The (Non)Marrying Middle

Marriage Markets - How Inequality is Remaking the American Family June Carbone and Naomi CahnOxford University Press, 2014; 272 pages, $29.95 Across America, a new marker of social class is emerging. That marker differentiates the rich from the poor, the educated from the high-school dropouts. It separates those who drive Bentleys and vacation in Italian wine country from those who drive used Chevrolets and never have the ability to vacation.  That marker, argue June Carbone and Naomi Cahn, is marriage.  Carbone and Cahn (also coauthors of the 2010 Red Families vs. Blue Families) point out that the much-touted statistic that the divorce rate has (finally) dropped hides an ugly truth: for the wealthiest, divorce has indeed gone down, and drastically so. But for the poor, marriages are failing to form altogether. Write Carbone and Cahn, “A generation or two ago, the family patterns of the middle looked much more like those of the top third of American society; today, they increasingly resemble the patterns of the bottom third.” It is a trend noted elsewhere. In decades past, it was unremarkable for a college-graduate male to marry his high-school sweetheart, who held only a high-school diploma. Today, the elite are increasingly likely to marry the elite, while marriage in the lower classes continues to die. Many sociologists, claim Carbone and Cahn, mistakenly target welfare programs and general morality for this decline. Such sociologists believe that welfare has midde- and lower-class men lazy (making them poor prospects for marriage), and that if women would only wise up and limit access to sex, men would get their act together. The authors instead insist that for the middle class, marriage is becoming more undesirable, and that economics play a huge role. To make their point, the authors use the fictional “Amy and Tyler” and “Lily and Carl.” Amy and Tyler, both law students, have delayed marriage and, with it, child-bearing,
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