Marriage Beyond Reach of Many Working-Class Americans: Study08/13/13
TUESDAY, Aug. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Job insecurity and
uncertainty about the future may be a key part of what's keeping
many working-class Americans from getting or staying married, a new
Recent years have seen a big shift in the traditional American
family. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, married couples now
account for fewer than half of all U.S. households -- down from 78
percent in 1950.
But there are also clear economic divides. Women with college
degrees, for example, are more likely to get married than women
with only high school diplomas -- a stark reversal from years
"It is definitely true that there is a class divide in marriage," said Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who studies trends in marriage and family.
"Working-class adults are postponing marriage and marrying later than they used to," Cherlin said. "Marriage also seems to be on the decline as a context for having children among the working class."
That's what's going on in the big picture. In the new study,
researchers interviewed about 300 Americans -- both working- and
middle-class -- to get a sense of how economics and education are
swaying people's views on marriage.
They found that, in general, working-class men and women pointed
to job insecurity, low wages and a lack of resources as deterrents
to walking down the aisle. In short, they had a hard time imagining
being able to provide for someone else -- financially or
emotionally, according to Sarah Corse, one of the researchers in
"It doesn't make sense to people to plan for the future if you don't even know if you'll have a paycheck," said Corse, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville.
The findings, scheduled to be reported Tuesday at the annual
meeting of the American Sociological Association in New York City,
offer some insight into why marriage is not the draw it used to be
-- even though most Americans still say they want to get married at
Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data
and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in
a peer-reviewed journal.
The decision to take the plunge is not just a personal or moral
issue, Corse said. And for many working-class people, the upsides
of marriage are not as clear: Committing to someone with a
low-paying job and a hefty debt, for example, may not seem like a
"We need to think about how income inequality affects other types of inequalities," Corse said. "It's harder to choose to get married, or to sustain a marriage, if you the lack resources that many educated, middle-class people have."
Cherlin, who was not involved in the study, agreed. "In our new
economy, working-class young adults often lack the resources to
make a long-term marriage work, so they opt for short-term
relationships instead," he said. "Marriage plays less of a role in
the lives of high-school-educated Americans than among
In years past, Corse said, Americans without a college education
could still get secure jobs that pay well, in areas like
manufacturing. Now, she said, the opportunities often are in the
service industry, where jobs may be low-paying, only part-time or
offer no health insurance or other benefits.
One of the people Corse's team interviewed was Cindy, a
middle-aged woman who'd spent her whole life in the same small Ohio
town. Cindy told the researchers that when she was a child, her
father had a stable manufacturing job and her family lived
But by the time Cindy married, those jobs were largely gone, and
her husband could not find steady work. He eventually deserted her,
and she was left as a single mom with a minimum-wage job at a
convenience store. Her daughter, now 20, never finished high school
and lives with Cindy and Cindy's boyfriend.
Such live-in relationships are more common among working-class
and high-school-educated Americans than those with higher
education, Corse said.
"For middle-class people, marriage generally increases stability," she said "For the working class, it often doesn't."
And that means both financial and emotional stability. "If you
can't handle your own problems," Corse said, "how can you take on
someone else's? Marriage just doesn't look very appealing."
For her part, Cindy told the researchers she has no plans to
marry her current boyfriend. (A second marriage ended in divorce
after her husband began to physically abuse both her and her
Cindy said she still hopes for a long-term, fulfilling
relationship. But, she told the researchers, she is "not
The U.S. Census Bureau has more on
national marriage trends.
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