Monday, February 9, 2015

US marriage rate at a 93-year low

“My most brilliant achievement was my ability to be able to persuade my wife to marry me.” — Winston Churchill

AFTER an all-time high in 1960, marriage rates in the United States have have been falling steadily and are now at a 93-year low, even including same-sex-couples. More than a demographic detail, this circumstance has broad socio-economic implications. Below is the main body of a February 5, 2015 New York Times article. 

Falling Marriage Rates Reveal Economic Fault Lines
By Andrew L. Yarrow
February 6, 2015

Will Valentine’s Day, always a popular moment for popping the question, see fewer marriage proposals this year than in generations past?

The age-old lesson about marriage that has been communicated by parents everywhere (two are stronger than one) is now brushing up against a 21st-century reality: The percentage of married households in the United States has fallen to a historic low.

Census data cited in a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center show that the number of married households fell to 50.5 percent in 2012 from a high of about 72 percent in 1960.

Among the less well educated, the number of married households has fallen even more. A 2011 study by Pew found that although 64 percent of college-educated Americans were married, fewer than 48 percent of those with some college or less were married. In 1960, the report found, the two groups were about equally likely to be married.

This trend has opened up a yawning economic divide. Studies have shown that married women and men tend to be much better off financially than those who are unmarried, and that those who have fewer assets and more debt early on are less likely to marry or have stable marriages than those who are more financially secure.

“There are relatively few relationships that are more fully documented than those between economic well-being and marriage,” said Ron Haskins, who is the author of many scholarly papers on marriage and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

The connection between marriage and wealth is much more than additive. A 2012 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the median 65-to-69-year-old married household had almost 10 times as much in savings as the typical single-person household: $111,600 compared with $12,500. “It’s a plain fact that people who are married have more income, wealth and savings that last into their retirement,” Mr. Haskins said.

Jonathan Rauch, another fellow at the Brookings Institution and a leader of the Marriage Opportunity Council, a new multi-institution project, said, “Marriage is thriving among people with four-year college diplomas, but the further down you go on the educational and economic totem pole, the worse it’s doing.”

“There’s a growing danger that marriage, with all its advantages for stability, income and child well-being, will look like a gated community for the baccalaureate class, with ever-shrinking working-class participation,” Mr. Rauch said. “We’re not there yet, but that’s the trajectory we’re on.”

Other research indicates that those who find themselves already lower on the socioeconomic ladder may be less likely to ever marry. A 2012 study by the Brookings Institution found that only women in the top 10 percent of Americans in earnings saw their marriage rates increase between 1970 and 2011, whereas women in the bottom 65 percent in earnings had become much less likely to marry, with their marriage rate declining by more than 20 percentage points. This was also mirrored in the experiences of men in the study.

Marriage is about as good a predictor of economic success as are education, race and ethnicity, according to a 2014 study by Robert Lerman at the Urban Institute, and W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.

In their analysis of census and Bureau of Labor Statistics data, they concluded that if married households today equaled the numbers seen in 1980, “the growth in median income of families with children would be 44 percent higher.”

The study also found a link between the decline in the number of Americans “who form and maintain stable, married families” and the growth in income inequality.

As united as social scientists appear to be about the strong correlation between marriage and higher net worth, a good many of them part company over whether greater marital wealth results from having the skills and propensity to work hard, save, stay out of debt and also seek out and marry those with the same attributes — versus those who start down the same road having low wages, little in savings and less education and as such may find it harder to find and maintain stable marriages.

“Married men are more likely to work, make more money and not engage in dangerous behaviors like drunken driving and committing crimes,” Mr. Haskins contends.

For women coming of age in an era when their own educational and career prospects are brighter than ever, hitching their star to someone with high personal debts or negligible savings — or both — seems to have become unappealing.

In 2013, the economist David H. Autor and Melanie Wasserman, a graduate student at M.I.T., found that, “Sharp declines in the earning power of non-college males combined with the economic self-sufficiency of women — rising educational attainment, falling gender gap and greater female control over fertility choices — have reduced the economic value of marriage for women.”

Married same-sex couples tend to be more financially secure than single gay Americans, said Ineke Mushovic, the executive director of the Movement Advancement Project in Denver, a policy research organization focusing on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. Poverty rates for gay men and lesbians living alone are more than 20 percent, compared with 4.3 percent for partnered gay men and 7.6 percent for partnered lesbians, the organization reports.

The divorce rate has helped reduce the number of married households in the United States. At the same time, others have postponed marriage or never married. And census data show that the number of cohabiting couples has shot up to 7.5 million in 2011 from 450,000 in 1960.

Yet, the desire to marry remains strong. In a 2013 Gallup Poll, only 5 percent of Americans reported that they did not want to marry.

Insufficient savings and other financial matters are the most common cause of discord among American couples, said Ernie Almonte, chairman of the National C.P.A. Financial Literacy Commission, a part of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, which studied this problem.

“Divorce causes a decrease in wealth that is larger than just splitting a couple’s assets in half,” said Jay Zagorsky, an Ohio State University economist. “If you really want to increase your wealth, get married and stay married.”

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