Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Marriage is Not Only for the Rich

Every year the Census Bureau reports that married couples with children at home make up a minority of households. Every year most of the press draws the wrong conclusion. They write articles with headlines like "Marriage disappears as married parent households fall below 25%." This is not the right inference at all. Married couples with children at home make up a minority of households because we are a rich country. Many single people can afford to maintain a separate household. My widowed mother maintains her own household, many of my colleagues have an empty-nest household, and each year Centre College sends out hundreds of students who will maintain households by themselves or with roommates. Yet all of them were, are, or are likely to be in married-couple-with-children households at some point. That is still the case for most people.

What is new in this year's version of the story is the claim that marriage is becoming something only rich and educated people can afford or even want. This is a false idea, and a dangerous one. Yes, there are more people having children without marriage, and there are more couples living together before they marry. But most people still aspire to marry and raise their own children together, in all classes. And most of them will.

Marriage is still normative – it is what most people want and think is good. Marriage is still normal – it is what most people will do, and most of them will have children.

Married-couple-with-children is still the normal household pattern, the pattern that most Americans will enjoy at the appropriate point in their lifecycle.

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