Over the weekend Jason DeParle had a long, interesting piece on marriage in the New York Times. The gist of the piece is this couplet: (1) Marriage is a key driver of economic prosperity for families and married parents are more likely to have prosperous, healthy, stable families than single parents, and (2) marriage is increasingly becoming the preserve of college-educated whites while non-college educated whites and minorities increasingly experience single parenthood, either because of divorce, cohabitation, or out-of-wedlock childbearing.
Here's a flavor of the material:
“It is the privileged Americans who are marrying, and marrying helps them stay privileged,” said Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University.
About 41 percent of births in the United States occur outside marriage, up sharply from 17 percent three decades ago. But equally sharp are the educational divides, according to an analysis by Child Trends, a Washington research group. Less than 10 percent of the births to college-educated women occur outside marriage, while for women with high school degrees or less the figure is nearly 60 percent. . . .
Forty years ago, the top and middle income thirds had virtually identical family patterns: more than 95 percent of households with children in either tier had two parents in the home. Since then the groups have diverged, according to Mr. Western and Ms. Shollenberger: 88 percent at the top have two parents, but just 71 percent do in the middle.
(Readers interested in a slightly more technical—yet still very readable—exploration of this material should download this Census Bureau report on marriage and divorce.)
DeParle notes that "Across Middle America, single motherhood has moved from an anomaly to a norm with head-turning speed." Which is very true. What is also interesting, however, is what he does not note: Namely, the causes for this radical changes.
It's a complicated question and there's a mountain of research on the subject. And some of it points in directions that readers of the New York Times will not like. Fortunately, Mary Eberstadt is happy to assault their sensibilities in her new book, Adam and Eve After the Pill.