Working Class Skips Marriage


While the declining marriage rate has been attributed to feminism and men opting out, the phenomenon doesn’t cut equally across all classes.

Working-class Americans are now less likely to get married and stay married than people with college degrees, according to a new study from the University of Virginia and Harvard University. Poorer Americans are also less likely to have children within marriage, according to “Intimate Inequalities: Love and Work in a Post-Industrial Landscape.”

The reason? Working-class adults are finding themselves in a world with little job stability, given the decline of U.S. manufacturing and its stable, high-paying union jobs with good benefits. The study is based on interviews with more than 300 middle-class and working-class U.S. men and women.

“These are foundational changes in the labor market for the working class, and they broadly affect people’s lives,” researchers Sarah Corse and Jennifer Silva say.

Historically, marriage has been an institution based on economics and power rather than love. Given the still-recovering economy, it’s clear that money still has a role to play in the decision to say “I do.”

What’s interesting about the study is that it delves into the mindset of working-class adults who are opting against marriage, a trend that researchers have noted for several years.

The class divide when it comes to marriage is quite troublesome, Stephanie Coontz, who teaches history and family studies at Evergreen State College, told PBS in 2011. Coontz noted that job insecurity, lower wages for high school graduates and fewer pensions were leading low-income women to ask: “What are the benefits of this?”

The new study found that people with college degrees tend to earn more and have stable jobs, allowing them to invest time and emotion in their marriages and parenting.

That disparity is backed up by employment and income data. College graduates have an unemployment rate of 3.8%, compared with 7.6% for those with only a high school diploma, according to July data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. College grads will earn $1.42 million over their careers, almost double the earnings of high school grads, Pew Research found.

Members of the working class increasingly compete for service-sector jobs, such as hotel or restaurant work, which often lack benefits and security, the new study added. Much of the job growth during the economic recovery has stemmed from such low-paying positions, leading workers at fast-food restaurants such as McDonald’s (MCD) to stage walkouts in search of higher pay.

Silva and Corse added, “Our interviewees without college degrees expressed feelings of distrust and even fear about intimate relationships and had difficulty imagining being able to provide for others.”

Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi.