While the upscale college-educated crowd continues to marry at very high rates, marriage rates are plummeting among those further down on the socioeconomic ladder
Where marriage and kids were once seen as the beginning of life as an adult, they’re now seen as something closer to exile from adult life — imprisonment in the land of Chuck E. Cheese and My Little Pony. Suburban parents often drive SUVs instead of minivans because minivans, though more practical, are associated with low-prestige activities like parenting, while SUVs are associated with higher-prestige activities like whitewater kayaking. When you look for a figure embodying masculinity in today’s society, it’s not a dad — just look at the bumbling doofuses who portray dads on pretty much every TV commercial and sitcom. Likewise, men fear divorce and child custody laws that heavily favor women. Safer, perhaps, to be a “baby daddy” than a real Dad.
The problem, though, is that the kids do worse. A government check isn’t a substitute for a father, and while plenty of single-mom kids do fine, most tend to do worse on measures ranging from educational attainment and future income to criminality. And the process feeds on itself: Women want “marriageable” men — those with good incomes and stable lifestyles — but the more single-parent households there are, the fewer men are likely to be “marriageable” in the next generation. Government programs like Head Start don’t make up the slack, because no institution can invest the amount of time and energy in a kid that his or her parents can.
So as we talk about “marriage equality” between gays and straights, give a little thought to the problem of marriage inequality between rich and poor. It matters, too.
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