mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
A Consensus Is Forming on Marriage


Whether and how people marry is as important to rising inequality as economic factors, and the media class is starting to realize it. The latest person to join the marriage-and-inequality camp is Derek Thompson, senior editor of The Atlantic’s business channel. His piece yesterday points to two social factors driving inequality: the rise of single parenthood among working class Americans and “assortive mating,” whereby the wealthy and the elite intermarry. More:

The decline in marriage rates among poorer men and women robs parents of supplemental income, of work-life balance, and of time to prepare a child for school. Single-parenthood and inter-generational poverty feed each other. The marriage gap and the income gap amplify one another […]

This is the marriage crisis behind our inequality crisis. It is not complicated. It requires no regressions. It is the simplest math equation is the world. It says: Two is more than one.

It’s good news that the tight connection between marriage and inequality has become obvious enough that The Atlantic business channel is covering it. A consensus is forming that America’s stratified marriage cultures is a major root cause of economic inequality and insecurity.

While it’s easy enough to diagnose the problem in the wake of books that have pioneered discussion on the subject like Coming Apart and Grand New Party, the tricky part is figuring out how to respond. An expanded child tax credit, like the one proposed by Senator Mike Lee, could be a good start, but overall we’re far from having a complete picture of cultural and political solutions to the marriage gap.

[Wedding cake image courtesy of Shutterstock]

Features Icon
show comments
  • qet

    I understand that for people who believe that for every identifiable good in life there should be a government “policy,” who believe that it is the end of government to actively involve itself in fostering and regulating all desired human behavior, this child tax credit nonsense is deemed significant, but I personally know of no one–no. one.–who got married or stayed married because of a tax credit. The marriage thing has nothing whatever to do with government fiscal policy, at least not directly. Indirectly, the continued expansion of federal government largesse to relieve people of more and more of life’s expenses and responsibilities have certainly been a contributing cause, but expanding a tax credit is sort of like attempting a homeopathic remedy to the disease. For myself, as I am married with children, I would vastly prefer the federal government (and state and local governments), to just lower my taxes, period. Lower them and cease finding new things to tax. Now, please.

  • Pete

    So who do you expect some snotty Upper East side swellette to marry, a Puerto Rican from the Bronx?

  • Andrew Allison

    Derek Thompson has a left-wing axe to grind. Associative marriage has nothing to do with inequality — we all marry the people with who we associate regardless of wealth or social standing.

    The rise of single parenthood among working class Americans is a serious social problem, arguably brought about by welfare policies which encourage it.
    Let’s not confuse the issue with irrelevancies.

  • David from Boston

    I married a solid middle class woman and it was the best thing I ever did. I know I’m generalizing here but all of the upper class, elite women I know are self absorbed and spoiled or have issues a mile long.

  • lukelea

    How about a greatly expanded child credit? The goal should be to give middle- and upper-middle class parents a real incentive to have two or more children.

    Inevitably, this would shift the tax burden upwards, towards those whose incomes place them above the upper-middle class. Currently our tax system fails to be progressive at that point — the total tax burden as a percentage of income is levels off at around 30%:

    • Andrew Allison

      The proposal is for an expanded tax credit, which means that those who pay little or no taxes would receive a check from the Treasury, which would have the perverse effect of increasing the number of single-parent families. That a US Senator would make such an utterly stupid proposal is a terrifying commentary on the mental acuity of our reprehensatives!

  • tamsin

    What is this beneficial “marriage” Thompson speaks of? Do we agree on the term?

    What are these benefits, exactly, that society should want most from “marriage”?

    That a temporal sexual attachment between two adults is recognized and celebrated? Which leads to fewer out-of-wedlock births…?

    Or that a fertile couple is asked, by society, to remain faithful to each other long enough to be the primary caregivers for the children they bring into the world? So children don’t have to rely on government care…?

    I was amused by Thompson’s passive formulation, “The decline in marriage rates among poorer men and women robs parents of supplemental income, of work-life balance, and of time to prepare a child for school.”

    • rheddles

      ‘What are these benefits, exactly, that society should want most from “marriage”?’

      therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand,
      unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and
      appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently,
      discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the
      causes for which Matrimony was ordained.

      First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in
      the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.

      Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid
      fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry,
      and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.

      Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that
      the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.

  • SlienceOfSound
  • charlesrwilliams

    It is not a matter of fiddling with taxes, although this might help. It is a cultural matter. To the extent that promiscuity, divorce and adultery are tolerated, you will have children who are not growing up with their parents in financially secure homes.

    People always have and always will do these things but social stigma is very powerful in minimizing this behavior.

    There are eight parties involved in divorce or non-marital sex: the man, the woman, each extended family, the children, the community, the state and God. Once this was understood. Now we have “inequality.”

    As Charles Murray points out, the upper class understands this with respect to their own behavior but they preach the opposite to the culture and tolerate it when others do the same.

  • Corlyss

    “A consensus is forming that America’s stratified marriage cultures is a major root cause of economic inequality and insecurity.”
    The Boomer Dems and RINOs will put a stop to THAT! Marriage is a life-style choice. One of the things that the Government has been devoted to for 50 years is compensating for the inequalities resulting from poor life-style choices. The whole gay marriage obsession is principally aimed to obliterating the tax advantage for married people. Gays want that tax advantage too. So women have kids out of wedlock – heck! That’s their life style choice. Why should society disadvantage them because of their choice? So government moves in to equalize her income and security level with welfare and Medicaid and free college for her illegitimates and on and on.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    If you pay people for something, you will get more of it. The welfare system pays for women to have children, and so we have more women with children and no husband. When you add in the despicable way men get treated by the courts in a divorce, where they lose everything including future income, while for women it’s like hitting the lottery. And it becomes clear that the Government is responsible for the breakup of the American family, as well as our prisons filled with criminals from fatherless homes.

    I see some are blaming, promiscuity, divorce and adultery, but these have always been with us, and yet it has only been since Welfare began in the 60’s, that the nuclear family has been dissolving, and crime has been climbing. 25% of families are fatherless households with women as head of household, yet 75% of all prison inmates come from those families, which makes children from women headed families 9 times more likely to be criminals. I remember as a child that no one ever locked their doors, and locking the car was unheard of, with many people leaving the key in the ignition. Now a days, bolts are standard, and locking your car doors is automatic.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service