A novel about Vivian, a young Irish girl sent by rail from a New York City tenement to Minnesota in the early 1900s. She was one of thousands of abandoned children sent to live with rural families for a better life. But not all ended up in loving homes.
Men and women are marrying later, and an increasing number are choosing not to marry at all. In fact, married couples now make up less than 50 percent of U.S. households. In addition more than half of American women under thirty who become mothers are single. New statistics suggest marriage rates correlate with education levels: today those with only high school diplomas are much less are likely to be married compared to those with college degrees, a trend that many fear could serve to deepen the divide between rich and poor in this country. Join us to discuss the economic and political implications of today’s marriage trends.
- Isabel Sawhill senior fellow, Economic Studies, The Brookings Institution.
- Kris Marsh professor of sociology, University of Maryland
- D'Vera Cohn senior writer, social and demographic trends project, Pew Research Center
- Andrew Cherlin professor of sociology and public policy, Johns Hopkins University author of "The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family Today."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Some argue family structure is an important determinant of success in life, but the trends are troubling. They indicate, while college-educated people continue to choose to marry, those with less education are now more likely to be single.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about who's getting married, who's not, and why it matters: Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution, D'Vera Cohn of the Pew Research Center, Kris Marsh, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, and, joining us from studio in Miami, Fla., Andrew Cherlin, professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University. I hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850. Send your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet, and good morning to all of you.
MS. ISABEL SAWHILLGood morning.
MS. D'VERA COHNGood morning.
PROF. KRIS MARSHGood morning.
PROF. ANDREW CHERLINGood morning.
REHMD'Vera, I'll start with you. Give us some of the basic numbers, who's getting married, who's not.
COHNWell, the number that's gotten everyone's attention is 51 percent. And that's the share of adults ages 18 and older who are currently married, and that's way down from, say, 72 percent in 1960 and even 58 percent in 1990. Now, these currently married rates differ a lot by education and by age. Marriage rates have really plummeted for younger Americans. Only about 9 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds are married today, compared with more than 60 percent of people over age 35.
COHNSo there's a steep gradient there, and part of the reason for that is people are marrying later. Now, another area of interest is education. There's emerged a rather large and widening education gap as far as marriage rates. It used to be that if you were a college graduate or a high school graduate, you were about equally likely to be married. Marriage rates have gone down for all groups, but especially sharply for the less-educated Americans. So, now, if you're a college graduate -- most college graduates are married today. Most high school graduates are not.
REHMIsabel Sawhill, what do you see going on?
SAWHILLWell, I think D'Vera has really summed it up very nicely. It's really a profound, almost revolutionary change over about a 50-year period. Back in the 1950s, and even the '60s, we were used to looking at the so-called traditional family that consisted of a breadwinning husband, usually a stay-at-home wife, several children, and maybe a dog called Spot. But that's all disappeared. As D'Vera said, people are not marrying as much. They are marrying much later.
SAWHILLThe divorce rate went up sharply especially in the '60s and '70s. It sort of leveled off since then. What we see now is a lot of childbearing outside of marriage. So for women under 30 -- I think this is amazing -- over half of all babies born to these younger women are being born outside of marriage, typically in a cohabiting relationship. But those cohabiting parents are not married, and their relationships are not very durable.
REHMKris Marsh, you've been focusing on the black middle class. What are the trends there?
MARSHSo in the black middle class, we're seeing a demographic shift away from married couples being a part of the middle class to young black professionals who aren't married and aren't having any children. So the largest household type in the middle class still are married couples, but is decreasing since 1980, and the second largest household type in the middle class are those that are single and living alone.
REHMAnd why do you see that happening?
MARSHBecause we know that people aren't marrying as much as they used to. So if they're not marrying as much as they used to, we don't have married couples that are making up the black middle class. We now have these single and living alone that are making up the black middle class. I was just at a really great talk last night with Eric Klinenberg, who did a whole study on going solo.
MARSHSo we also know, since 1960, we have an increase of people that are single and living alone -- or, actually, living alone, and that has something to do with the overall compositional shift in the black middle class as well as the larger community.
REHMAnd to you, Andrew Cherlin, how do you explain the divergence in education levels when it comes to marriage?
CHERLINI think the college-educated Americans are the ones who can still get good jobs in our globalized and automated economy. They have two incomes. They can get decent jobs. They pull them, they marry, and they're doing well or at least treading water in the recession. But it's the high school-educated Americans who find that the kinds of jobs that their parents used to have -- the factory jobs that were so plentiful -- have either gone overseas or disappeared into computer chips.
CHERLINThey don't see a firm economic basis for marriage. And because it's culturally more acceptable now to live together outside of marriage, that's increasingly what many of them are doing. So there's a cultural change that says it's OK to live together. There's an economic change that says it's hard to find somebody who really can have a good job.
REHMD'Vera, that cultural change is really rather dramatic.
COHNIndeed. Most marriages now begin with cohabitation. So some researchers are looking at cohabitation almost as a stage of courtship, that you live together first, and either the cohabitation breaks up or it moves on to marriage. But I think we're also seeing a more longer-term cohabitation that's not leading to marriage, and that's the issue that's happening among less-educated Americans.
MARSHBesides a cultural change with the change in marriage and the notion of cohabitating, I also think there's a cultural change where there's not so much of a stigma of being single and living alone or never marrying. Fifty years ago, 40 years ago, I think, there may have been a stigma, but that stigma is not necessarily there anymore. So it's more embracing of being single and living alone.
SAWHILLI think the stigma issue is huge. There's no question that attitudes have changed enormously. If, back in the 1950s or '60s, you had had a baby outside of marriage, you really were not very accepted. And, in fact, if you got pregnant, you probably got shipped off to grandmother's, or you had a very hush-hush abortion. And it was just not the same at all. So things have changed a lot.
SAWHILLI think the question we have to ask is what does this mean for children when their family situations are not as stable as they used to be and not as predictable as they used to be. And I do think there's a room for concern here. We have a lot of single parents now who are doing a great job raising children, but it's hard. They don't have as much time. They don't have as much money. When the stresses of a family life come, they don't have anyone to share that with. And that's tough on them and tough on their kids.
COHNWe've done some survey work at Pew Research Center asking people what their attitudes are towards some of these changes. And there still is a pretty strong criticism of single women who have children on their own. In a survey we did a couple of years ago, 69 percent said that was bad for society. But people are a little more accepting of couples, unmarried couples, same-sex or opposite sex, raising children together. There -- only a minority, 43 percent, say that's bad for society.
COHNSo there's some sense in the public, I think, that a couple, not married, raising a child is a little bit better situation than a woman on her own, a parent on her own.
REHMBut, you know, Andrew Cherlin, we've got a presidential campaign out there, where social issues have come to the fore, where all of the candidates, certainly on the Republican side, are touting marriage or touting parenthood. So what does this mean politically as far as you're concerned?
CHERLINI worry about people who are -- who have unstable family lives, who are drifting between a cohabiting relationship, then being single, then being married, then cohabiting. I'm worried that they are becoming ruthless Americans, not tied in to the middle class, and that they could swing politically. They could be volatile. They could be subject to arguments for either side that could be more extreme.
CHERLINSo it seems to me this trend means that the high school-educated Americans are drifting a bit. And people who are drifting may be more influenced by political arguments on one end or another than people who are stably plugged in.
SAWHILLYou know, what I think we really need to focus on here is the fact that women in their 20s are, for the most part, not marrying in their early 20s as they used to. But they are sexually active, and they are getting pregnant. And they're getting pregnant in large numbers, and 70 percent of those pregnancies to single women in their 20s are unplanned, unintended. And so this whole brouhaha that we've had about contraception is important to this group.
SAWHILLIf we do not -- if we make it more difficult for younger women who are not married, who still need to get their career established, may not have completed their education, but are getting pregnant unintendedly, that's not good. We need more parents who wait until they're really established in the labor market, finish their education, before they have children, whether in or out of marriage.
REHMD'Vera, what do you see as the political implications here?
COHNWell, I think I'm going to pass the ball on to someone else on that one. We're -- we don't do policy at Pew Research, and I'm going to let other people speak to that.
REHMSurely. All right. Kris Marsh.
MARSHOK. So I want to move this discussion a little bit more to a class discussion. And I think one of things I want to touch on is this whole notion of bi-directionality. So is it that middle class people are more likely to marry? Or is it if you're middle class, then you're -- if you're married, then you're more likely to be in the middle class? I think the assumption is just because you're married, you're going to be middle class.
MARSHAnd if you have two people that are already in poverty or already poor, just because they get married does not mean they catapult them in the middle class. And if it's a high-conflict marriage, it's not good for the children anyway. So I'm not saying that I'm not supporting marriage. I'm saying marriage is a good thing. But we need to think about if you're doing it just for the notion of being married, then there's some real implications in that.
REHMKris Marsh. She is professor of sociology at the University of Maryland. When we come back, we'll talk about Charles Murray's new book "Coming Apart." Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back. We're talking in this hour about trends in marriage, how the marriage rate is going down, who's getting married, who's not. Here in the studio: Isabel Sawhill of The Brookings Institution, D'Vera Cohn -- she's with the Pew Research Center -- and Kris Marsh -- she is professor of sociology at the University of Maryland. Andrew Cherlin is on the line with us. He is professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of a book titled "The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and Family Today."
REHMIsabel Sawhill, Charles Murray is the author of a recent book titled "Coming Apart: The State of White America." He called marriage the fault line between America's rich and poor. Do you agree with that?
SAWHILLTo some extent, I do agree with that. The data are quite strong and showing that well-educated, more affluent Americans are still getting married, whereas those at the other end of the spectrum are not. And so there is a sense in which it is a fault line, and it has contributed to growing income inequality in America because if you have two well-educated people and they marry each other and they pool their incomes, they're going to do extremely well.
SAWHILLAnd if, at the other end of the economic ladder, you have less-educated, less-skilled people, who are not marrying at all and where there are very many single parents or cohabiting relationships that aren't very stable, you're going to have a lot of economic turmoil. I think, as Kris said earlier, marriage can be both a cause and a consequence, but it's some of both. It's no question that if you're married and you can pool two incomes, you're going to be better off.
REHMBut as Kris also said, if you've got two individuals without a great education who come together, they're not necessarily going to make it into the middle class.
SAWHILLI think that's right, and -- but they will be better off than they would be living on their own.
REHMDo you agree with that, Kris?
MARSHThere are some parts of that that I agree with because I think if you have two people that have -- are poor, you'll pool those resources together. You have two -- that exacerbates the problem. So it probably is exacerbating.
REHMAnd then they have children.
MARSHYes. And -- but in some ways, it could actually better where they actually are able to pool their resources and make strides in a positive economic way. But we don't know if that's necessarily always going to be the case.
REHMAndrew Cherlin, there's another book out there by Stanford Law Prof. Ralph Richard Banks. His book is titled "Marriage for White People," and he focuses on the decline in marriage among black people and says there is something that affects the entire culture more than we realize. What's your reaction?
CHERLINMy reaction is that, first of all, most African-Americans will marry, maybe two-thirds, I would estimate. But I think what's happened to marriage in African-American community is the result of two things. First of all, the decline in the number of young men who have the kind of stable income that people -- young people think will support a marriage, and, secondly, maybe the -- one of the long-term strengths of African-American culture has been a reliance on grandmothers and grandfathers and other kin to get by in tough times.
CHERLINWe may be seeing some of that. So there's some options for black Americans without college degrees other than marriage, and that may be declining the rates. So more marriage -- less marriage these days is going to be happening, but, still, a majority will marry.
REHMBut at the same time, if you've got college educated people more likely to marry each other and fewer and fewer black men going to college, what happens then, Kris?
MARSHWell, that's where you see a lot of those single and living alone adults in the black middle-class that aren't married 'cause they don't have a marriageable partner to choose from. There aren't just women in this category. There are also men in this category. But women do dominate the category. So the black middle class has shifted. It looks very different than it did 30, 40 years ago.
COHNI guess, I want to introduce just a brief Pollyanna element here. Andy Cherlin made mention of the fact that most African-Americans will marry, and it's true that, in general, when you look at people who have ever been married, that's a majority of Americans. And by the late 30s, most Americans have been married. We just don't know whether that number will be going down in future. For now, though, it's safe to say that most Americans from their late 30s onward have had some experience of marriage, even if it hadn't lasted.
REHMSo that means marriage among African-Americans may come later, Isabel?
SAWHILLWell, I think that the larger question here for everyone, whether black or white, is what is going to happen in the future? Things have changed so rapidly that the only thing I know to do is to speculate and perhaps look at Europe because in Europe, marriage rates have also declined, and you have a lot of cohabiting relationships. In Europe, those cohabiting relationships tend to be more stable than they have been in the U.S. so far.
SAWHILLBut it's possible that we could evolve to a society in which marriage, as a legal and religious institution, is very much on the decline, but that stable cohabiting relationships become more like they are in Europe, which is -- which means that there's more commitment and more durability, which is probably good for both the adults and the children in those relationships. So I think we shouldn't focus so much on just whether there's a piece of legal paper there...
SAWHILL...but rather what's the stability of those relationships. And stability, I think, does matter, both for the children and for the adult.
COHNI think another difference between cohabiting relationships here and in other countries is that in other countries, sometimes there's more legal recognition of those relationships and privileges with them that are equal to or similar to those that you get with marriage. I don't think we really have that in this country. We do have some domestic partnership legislation and so forth, but, for the most part, we treat cohabiting relationships as less sanctioned, I guess, than marriage.
MARSHTwo points: Focusing more so on the black middle class, I'm not as convinced that the black middle class -- you're going to see high marriage rate in black middle class. I'm not convinced of that. The second thing is that I think what you may find among single and living alone adults who are in the black middle class, they may be in relationships. They pool their resources with someone else, but it may not necessarily be a romantic relationship 'cause, you know, it's trying to buy a home.
MARSHIt has two incomes, work a little better than one, so it's -- you pick somebody to work with you to buy the home, but you're not necessarily in a romantic relationship. I think you're going to start to see those kind of relationships, but they're not romantic. They're just business relationships.
REHMGo ahead, Isabel.
SAWHILLI just wanted to add an interesting point on this black-white problem or issue or difference, and that is that we did some research in which we took single moms and -- who were in the census record, so these are real single moms. And we looked for single men that they might marry, and we may -- created virtual marriages on the computer. It was kind of like a dating game. and the thing that we found that was interesting is that there were not enough young black men to go around to marry all the single black women who were raising children.
SAWHILLSo there really was a kind of a shortage, partly because of high rates of incarceration, partly because of unemployment. So there is a problem there.
REHMSo you were saying the men are there, but they're simply not available.
SAWHILLThey're not marriageable. They're not available.
REHMYeah, yeah. Go ahead.
MARSHTo ducktail Isabel's point, when you start thinking about educational homogeny or think about those that are college-degreed, then it even exacerbates the problem more so when you think about black women being able to marry black men.
COHNIt should be noted that intermarriage is on the rise, that groups increasingly are marrying people of different race and ethnicity. Although, again, you don't want to push people to do that if they don't want to.
REHMAnd, there, you're talking about Asian women as well moving out of their own racial ethnic backgrounds.
COHNThat's right. And some of the research shows that, among different races, men -- compared with women -- are either more or less likely to intermarry. So among African-Americans, black men are more likely to intermarry than black women, and among Asians, it's the women who are more likely to be in intermarriage.
MARSHBut the rates are quite low for interracial marriage for blacks versus other racial and ethnic groups. And I think people make the assumption that black men are more likely to out-marry. But the highest -- the way I understand the data, the highest out-marriage rate are among -- rates are among Asian women. They out-marry the most.
REHMHmm, interesting. Andrew Cherlin, I understand teenage motherhood is down. Is that correct?
CHERLINYes. It's at an all-time low, actually. And...
REHMAnd many of these young women are in some kind of relationship, even though marriage may not be it?
CHERLINWhat we're seeing is a decline not only in birth, but sexual activity among teenagers, something that, 20 years ago, we thought we'd never see. It suggests that we may be able to convince people to hold off on having kids more than we do now. And Isabel Sawhill is a leader in that. She mentioned before how important stability is. I would agree. The problem for our society right now is we're neither here nor there.
CHERLINWe neither have the stable marriages that we used to have, nor do we have the stable, long-term cohabiting relationships that you see in some places in Europe. Rather, we have a series of short-term relationships that end in divorce or break-up and that create a great churning of family life. And I think it's that churning, that instability, that we need to address. It's possible to have a good, stable family life with a single parent or with two parents. What we need is to find a way to keep kids' relationships stable.
REHMAnd children are the important question.
SAWHILLChildren really are the important question, and I think we all can celebrate the decline in teenage pregnancy and teenage birth because we know that very young mothers are not ready to really raise children. And I'm very proud of the work that's been done by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy in that effort. But I think what we're seeing now is a creeping up of the problem into the 20s.
SAWHILLAnd we have all these 20-somethings nowadays, both young men and young women, who are not marrying, who are staying in school later, who are taking longer to establish their own households. Many of them are still living at home. And their lives are also in turmoil, and they don't have any guide star anymore. The old guide star was, first, you finish school. Then you got a job. And then you got married, and then you had children.
SAWHILLAnd the sequence is all messed up now. People are often having children before they finish school, before they're establishing their careers. And I think these young people are not quite sure what they're supposed to do, and there are so many role models out there that it's kind of turmoil.
REHMIsabel Sawhill, senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." It's time to open the phones. First let's go to St. Louis, Mo. Good morning, Laura. You're on the air.
LAURAGood morning, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
LAURADiane, I called initially with -- I just wanted to make a statement about being stable in a single-parent household. But these other things have -- you've kind of talked and addressed that. And, now, I just want to speak as a middle-age divorced woman raising two daughters that I chose to forego dating and having that kind of revolving door of myself dating because I don't want my daughters to see what I felt as their dad having a revolving door and treating women as dispensable and -- OK, first you got rid of my mother. Now, you know, you dated a series of women.
LAURAAnd I didn't want my daughters having that as their example, I guess, of what a woman is -- disposable. But another issue -- and I don't want to politicize it too much 'cause I know this is a study, but women are not getting pregnant alone. And I feel like there is an assault on single women who have chosen to not have abortions, but to raise those children, and then being sort of vilified for being a single mother. And I just want to ask the question, where are these men? Where are these men? Because these women are not getting pregnant alone, and...
REHMKris, do you want to answer that? How about you, Andrew Cherlin?
CHERLINOftentimes the men are living with them. What we're seeing over the last decade or so is almost the entire increase in so-called non-marital, out-of-wedlock birth has been to couples who are living together. But it just seems as though the couple, although they will have a kid, will not marry because they don't think they have the fundamentals of marriage. The meaning of marriage has changed a bit. It used to be the first step into adulthood. Now, it's often the last, and people won't do it until they think they have everything else in their life in order.
REHMYou know, here's an interesting email from Ronald, who says, "Why are you even having this conversation? Really, who cares? Does marriage make a society? This is ridiculous," he says. Isabel.
SAWHILLWell, people are going to have very different opinions on this. Charles Murray argues that marriage is the bedrock institution of civic society. And when you don't have strong families, you don't have strong communities. And when you don't have strong communities, you don't have a strong nation. I think Charles Murray overstates the case by quite a lot, but I don't think he's completely out to lunch.
SAWHILLAnd I do think there are reasons to care about family life in the United States. It is the environment in which we raise our children, and I don't think you can have healthy children without healthy families.
REHMDo we know what happens to these children when they're either -- they come out-of-wedlock or raised by single parents?
SAWHILLOn average, children are best off when they are raised in a stable, intact two-parent family. There is quite good research on this now and a lot of consensus within the research community that two parents are better for children. Now, it doesn't mean that there are plenty of children being raised in single-parent families that don't do well. It's just, on average, it's not the best environment for kids.
MARSHI think the point we have to drive home, though -- it has to be a low-conflict marriage. Just because you're financially stable, just because there's two parents in the household does not mean that it's the best situation for the child if it's a high-volatile, high-conflict marriage. Low...
SAWHILLAnd I agree with that.
REHMKris Marsh and Isabel Sawhill. Also here in the studio, D'Vera Cohn of the Pew Research Center. And on the line with us, Andrew Cherlin of Johns Hopkins University. We'll take a short break here. When we come back, more of your calls, questions, emails, and send us some tweets.
REHMAnd we've had lots of people asking, is marriage for white people? What do you think, Isabel?
SAWHILLWell, I think marriage should be available for everyone, obviously. And there do seem to be differences by race, as we've talked about. But I think that we also touched earlier on the whole issue of interracial marriage. And it would seem to me it's coming. I mean, why should there forever be these silos in which people marry? I -- it doesn't make a lot of sense to me, but I'd be interested in what Kris thinks about that.
MARSHI really like Richard Banks' book on -- "Is Marriage for White People?" I think it's well-written. I think it adds a nice contribution to the literature. With that being said, I do have -- I take a bit of an issue with his fundamental premise. And I think what he does is he puts the onus on black women to say you need to think outside of the box, and you need to think about marrying other racial and ethnic groups or men from other racial and ethnic groups. So it's the black woman's fault.
MARSHAnd I think as long as black women change their preferences but the white men or Asian men or Latino men don't change their preferences, then we're not going to see an increase in interracial marriage among black women and non-black men.
REHMAnd here's a question on religion. It's a tweet. "Were any statistics taken by religion, say, evangelical Christians, Orthodox Jews, Roman Catholics?" D'Vera.
COHNWell, the government, of course, does not collect statistics on religion and marriage, but other surveys have. And there are some indications that people who describe themselves as religious, who are -- who go frequently to services and who participate in religious groups are more likely to be married, and that's partly because religion promotes marriage. It's a way of encouraging fellowship and membership in religious organizations.
COHNThat being said, there's not necessarily proof that being religious ensures you against being divorced. There are people who have done work on -- by geography, looking at states with very religious populations, and those are -- some of those states are ones with higher divorce rates.
REHMAll right. To Clio, Mich. Good morning, Trepper. (sp?) You're on the air. Trepper, are you there?
REHMGo right ahead, sir.
TREPPERI want to say to the lady from the Pew Memorial Trust that the Pew Memorial Trust is very political, I think, at least the implications of their ideals. And also, I want to say that the thing about men is -- I know a guy that was in a relationship, and he bought this woman a lot of stuff, like a car, and gave her money and everything. We were -- I was talking with this woman, and I told her to get the hell out of that relationship because...
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. D'Vera, do you want to comment?
COHNWell, the organization that I work for, Pew Research Center, is what we call a fact tank. We don't take positions on policies or issues. We just put information out there. And so I think we -- that speaks for itself.
REHMLet's take a caller here in Washington, D.C. Good morning, Jeremy.
JEREMYYes, good morning. How are you?
REHMI'm fine, thanks. Go right ahead, sir.
JEREMYI choose to speak not from a political point of view, but simply as a parent and someone who believes in marriage. I think it's very necessary. It doesn't matter from what racial or ethnic group we come from. I mean, there are obvious examples of, you know, the instability -- the effort sometimes is very positive that people have in raising a child by themselves.
JEREMYBut the idea that people make marriage seem like it's very negative (unintelligible) -- I concur with one of your, you know, guests there that it's not good to be in a marriage that's, you know, laden with strife. But, in general, for the stability of a society, from a legal point of view and the idea of -- that the institution is what it is. If it's (unintelligible) support it and not, you know, frowned upon, it has a -- it's necessary.
REHMAll right, sir. Andrew Cherlin.
CHERLINThe government has been trying to promote so-called healthy marriages for a few years now. The early results are not encouraging. You know, how do we create stable marriages, or how do we support them? In the short term, we may want to get messages out about what's better for children.
CHERLINIn the long run, I think what we need to do is connect up the high school-educated population, which is a huge population of young adults, with the job market better so that they can get the training they need or the education they need to have the jobs that they think will support a long-term stable marriage, which is everybody's goal, I would believe.
REHMHere's an interesting email from Kim in Rochester, N.Y., who says, "Charles Murray and his disciples need to stop blaming the poor. They have it exactly backwards. Marriage and stable families are not a prerequisite for a better economy. A better economy is needed for stable families to thrive. A bad economy undermines the family." Isabel.
SAWHILLI think it's true that a bad economy undermines the family, and we've made that point. But I think it's also the case that when people are living on their own, their economic struggles are going to be that much greater. I mean, we are not poorer as a society than we were back in the 1950s and '60s. In fact, despite the recent recession, we're a lot more affluent now as a society than we were 40, 50 years ago.
SAWHILLSo I don't think you can say that all of the decline in marriage, increase in divorce, increase in non-marital childbearing, is the result of economics. It's clearly also related to a change in norms and attitudes.
MARSHRight. To dovetail what Isabel is saying, what -- my earlier point about the direction of causality, if we are more affluent than we were 20, 30, 40 years ago, we should see more middle class individuals, and then we should also see higher marriage rates. But that's not the case. So it's not always just about economics.
REHMBut you've also got a higher unemployment rate. You've got lots of people out of jobs, permanently looking for jobs. You've got young people coming out of college without a job in mind. So how do you think that affects future planning, Andrew Cherlin?
CHERLINIt affects it a great deal. You know, the debate about whether this is economic or cultural is something that's really not all that productive because, it seems to me, it's both. And during the Great Depression when times were tough, we didn't see couples living together outside of marriage 'cause it was not acceptable. Now, it is. But why are they doing it? Why are they changing?
CHERLINI believe it's because we have seen a huge change in the middle of our labor market so that the kinds of jobs that used to support a marriage are no longer there. Is it partly cultural? Sure. But does it relate to changes in our economy? Yes, it does. And what's so maddening about the Murray book to me is, although his tables and charts are OK, he dismisses entirely the idea that this is anything other than a cultural change. It is more than that.
SAWHILLWell, I happen to agree with Andy Cherlin. I think he and I see this somewhat similarly. But I think we need to go back to talk about the men. Somebody earlier said too much of this conversation is about what women are doing, and I think there has been a kind of a detachment of men from the situation. And there is this revolving door that one of the callers earlier referred to. And we do need to bring back a sense of personal responsibility. You know, the president, President Obama, talks a lot about fatherhood and the importance of fatherhood.
SAWHILLAnd whether you're married or not, if you've brought a child into the world and you're that child's father, I think you can't simply waltz off and form a relationship with another woman and have another child. I think you really do need some commitment to whichever -- whatever children you've brought into the world.
REHMAnd let's talk to one of those men who has made that commitment. To Scott in Gulf Shores, Ala. Good morning. You're on the air.
SCOTTGood morning. Thanks for taking my call.
SCOTTYeah. I had to call in (word?) when she called out and said, where are all the fathers at? I turned 19, eight days after my son was born. I just finished high school and was accepted into college. We had what we call down here a shotgun marriage that lasted almost a year, I'd say, after my son was born. And I made it through college. I have a career in IT. And it's been about three-and-a-half years and about 15 grand trying to get custody just because I was raised by a single mother, who is actually an anesthesiologist now. I went through anesthesia school with her.
SCOTTI (unintelligible) I saw what it took. And, to me, I could not accept my son not having the same chances in life that I had. And, to me, my career path gave him those chances (unintelligible) than his mother did, and, eventually, the court agreed. Now, I know that's not necessarily a typical story, but I know a bunch of fathers in the areas that are a lot like me, you know, that have fought for their kids. And it seems like the courts are coming around a little bit more when it comes to fathers that we -- you know, it's not quite such an uphill battle anymore.
REHMYeah. Scott, I congratulate you for taking responsibility for your son, and surely he'll be more and more grateful as time goes on. What about the court system? Isabel, is it sort of shifting in its thinking about who should have responsibility?
SAWHILLI'm not an expert on the legal trends here, but I would agree with the caller that there are lots of problems for men who want to make the commitment and who may want custody and who may deserve custody. So I think it's -- he has raised a really important issue.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling, Scott. Here's an email from Betty, who wants to know about the divorce rate of college graduates. D'Vera.
COHNWell, some people might be surprised to hear that the divorce rate actually has come down since around the 1980s, so that's the big overall trend.
COHNFor everybody, yeah.
COHNBut if you look at divorce by education, the marriages of college-educated people tend to be more stable. There is a lower risk of divorce than those of less-educated Americans. Now, part of that is because college graduates marry later. And if you marry in your late 20s, your marriage has a better chance of succeeding than if you marry in your early 20s. College graduates have traditionally married later than less-educated Americans, and that's been one factor. There may be others.
MARSHI also wonder if they're marrying later -- it's also kind of a class discussion -- they have more resources and more stuff to think about splitting up and separate. It's like, OK, it makes more sense to try to work this out as opposed to try to divorce. When you're younger and you don't have the resources, it's easier to merely walk away.
REHMKris Marsh, she is professor of sociology at the University of Maryland. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's take a caller in Johnson City, Tenn. Good morning, Mike.
MIKEGood morning, Diane. I wanted to call and make just a couple of observations because I've spent the last 15 years of my career in education as an administrator on the elementary and the middle school level. I was in a Southern town of 1,800 with, ironically, a high population of professionals primarily in the aeronautics and engineering profession. But we also have rising population of unemployed people because of closures of factories.
MIKEAnd my observation is, first of all, as far as the family and effect on children, I wanted to underscore that most definitely the greatest number of children that we saw with issues in the school, particularly the middle school level, behavioral but primarily low performance academically, were from lower-income, single-parent households, so there was definitely direct correlation. And part of that was because of a lack of motivation based on the hopelessness that a lot of those bright children saw because of their economic situation.
MIKESo we can't ignore the fact that the single parent went hand in hand with low income, and it directly correlated to poor performance. But the other observation I want to make -- and I'll let you all discuss this -- is that we also have many cohabiting situations frequently, again, from lower-income situations. But even in that cohabiting situation, the interesting thing that you all haven't touched on is that, legally, we could only converse with the birth parent or in a rare case, the -- if it was a male who had legal custodial rights.
REHMThat's very interesting. Isabel.
SAWHILLI think that's terribly interesting, and I resonate with everything that Mike says. And I think that it's very difficult for single parents. First of all, on a national basis, they are four or five times as likely to be poor as their married parent counterparts. And so they really do have fewer economic resources. It may be that they would have had fewer economic resources even if they'd been married -- it's true -- but there is something about pooling time and money between two parents that does help their children.
SAWHILLAnd we do know from other research that the children of single parents on average are not going to do as well in school.
REHMD'Vera, I wanted to ask you about statistics for Hispanics as well.
COHNFor marriage, for births, for both?
COHNSo, I guess, the group that's most likely to be married is white. Hispanics are somewhat less likely than whites to have been married but more likely than blacks. For example, if you look at people who have ever been married, by the late '30s, it's about 80 percent of whites, it's about three-quarters of Latinos, and it's just under 60 percent of African-Americans, so Hispanics fall somewhere in the middle.
COHNNow, I should add, among immigrant Latinos, which is obviously a growing group, immigrants in general are more likely to be married than U.S.-born adults. And part of that...
REHMYou mean when they come here?
COHNBoth when they come here and...
COHNUltimately, yeah. And that -- some of that may be the cultural backgrounds that they come from.
REHMWell, it's clear we're going through some kind of a shift. It'll be fascinating to see where this goes, whether there's a reversal or whether it continues. I thank you all. Isabel Sawhill, D'Vera Cohn, Kris Marsh, Andrew Cherlin, thanks for being here.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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