Marriage has evolved to meet the ideals of the well-educated and left too many Americans unwed and insecure.
"Is marriage obsolete?” may have become a hackneyed headline in recent years, but it’s an understandable question. Marriage rates have plunged to an all-time low. Americans are more likely to rate an enjoyable career as essential to a fulfilling life than marriage. Still, the query also signals a widespread misunderstanding about the reality of family life in the United States. Marriage remains a defining landmark in the lives of more well-to-do, college-educated Americans. But it is well on the path to obsolescence only among the less educated poor and working class. Marriage is, in other words, another dimension of the nation’s inequality, one that both explains and perpetuates America’s divisions.
The most well-trod explanation for the marriage gap, and an indisputably correct one, is that trade shocks and automation have devoured the stable, breadwinner jobs that sustained marriages in the past. Joe Lunchbox and his mates clocked in every morning at a local auto parts factory, played on their weekend baseball team, and retired with a comfortable pension. Now their sons spend their working hours at an Amazon warehouse where low pay, an empty savings account, and rumors of imminent automation darken their mood. Whereas their fathers found meaning in supporting their wives and children, their younger sisters and girlfriends now work alongside them earning paychecks that are nearing parity to their own. That would be unambiguously exciting news if it weren’t for the fact that working women who can manage on their own continue to want men who can be financial providers and preferably ones who earn more than they do.
Kay S. Hymowitz is the William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and contributing editor at City Journal. She is the author of several books, most recently The New Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter here.
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