintiles.
In past months, The Hamilton Project has examined long-term trends in earnings for men and women, and the consequences of these trends for families and children. This month we continue to explore the relationship between economic trends and American families.
Fewer Americans are married today than at any point in at least 50 years. The causes of this trend and the consequences for Americans’ well-being are naturally the subject of much debate. Charles Murray’s new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, argues that the decline in marriage, and the concurrent decline in work, is the product of changes in values or social norms that have eroded both industriousness and marital values.
This argument ignores well-documented changes in demand that have caused the earnings of many Americans to decline. The decline in marriage is concentrated among these very same Americans. A large body of evidence links the decline in employment and earnings for less-skilled workers to globalization, technological change, and changes in labor market institutions—changes beyond the ability of individuals to control no matter what their values are.
The authors point there is strong linkage between incomes and marriages:
Contrary to much of the hype around the decline in marriage, there are positive outcomes worth noting. In particular, many Americans are waiting longer to get married due to opportunities for women to pursue careers outside the home, due to better control over the timing of childbearing, and due to the ability to be more selective when choosing a spouse. These marriages starting later in life appear more stable and are less likely to end in divorce—a better outcome from any perspective. Delayed marriage contributes, in part, to the decline in the number of people married at a given time (see Stevenson and Wolfers 2007). However, it is also likely that the combination of declines in marriage and declines in economic opportunity have contributed to worse outcomes for some people, and especially for some children.
Social scientists have long posited a relationship between economic opportunity and marriage. William Julius Wilson, in The Truly Disadvantaged, argued that the decline in marriage and rise in single parenthood among urban blacks was directly a consequence of the declining economic fortunes of young black men. High rates of unemployment and incarceration meant that the local dating pool was populated by unmarriageable men—and the result was that women chose to live independently.
This story resonates broadly today because adverse changes in labor markets have recently impacted many Americans: for instance, in the last forty years, low- and middle-income men—those who experienced the biggest falls in real earnings over time—also experienced the sharpest decline in their chance of being married.
There are superb graphs towards the end which links change in marriage rates across income groups over 40 years. For men we see maximum decline in marriage rates in low and middle income. The least decline is in the top category. With women it is also the same and infact in the richest, marriage rates have actually risen.
It is important to understand what these changes mean for American families. One area of focus for policy makers is the rise in single-parent households and the consequences for America’s children. Indeed, rising income inequality is driven in part by changes in family composition: children born into single-parent families are relatively poorer than those born to married couples—particularly those who are college-educated and those with dual incomes. In a previous Hamilton Project analysis, we showed that over the last 40 years, family earnings have declined for half of all American children—an alarming trend for our nation’s future.
What are the policy options? Education…
There is no silver bullet for closing the marriage gap, but perhaps the most promising approach to improving family outcomes is to focus on the underlying economic contributors to the sea change in marriage and family structure. Investments in education and training would help put Americans back to work in well-paying jobs, promoting economic security that can lead to more and better marriages—and better opportunities for the children of those marriages. In today’s global economy, the competition for employment has become fierce and we must act to prepare American workers for the jobs of the future. A strong economy is a sound foundation for a strong social fabric.
Catherine Rampell of Economix Blog says marriage only for rich people