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The Marriage Gap

UVA's National Marriage Project has released a study, The State of Our Unions (press summary here), which reveals the "striking reversal of historic trends" among middle and upper-class America.  

First, "highly educated Americans are embracing a pro-marriage mindset even as Middle Americans are losing faith in marriage."

...marriage is in trouble among so-called "Middle Americans," defined as the 58% of adults who have a high school diploma ... no four-year college degree.

...trends in non-marital childbearing, divorce and marital quality in Middle America increasingly resemble those of the poor, many of whose marriages are fragile. However, among the highly educated and affluent, marriage is stable and appears to be getting even stronger - yet more evidence of America's "marriage gap."

The "marriage gap" also accompanies a corollary "faith gap," as the upper-class now attend church more often than middle-class Americans. Another recently study by NMP concluded that "across America's major racial and ethnic groups ... shared religious activity - attending church together and especially praying together - is linked to higher levels of relationship quality."

The logic is not surprising. Religious people consistently report higher levels of happiness and stability, as do married people, and religious people are more likely to marry and remain married. It's a virtuous circle. Decrease either the religion or marriage components of the equation and you're certain to produce a decrease in happiness and stability.

The retreat from marriage in Middle America cuts deeply into the nation's hopes and dreams as well. For if marriage is increasingly unachievable for our moderately educated citizens--a group that represents 58 percent of the adult population (age 25-60)--then it is likely that we will witness the emergence of a new society. For a substantial share of the United States, economic mobility will be out of reach, their children's life chances will diminish, and large numbers of young men will live apart from the civilizing power of married life.

This retreat is also troubling because highly educated Americans (defined here as having at least a bachelor's degree) have in recent years been largely unaffected by the tidal wave of family change that first hit the poor in the 1960s and has since moved higher into Middle America. Indeed, highly educated Americans, who make up 30 percent of the adult population, now enjoy marriages that are as stable and happy as those four decades ago. There is thus a growing "marriage gap" between moderately and highly educated America.5 This means that more affluent Americans are now doubly privileged in comparison to their moderately educated fellow citizens--by their superior socioeconomic resources and by their stable family lives. 

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Discussions - 9 Comments

Decrease either the religion or marriage components of the equation and you're certain to produce a decrease in happiness and stability.

Seems to me like this is total bunk. While its true that religion seems to give individuals a sense of community and purpose (which both lead to happiness), this "virtuous circle" - as you put - is built on a delusion (in my opinion). It's not as if religion can't be replaced by other communities and other senses of purpose. Plenty of married couples get by fine without religion - largely because they replace the important aspects of it (like community, support, etc.) with something else. Plenty of religious couples end up getting a divorce too (because nothing fails like prayer).

I'm not sure how you can establish some seemingly causal connection between religion, marriage, and happiness. But I guess if part of your foundation's mission is to "strengthen marriage" then whatever it takes . . . Have they yet released a study on the incredibly low divorce rates of marriages chosen for people by their parents? Maybe we should all start emphasizing that too!

After re-reading that, I should be more clear:

I believe that religion does have a positive influence on happiness and marriage, but not because of any of the magic stuff. It's because it helps people feel good about themselves, and lots of things can do that. By pretending that prayer has something to do with it - more than simply strengthening the intimacy between people - I think you're fooling yourself (but that's not rare for the "religious").

I also think that people are happy in marriages because they feel like it's what they are supposed to do. I'm sure many Mormon women who marry into polygamous relationships are very happy. But that has more to do with fulfilling a socially constructed mandate than some sort of magical, Jesus-quality marriage inherently has.

I don't know why I felt like I needed to qualify my post. You'll all buy what they're selling anyway . . . I'm just trying to avoid doing actual work . . . heh . . .

"Plenty of religious couples end up getting a divorce too (because nothing fails like prayer)."


"By pretending that prayer has something to do with it - more than simply strengthening the intimacy between people - I think you're fooling yourself (but that's not rare for the "religious")."

If you think prayer is basically stupid, I can most likely assert that you have never prayed before. If you have, you don't understand how to pray. It is not like Hey God stop my marriage from falling apart. It involves way more than that. Prayer has worked for me and thousands of other people, but like anything else that brings joy, comfort and blessing, one must work at it. You must be a baby boomer.... Spoiled and selfish.

Matt, with all due respect, it does not seem that you understand religion and its role in marriage very much. It is not a matter of "feeling good about myself" or a "sense of community" etc. I don't even know what that's supposed to mean.

My wife and I made a commitment to God and each other to serve each other, be faithful and monogomous, and always support each other no matter what. In the Catholic Church, it is a sacrament that makes Christ and His love present in our lives and to each other. It is a reflection of the perfect love of the Blessed Trinity and the Holy Family. It is also the proper place to express sexual union and to bear children as we are called to be fruitful and multiply within a context of an undying and inseparable commitment and union. And, that brings joy, though not always happiness (a fleeting emotion), to our lives.

So, as you can see, it's not just about feeling good about myself or some vague notion like that. It's the cement that binds men and women together and holds a civilization together.

It's because it helps people feel good about themselves,

That's not what your confessor does.

Isn't the Nietzschean polemic precisely the opposite of what you say here - that it makes people feel awful about themselves, and encourages humility rather than pride?

As others have suggested, you may want to consider the role of the family in the Hebraic/Christian faith. Bloom's essay, 'The Ladder of Love,' is actually a great place to start.

In my opinion, religion does two basic things to improve marriage. First, it relieves each partner's existential doubt about this life and the next. We are insecure creatures, and knowing that God is in His heaven helps people cope with their problems in the here and now. Second, believe in something greater holds narcissism at bay and reminds people of their duty to others. An oath taken before the Almighty has more binding power than a simple promise to another human being.

Community and all that helps, but the real dynamic is much more psychological.

Please pray for my wife Sonja Box, we have been married for 18yrs. and we have four beautiful daughters that are being devastated by my wife decision to not want to remain married! I recently found out that my wife was seeing this guy on her job where she works. I prayed and God intervened and they as far as I know are not seeing each other any more! Now I would ask that you would stand in agreement with me as I fight for my family to be snatched out of the hands of the enemy!!! And that my wife would turn her heart back unto God, and that are marriage would be restored before the begining of the New Year!!! I thank you in advance for your prayers.

Mr. Box, I would suggest that if you wish to win your wife's affection, you do not publicly humiliate her like this ever again. Doubtless, you are aggrieved, but this is no way to repair your unfortunate situation. I will pray that God does whatever is necessary in you to make you an appealing husband.

May I suggest a little Christ-like behavior is in order. See saint Paul on the subject.

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