December 05, 2006

A "Marriage Gap"??

Some of this is a spun argument, for example most kids in high income homes have two parents because most of the time it takes two incomes to reach that level, but all in all, an interesting hypothesis and a new interpretation of data that social scientists have been mining for years.

In this article from the City Journal, sociologist Kay Hymowitz posits that there is an increasing gap in marriage between the educated and the less educated in America, and that this gap has startling implications for the children of both married and unmarried parents.

Princeton sociologist Sara McLanahan, co-author of the breakthrough book Growing Up With a Single Parent, has fleshed out the implications of the Marriage Gap for children in an important paper in Demography—and they’re not pretty. McLanahan observes that, after 1970, women at all income levels began to marry at older ages, and the average age of first marriage moved into the mid-twenties. But where mothers at the top of the income scale also put off having children until they were married, spending their years before marriage getting degrees or working, those at the bottom did neither.

The results radically split the experiences of children. Children in the top quartile now have mothers who not only are likely to be married, but also are older, more mature, better educated, and nearly three times as likely to be employed (whether full- or part-time) as are mothers of children in the bottom quartile. And not only do top-quartile children have what are likely to be more effective mothers; they also get the benefit of more time and money from their live-in fathers.

For children born at the bottom of the income scale, the situation is the reverse. They face a decrease in what McLanahan terms “resources”: their mothers are younger, less stable, less educated, and, of course, have less money. Adding to their woes, those children aren’t getting much (or any) financial support and time from their fathers. Surprisingly, McLanahan finds that in Europe, too—where welfare supports for “lone parents,” as they are known in Britain, are much higher than in the United States—single mothers are still more likely to be poor and less educated. As in the United States, so in Europe and, no doubt, the rest of the world: children in single-parent families are getting less of just about everything that we know helps to lead to successful adulthood.

All this makes depressing sense, but when you think about it, the Marriage Gap itself presents a puzzle. Why would women working for a pittance at the supermarket cash registers decide to have children without getting married, while women writing briefs at Debevoise & Plimpton, who could easily afford to go it alone, insist on finding husbands before they start families? For a long time, social scientists assumed, reasonably enough, that economic self-sufficiency would lead more women to opt for single motherhood. And to listen to the drone of complaint about men around water coolers, in Internet chat rooms, on the Oxygen Network, and in Maureen Dowdworld, there would seem to be plenty of potential recruits for Murphy Browndom. Certainly when they talk to pollsters, women say that they don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a baby without a husband. Yet the women who are forgoing husbands are precisely the ones who can least afford to do so.

There's lot more to the article, including at least 2 more sections I'd like to excerpt. Go here to read the whole thing.

h/t Ron Coleman at Dean's World

Venomous Kate also has an interesting take on the article.

So, what do you think?

Posted by caltechgirl at December 5, 2006 10:04 PM | TrackBack

Definitely a lot to digest there. It's certainly an interesting article. I have to say, as a highly educated married non-mother, I do identify with the theory that I had a life map presented to me as a child. Children DEFINITELY come after marriage.

Posted by: Sharon at December 6, 2006 06:43 PM

Yes there is a lot to digest. When I read things like this, I always find myself thinking... yep, choices and consequences.

I have a close relative who wound up raising her daughter by herself,from toddler on. NO THANKS! It's awfully rough on the child & parent when people end up in that situation. Why anyone would choose that is beyond me... But I'm older & educated, so it's hard to fathom making such a choice.

Posted by: Marie at December 7, 2006 07:34 AM