In the past 50 years, marriage rates among U.S. adults have declined significantly. Social science suggests that financial success may play an central role in this trend. For example, in 2015 65% of adults 25 and older with a four year degree were married, while only 50% of those with a high school education were married. In a recent article in The New York Times, sociologists Sharon Sassler and Andrew Cherlin weigh in on this divergence in marriage rates.
According to social scientists, some of the change has to do with economic trends. The decline in manufacturing jobs in the United States has made men without college educations less “marriageable.” According to Sassler, “women don’t want to take a risk on somebody who’s not going to be able to provide anything.” This decline has not, however, corresponded to a decline in births — births are just happening outside of marriage more often now. The article explains,
“In reality, economics and culture both play a role, and influence each other, social scientists say. When well-paying jobs became scarce for less educated men, they became less likely to marry. As a result, the culture changed: Marriage was no longer the norm, and out-of-wedlock childbirth was accepted. Even if jobs returned, an increase in marriage wouldn’t necessarily immediately follow.”
On the other hand, those with college degrees are more likely to postpone marriage and children until after they feel financially stable, but then they do get married. They also may benefit from their own parents’ help in paying for education, birth control, and rent, allowing them the advantages of achieving stability not often available to lower and working class adults. Privilege, therefore, can play a key role in the decision to get married.